"Unrest Growing in El Salvador"
THE NEW YORK TIMES
"Unrest Growing in El Salvador"
August 5, 1975
When El Salvador bid successfully to host this year’s Miss Universe contest, the government saw the press and television coverage as an opportunity to promote this tiny Central American republic as a Pacific coast tourist attraction.
But while a worldwide television audience saw El Salvador’s sunny beaches before the Miss Universe finals on the nineteenth of July, off-camera, heavily armed troops were called out to halt demonstrations by students protesting the government’s expenditure of one million dollars on the contest.
A week later in the western city of Santa Ana, students took to the streets to protest the banning of the Miss Universe demonstration, and several youths were injured and arrested during clashes with the National Guard.
Then on the thirtieth of July, about three-thousand students demonstrating in San Salvador against the repression of the two earlier marches were stopped by machine‐gun and automatic‐rifle fire from soldiers.
“Communist Plot Charged”
According to the military government, which contended that the march was part of a “communist plot,” one person was killed, five wounded and eleven were arrested. But according to the students, at least twelve people were killed, twenty were wounded and forty were arrested. Witnesses said that about fifty people, some apparently dead and others bleeding, had been taken away in army ambulances and trucks.
A group of students, priests, nuns, workers, and peasants then occupied the city cathedral for five days. In the narrow and dirty streets around the cathedral, Miss Universe posters proclaiming El Salvador as “the land of smiles” are being obscured by new signs denouncing the government as “assassins.”
The incidents are being interpreted as the most serious of the events that over the last year have sharpened discontent with the government of Colonel Arturo Armando Molina among students, peasants, workers, landowners, the clergy, and even the armed forces.
El Salvador, the smallest and most crowded nation on the American mainland, also has the most conspicuous contrast between rich and poor. Only two miles separate the huge guarded mansions on the slopes of the volcano of San Salvador from the decaying downtown area, where beggars and migrants sleep in doorways at night.
“Eight Percent Have Half of the Wealth”
Statistics show that only eight percent of the five million inhabitants hold fifty percent of the wealth, while fifty-eight percent of the population earns the equivalent of just $9.60 a month. The countryside is dominated by huge coffee, sugar, and cotton farms, with seven percent of the rural population owning eighty-one percent of the land.
The Molina administration, the third successive military government, has never been popular — even government supporters admit that fraud was needed to ensure its election to a five‐year term in February 1972—but it seemed to be in control of events during its first two years in office.
After just a month in power, for example, Colonel Molina sent troops to occupy the university, deported more than forty “communist” teachers, and closed the institution for a year. He also strengthened his position within the armed forces by sending potential rivals abroad as ambassadors.
“Urban Guerrillas Emerge”
More recently, however, unrest has begun to grow again. Two small urban guerrilla groups have emerged. The student movement, dominated by different Marxist factions, has recovered its strength, The labor movement, also partially controlled by the local Communist party, has organized several strikes in which inflation and harassment of union leaders were the main issues. Even the peasants, though poorly organized, have shown increasing impatience at the government’s delay in carrying out a long-promised agrarian reform.