Civil War in El Salvador: Mobilizing from Below, Forging Democracy

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Civil War in El Salvador: Mobilizing from Below, Forging Democracy

Join us this Friday April 30, 2021 at 1:00 pm Pacific Time for our Friday lecture with Prof. Elisabeth Wood: 

Social mobilization from below during El Salvador’s civil war forged a transition to procedural democracy, forcing the initial liberalization of the regime and eventually laying the political and economic foundations for a negotiated end to the civil war. A decades-long pattern of elite recalcitrance and labor repression catalyzed non-violent mobilization in the 1970s as liberation theology spread across the countryside. The state’s indiscriminate violence in response forced some to flee to the cities or to other countries, others to demobilize, and still others to support insurgent organizations despite the very high risks they thereby ran. Drawing on ethnographic research during and after the civil war, interviews with a wide range of political actors, and political economic data, I make two arguments. Insurgent mobilization in the Salvadoran countryside was driven by moral and emotional commitments. Sustained mobilization, combined with a counterinsurgent agrarian reform, transformed key interests of economic elites, making elite compromise possible.

Elisabeth Jean Wood is the Crosby Professor of the Human Environment and Professor of Political Science, International and Area Studies at Yale University. Her work focuses on political violence, particularly conflict-related sexual violence during civil war, as well as the agrarian legacies of war. A fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, she teaches courses on comparative politics, political violence, collective action, agrarian studies, and qualitative field research.