The Los Angeles Times: Thousands of Salvadorans March to Protest Duarte's Economic Austerity Plan
February 22, 1986
SAN SALVADOR — In the biggest demonstration here in six years, thousands of workers, teachers, farmers and government employees marched through the capital Friday protesting President Jose Napoleon Duarte's economic austerity plan and calling for peace talks with anti-government guerrillas.
The crowd, which stretched for dozens of blocks, was difficult to measure, but estimates ranged from 15,000 to 50,000. Either figure would make it the largest demonstration that this city has seen since the turbulent years of 1979 and 1980 and the biggest challenge to Duarte since he assumed the presidency in May, 1984.
Thousands of other Salvadorans lined the streets and hung out of buildings along the route, cheering on the marchers who chanted "Dialogue yes, war no" and "Abolish the package."
Last month, Duarte announced a sweeping economic package, including a currency devaluation, increases in gasoline prices, import taxes, import restrictions and a few price freezes on basic goods. The plan was drawn up with the help of U.S. economic advisers, who suggested that U.S. aid might be limited if the package were not implemented.
Unpopular With Unions
Duarte has also lost popularity with unions because last fall he outlawed public workers' strikes, and before that, in the summer, his government sent security forces into the Social Security hospital to evict occupying strikers.
Many of the marchers came from the countryside wearing straw hats and sandals, and some were barefoot. Some covered their faces in fear.
The last big march in El Salvador, in January, 1980, ended in a bloodbath when National Guardsmen opened fire on an estimated 200,000 demonstrators organized by leftists who are now dead, in exile or fighting in the mountains. An exact death toll was never established, but dozens were killed and wounded.
Some Marchers Uneasy
The march Friday was peaceful, with only an occasional military helicopter flying overhead and a few soldiers present at the beginning of the route. Nonetheless, some marchers seemed uneasy and a few, when asked if they were scared, said tentatively, "No, we have a right to march . . . don't we?" and defensively, "We're not armed."
When groups began to chant "The people united will never be divided," a popular rebel slogan, labor leaders tried nervously to quiet them.
Coalition of Unions
The protest was organized by the National Unity of Salvadoran Workers, a coalition of unions and cooperatives formed after Duarte announced his economic package. The coalition includes left-leaning teachers and water-works unions, centrist public workers unions, and also the Democratic Popular Unity, a union of peasants and workers that helped to elect Duarte.
In a proposal published in newspapers, announced on television and sent in a letter to Duarte, the coalition called for salary increases, more price freezes, a rollback of oil and gas prices, and more jobs. It is asking the government to absorb the dollar debts of agricultural cooperative members and small businessmen, which doubled because of the devaluation of the Salvadoran colon from 2.5 to 5 to the dollar, and for preferential credit for farmers, fishermen and transportation cooperatives.
The proposal also calls for the government to complete its agrarian reform program, provide adequate education, health care and housing, and to respect human rights. It calls for dialogue with the guerrillas and for "a process of recuperation of our country."
30% Inflation Cited
The unions say that prices have increased about 150% in the last four years while salaries have remained nearly frozen.