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All Along The Watchtower:

A Memoir Of The 1970 Salvadoran Revolution


By Chris Oakley

Part 2



From Wikipedia’s entry on the Salvadoran Committee for National Liberation:

The Salvadoran Committee for National Liberation(SCNL), also known as Salvadoreno Comite de Liberacion Nacionale(SCLN), was the main insurgent force during the 1970 Salvadoran Revolution. It fought the Salvadoran regular army for more than two years and ultimately defeated it in spite of sustaining some heavy casualties on the battlefield; after the regime of Salvadoran president Julio Adalberto Rivera was overthrown in November of 1972 the SCNL renamed itself the National Executive Committee(NEC) and assumed full control of El Salvador’s government...


From the February 23rd, 1971 broadcast of NBC Nightly News:

The Salvadoran defense ministry today issued a statement denying rebel claims that the Salvadoran Committee for National Liberation has captured the town of San Vicente. The remote town, located near the eastern bank of the Lempo River, has been the subject of numerous rebel probing attacks since mid-January and four days ago became the site of a fierce battle between rebel and government troops; there has been no communication of any kind between the town and San Salvador since 4:30 PM US Eastern Daylight Time yesterday afternoon...


From an SCNL statement phoned in to the UPI office in Mexico City on February 24th, 1971:

In the name of the forces of liberation in El Salvador we hereby announce that the battle for San Vicente has ended. Our troops are now in complete control of the town and the people are fully co-operating with the Committee for National Liberation in its work to restore law and order there; all agents of the counterrevolutionary regime have been neutralized and we are strengthening the town’s defenses in order that we may repulse all attempts to take it from us...


From a live address by El Salvadoran president Julio Adalberto Rivera broadcast that same day from Rivera’s presidential palace:

By now you will have heard the rumor that we have lost San Vicente, that it is in the hands of the rebel armies. Nothing could be further from the truth- - in fact, we have crushed the rebel offensive and driven the SCLN armies into full retreat. Within days, weeks at the most, we will end its treasonous plot to overthrow the rightful government of this country; once the SCLN’s rebellion has been defeated, we will duly punish the traitors who instigated it...


From Ocho de Mayo:

The SCLN victory in the battle for San Vicente threw a monkey wrench into the El Salvadoran government’s strategic plans for containing the rebel forces. It had been hoped by the Salvadoran regular army’s general staff that an SCLN defeat at San Vicente would stop the rebel army in its tracks and grant the government forces breathing space in which to marshal their troops for a new campaign against the SCLN guerrillas. After San Vicente fell, however, the government army was on the defensive-- and would remain so until mid-June of 1971.

It wasn’t until March 2nd, eight full days after the last pockets of government army resistance near San Vicente had been neutralized, that the Adalberto Rivera regime finally acknowledged the truth about the rebel victory. And even then, it refused to concede the SCLN troops might have simply outmaneuvered the government forces; the government army’s defeat was blamed on so-called "deserters" who supposedly ran away at the peak of the battle. Given that cases of desertion in the Salvadoran regular army were hard to verify and that most such incidents at San Vicente had happened before the main battle for the town even started, unbiased observers were naturally skeptical about the Rivera regime’s claims-- but the Salvadoran president stuck by his story nonetheless...


From the April 17th, 1971 broadcast of BBC’s 9 O’Clock News:

A spokesman for the defence attaché’s office at the Salvadoran embassy in London refused today to confirm or deny reports that mutinous elements of the Salvadoran air force have bombed pro-government troop positions near the town of San Juan Nonualco....


From Firefights and Fruit Stands by Jim Rykers:

All throughout the spring I’d heard rumors that the regular army was getting ready to make a push on the SCNL base at San Vicente, but I only got solid confirmation of the attack about four days before it happened. I was at the UPI bureau in San Salvador filing a story on a firefight between government and rebel units near La Herradura when I got a call from one of my regular contacts at the Salvadoran defense ministry saying that a big army truck convoy was getting ready to ship out to Coatepeque1 in forty-eight hours. When I got off the phone I hired a jeep to take me out to the convoy so I could see the action from ringside, so to speak. And brother, did I ever see plenty of that...


From the June 18th, 1971 broadcast of The ABC Evening News:

After months on the defensive, the government forces in El Salvador have once again gone over to the attack. The military attaché at the Salvadoran embassy in Washington has confirmed that the Salvadoran regular army is at this hour engaged in a two-pronged offensive against SCNL bases in and around the town of San Vicente; San Vicente, which has been under SCNL control since late February, is considered by both sides to be a crucial link in the chain of forward outposts the rebel army has situated along the edge of its so-called "liberated zone" in eastern El Salvador. The main thrust of the assault on the rebels at San Vicente, according to an official source at the Salvadoran defense ministry, was launched from the nearby village of Coatepeque and supported by tanks and light attack aircraft...

