Salvadoran Thoughts

by Jay Nordlinger

Impromptus today is a “Lima Journal” (Part I). But before I get to Peru, I discuss El Salvador. A stopover there reminded me of the drama of the 1980s. I thought of José Napoleón Duarte, the democratic president — trying to fight off the FMLN on his left and ARENA on his right. I thought of all those democratizing Reaganites, including Elliott Abrams. I thought of Felix Rodriguez, the ex-CIA man who went to El Salvador to fight.

Anyway, here in the Corner, I’d like to throw you some links.

Abrams is known as a Middle East expert, and rightly so. He has spent a good portion of his life on U.S. policy in that region. But, under Reagan and Shultz, he was assistant secretary of state for Latin America. And I still think of him as a Latin American man.

Earlier this month, he had an article in the Washington Post, “Drug traffickers threaten Central America’s democratic gains.” El Salvador is a particular problem. (By the way, the FMLN and ARENA emerged as democratic parties, to whatever degree.)

Last summer, I did a profile of Rodriguez, “The Anti-Che.” He fought in Vietnam — volunteered for Vietnam — because he wanted to help spare those people the fate that befell his native country, Cuba. We did not succeed. Retired, he went to El Salvador, for the same purpose. Better results.

Finally, I wanted to link to a picture or, better yet, a video of Duarte kissing the American flag. I could not find a video, or even a picture, but perhaps better Googlers than I can. I have an AP report, though: The day was October 14, 1987. Welcoming Duarte on the South Lawn of the White House, Reagan said, “If peace is to prevail, so must democracy.” (Today, our Right would yell at him, “Neocon! Neocon!”)

More Reagan: “El Salvador, under President Duarte’s leadership, has proven wrong the cynics, pessimists, and detractors of democracy. Under the most trying of circumstances — with your steady hand at the helm, President Duarte — democratic conventions and ideals have been transformed into institutions, laws, and practices.”

Exactly. Duarte spoke too. And, “at the conclusion of his remarks,” reports the AP, he “surprised the gathering of several hundred by descending from the podium and walking 50 yards to a military honor guard, where he kissed the American flag.”

For some people in the world, this was grossest lackeyism. What it expressed to me, however, was a proper appreciation — an appreciation for what the Reaganites had done to spare El Salvador the hell that has been Cuba’s lot since 1959. I went to college in the 1980s, and all I heard was “Death squads, death squads.” Reagan, Bush, Shultz, Abrams, Otto Reich, and all the rest of them were supporting death squads, who were murdering and terrorizing simple and innocent peasants.

Nonsense. They were standing against the giant death squad of Communism, and leaving behind a better world. Of course, life is never on auto-pilot, never on cruise control: Freedom and democracy have to be fought for, in a sense, every day. Eternal vigilance is wearying, and sometimes boring, but the alternative is worse.