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May 23, 1985 - Image 5

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Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1985-05-23

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OPINION

Page 5
01h micht-an BatIV
Vol. XCV, No. 5-S
95 Years of Editorial Freedom
Managed and Edited by Students at
The University of Michigan
Editorials represent a majority opinion of the
Doily Editorial Board
State's double talk
S TATE REP. Perry Bullard (D-Ann Arbor), along with
other Democrats in the state House of Representatives,
introduced legislation Tuesday that would force the state
to pull its pension funds out of companies that do business
in South Africa. In the words of Bullard aide Jim Burchell,
"It's about time the state got its act together."
For several years the state has been playing i
hypocritical game on the issue of apartheid. On one hand it
has - and rightly so - passed legislation forbidding the
depositing of state surplus funds in banks that make loans
to South Africa. And in 1982, it passed legislation requiring
state educational institutions - including the University -
to sell off stocks of companies in South Africa.
But under this cloak of concern, the state has also main-
tained over $2 billion of its own pension funds in companies
that conduct business in South Africa. The state fears that
it will alienate Michigan corporations doing business in
South Africa if it divests.
South Africa is a legally racially segregated land, where
the ruling white minority practice racism at will. This is a
country where black South Africans, who constitute 72
percent of the nation's population, are denied all political
rights. This is a country where the black majority can
legally settle on only 13 percent of the land.
This is also the country in which the state of Michigan
has invested $2.193 billion in companies that do business
with it. This is also the country where the University still
has $5 million invested in companies that do business with
it.
But there are still opponents to divesting the pension
fund. Critics argue ,divestment will hurt the state. But the
current divestment bill is specifically designed to protect
the state's pension fund. According to Bullard, the state's
funds will be divested gradually over a five-year period.
Critics also argue that it will hurt the auto corporations
and ultimately the state. That's also wrong. Divestment
does not mean that the stocks magically vanish. All
divestment means is that the stocks are sold - a group of
stockholders take a symbolic stand and send a messaage
that they do not want to have any part in the apartheid of
South Africa.
It's about time the state ends its double-talk. It's about
time the state puts its money where its mouth is.
The Michigan Daily encourages input from
our readers. Letters should be typed, triple
spaced, and sent to the Daily Opinion Page, 420
Maynard, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109.

Thursday, May 23, 1985

The Michigan Daily

El Salvador's civil war

By Dean Baker

Second of three part series

Through the last six years, El Salvador has been em-
broiled in a full scale civil war that has violently altered
the lives of virtually every family in the country. Over
50,000 non-combatants have been killed. It is estimated
that over 500,000 refugees have been forced to flee the
country due to the war, while another 500,000 have been
displaced within the country. These figures would be
enormous in any case, but they are particularly shocking
in relation to the size of the country. El Salvador has only 5
million people. Comparable figures for the United States
would be the deaths of 2.5 million people, or the
displacement of 50 million.
The roots of this conflict are not hard to discover. El
Salvador has a grossly unequal distribution of wealth. In
this predominantly agricultural economy, two percent of
the population owns 67 percent of the land, while 91 per-
cent are forced to subsist on only 22 percent of the land.
These people frequently suffer from malnutrition, and
have little or no access to health care. Illiteracy is com-
monplace, as the government has little concern for the
education of its citizens.
THE WEALTHY elite has managed to maintain this
structure through a series of brutal military dictator-
ships. At one point, in 1932, the military massacred an
estimated 30,000 peasants in order to put down op-
position to the government. The military's willingness to
use force against the civilian population on this and other
occasions was quite effective in preserving the status quo.
The origins of the current civil war can be traced back
to elections that took place in 1972. The military regime
sponsored periodic elections as a means of establishing a
new dictator. These elections have never been seriously
contested, since the military's candidate had always been
assured of victory. In 1972, however, a coalition of refor-
mist parties led by Napoleon Duarte and Guillermo Ungo,
organized to challenge the military's candidate. After the
elections, as the votes were being counted, it became
clear that Duarte and Ungo were going to win. The
military then stopped the count and seized the ballots.
Later they released their own count, which had their can-
didate winning. Then they began a major crackdown on
the opposition, imprisoning many of its leaders and for-
cing others into exile.
This experienced convinced many people that it would
be impossible to achieve reform by peaceful means and
led them to form an armed resistance movement. This
movement continued to grow through the seventies,
drawing considerable support from students, labor
unions, and peasant organizations.
In the fall of 1979, after the victory of the Sandinistas in
Nicaragua, the military became fearful of a similar
revolution in El Salvador. There was a coup in which the
president was overthrown, and a group of officers, sup-
posedly committed to reform, seized power. They invited
members of the opposition parties to take part in the
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government and committed themselves to respecting civil
liberties and supporting land reform.
This government didn't survive long, as several parties
withdrew their support when it became clear that the ar-
my was not going to allow meaningful reform. By the
spring of 1981, Duarte was the only major opposition
figure who was still working within the government struc-
ture. All the others had joined the armed opposition, in-
cluding Guillermo Ungo, who became president of his
political branch, the FDR (Democratic Revolutionary
Front).
THE WAR intensified considerably in this period as
government sponsored death squads began killing people
at the rate of over 600 per month. It became extremely
dangerous to take part in any political activity as the
death squads targeted union leaders, student activists,
and peasant organizers. They also did not hesitate to kill
members of the clergy, many of whom were sympathetic
to the efforts of the opposition to bring about change.
Among their victims was Oscar Romero, the Archbishop
of San Salvador, who was gunned down while leading a
mass.
The activities of the death squads were large successful
in destroying open political opposition, as people were
either intimidated into silence, forced into exile, or killed.
In was during this period that the opposition press was
silenced, when the editor of one paper was found hacked to
death, and the editor of the other paper fled after
receiving death threats. The death squads were not suc-
cessful in stopping the armed opposition, however, which
continued to grow stronger. By 1982, nearly one third of El
Salvador was under rebel control. The Reagan ad-
ministration hassincerdevised a new strategy for the
Salvadoran military, under which it attempts to
depopulate areas under rebel control, in order to deprive
the rebels of a base of support. The military is now using
U.S. supplied aircraft to attack civilians with napalm,
white phosphorus, and fragmentation bombs. Although
this strategy has brought tremendousbsuffering to the
inhabitants of the rebel controlled zones, it has not led to
the defeat of the rebels, nor does it seem likely to win in
the near future, in spite of over a half a billion dollars of
aid a year.
While the rebels continue the war, they have engaged in
negotiations with the government in pursuit of a peaceful
solution.
They have always demanded as a condition of any set-
tlement that those responsible for the death squad killings
be brought to justice (not a single person has been brought
to trial for these killings) and that the death squads them-
selves be dismantled. They have never refused to submit
to elections. They have only refused to take part in elec-
tions in which they would be a target of death squads, in
which they could not campaign safely, and in which they
have no reason to believe that the army would accept the
results.
Baker, a doctoral student of economics, is
president of Rackham Student Government.
by Berke Breathed
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