In This Review

Seeking Peace in El Salvador: The Struggle to Reconstruct a Nation at the End of the Cold War
Seeking Peace in El Salvador: The Struggle to Reconstruct a Nation at the End of the Cold War
By Diana Villiers Negroponte
Palgrave Macmillan, 2012, 258 pp

In time for the 20th anniversary of the end of El Salvador’s decadelong civil war, Negroponte has written a detailed and nuanced account of the negotiations that led to peace. She begins with a good summary of the scholarship on the causes of the war, which the opposition leader Guillermo Ungo succinctly described as a combination of social inequality and authoritarian politics. In the 1960s and 1970s, demands from the peaceful opposition were met by government repression; the result was revolution. Skipping over the war itself, the book focuses on the dynamics of the peace process. Negroponte argues convincingly that success resulted from a confluence of circumstances: with the end of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union lost interest in fueling a proxy fight; the Salvadoran government and the guerrillas had fought to a “hurting stalemate,” in which neither had any prospect of military victory; and the negotiations were aided by skillful external mediators, especially the UN diplomat Álvaro de Soto. Negroponte notes that the United States went from unabashedly advocating military victory for the Salvadoran armed forces during the Reagan years to earnestly seeking a negotiated peace under President George H. W. Bush. Even then, Washington was by no means a neutral mediator and constantly pressured de Soto on the Salvadoran government’s behalf. But the United States played a crucial role in pushing the government to accept an agreement with the rebels that forced the military out of politics -- a necessary condition for Salvadoran democracy.