Thursday, April 21, 2011

Revolution Revisited - Understanding Reintegration and Post-Insurgent Politics in El Salvador

In armed conflicts, State sovereignty becomes explicitly contested by emerging political actors. While competing to gain control over territory and inhabitants, armed groups create (rudimentary) systems of governance, which operate parallel to the State, itself often in the hands of a particular group or factions. This political arrangement, sometimes referred to as ‘rebel governance’, accommodates several functions, such as ensuring control over key resources for warfare and ideological showcasing. But what happens when the armed conflict ends by means of a negotiated peace settlement that demobilizes and reintegrates the armed groups into society?  A frequent assumption is that parallel sovereignty tends to disappear as the newly reformed State absorbs the former insurgents. A retrospect of the reintegration process of El Salvador’s FMLN insurgents, from the 1992 peace accords to present day, challenges this assumption. The social and political networks forged during the war did not simply reintegrate to ‘dissolve’ into larger society. Veterans, from rank-and-file to comandantes, sought to translate the social, cultural and symbolic capital acquired in the insurgency into strategies for economical survival and / or social ascendency. Electoral competition in a polarized and distrustful political environment allowed for the emergence of an intricate system of competing sovereignties, partially embedded in the State, partially functioning parallel to it. While competing for power with political contenders, the veterans’ create new forms of patronage and community control, framed within a shared revolutionary history. El Salvador’s case illustrates the need to revise the premises of post war reintegration as a bound and individualized process. The study proposes the inclusion of two new tools in the analysis, design and evaluation of reintegration programmes: 1) patron-client network theory and 2) a historicized understanding of the insurgents’ political and moral economy.

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