Revolutionary Rights and Reconciliation: Human Rights and the Left at the End of El Salvador’s Civil War 198492

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 1:50 PM
Salon 3 (Palmer House Hilton)
Evan McCormick, Simmons University
This paper examines human rights discourses of Leftist groups in El Salvador during the final phase of that country’s civil war and peace process, from 1985-1992, drawing on archival material from the Museo de Palabra y Imagen and the Centro de Información, Documentación y Apoyo a la Investigación at the José Simeón Cañas Central American University in San Salvador. Using internal strategic documents and public communications of groups on the broadly-defined Left, the paper examines how various factions grappled with human rights as a framework for defining the political objectives of insurgency, international solidarity, and, ultimately, peace. Recent scholarship on human rights have emphasized its power in an international context, highlighting how rights language catalyzed international support that was complementary to the goal of resisting counterinsurgent repression. But among the various groups that comprised the Salvadoran Left, the adoption of human rights language was neither linear nor obviously compatible with revolutionary aims. This paper argues for attention to how rights were imagined, contested, and shaped within the Left, in a national context that was shifting from confrontation to negotiation. How did human rights discourses function as frameworks for challenging the legitimacy of the U.S.-backed military regime and then, subsequently, in engaging with a peace process overseen by the Catholic Church and the United Nations? Using original research to answer this question, the paper suggests how historians of human rights can trace the transnational processes by which human rights gained currency at the end of the Cold War, at once acknowledging the mobilizing power of rights ideas while not reinforcing a singular historical narrative that explains how they became institutionalized.