In a related story, US Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird once again told the press that the White House has no plans at this time to send combat troops into El Salvador. However, Secretary Laird did not rule out the possibility of increasing American defense aid to the Salvadoran regular armed force….


From an Associated Press dispatch dated June 22nd, 1971:

SAN SALVADOR(AP)--After four days of the most bitter fighting El Salvador has seen to date in the civil war between SCLN guerrillas and the government army commanded by Salvadoran president Julio Adalberto Rivera, the town of San Vicente is once more under government control. According to sources in the Salvadoran regular army, the last remaining pockets of SCLN resistance in the San Vicente area were wiped out early this morning by concentrated tank and mortar fire from government forces. It is not known at this time how many casualties the rebel forces suffered during the battle; the government army puts its own losses at 200 dead and another 358 wounded...


From Ocho de Mayo:

The Salvadoran regular army’s victory at San Vicente put the initiative back in the government’s hands during the summer and early autumn of 1971. With one of the SCNL’s most critical bases gone, the rebels were put on the  defensive for months, forced to retreat as the government army pursued them deep into the jungle. During this retreat the rebels lost one outpost after another; at one point even the rebel headquarters at Gotera was under siege by government troops.

Had it not been for overconfidence on the part of some of the Salvadoran regular army’s field officers, the government forces could have smashed the SCNL in one blow once they reached Gotera. In early October, two infantry squads from the government side breached the outer perimeter of the rebel defenses at SCNL headquarters; in an interview with a BBC correspondent after the Salvadoran Revolution ended, a rebel sergeant admitted he’d been afraid these breaches were just a prelude to the government forces’ final assault on Gotera. But such an assault never came-- instead of immediately mounting a killing thrust on the SCNL’s nerve center, the regular army chose  to sit and wait for the insurgents to come to them, convinced that the rebels would eventually make a mistake the government side could exploit to its own advantage.

As it turned out, it would be the government forces which made the crucial mistake....


From the October 9th, 1971 New York Times, page 3:



Two Infantry Battalions Wiped Out; Regular Army Asserts Rebel Offensive Will Be Defeated


From a BBC Radio newscast dated October 12th, 1971:

The Salvadoran Committee of National Liberation, which merely a week ago appeared to be on the brink of a crushing final defeat at the hands of the regular army, is instead showing signs of a new lease on life as it wages a fierce attack on government troop positions outside the rebel headquarters at the town of San Francisco Gotera. The rebel offensive, which began under cover of near darkness four days ago, threatens to split the government lines in two and put the Salvadoran regular army once more on the defensive...


From a UPI dispatch dated October 15th, 1971:

SAN SALVADOR--Late this afternoon Salvadoran regular army forces broke off their attack on the Salvadoran Committee for National Liberation’s headquarters at the town of San Francisco Gotera...


From Firefights and Fruit Stands by Jim Rykers:

A lot of people say that the Salvadoran Revolution was basically over after the SCNL beat the government army at the second battle of Gotera. I don’t know if that’s necessarily true, but I will say this much: it took a lot of starch out of the Rivera government’s sails. I must’ve interviewed at least a hundred guys from the regular army after the government pulled out of Gotera, and half of them were ready to quit the service right then and there. The other half were talking about switching sides and joining the SCNL...


From Ocho de Mayo:

The failure to capture the rebel headquarters at Gotera was a sharp blow to the morale of the Salvadoran regular army. Immediately after the SCNL victory at the Second Battle of Gotera, the desertion rate in the regular army skyrocketed; there was also a major increase in the number of suicides and court-martials for insubordination. A growing sense of futility was starting to pervade the ranks of ordinary soldiers on the government side; some of the Salvadoran regular army’s junior officers were also questioning the wisdom of continuing the fight against the SCNL guerrillas.

By contrast, morale among the SCNL insurgents soared after the Second Battle of Gotera. Many in El Salvador who had previously been on the fence in regard to the Salvadoran revolution threw in their lot with the rebels, and those who’d backed the uprising from the start felt vindicated; even some Salvadorans who had previously sided with the Rivera government defected to the rebel camp...


From an Associated Press dispatch dated January 16th, 1972:

WASHINGTON(AP)--The White House today announced that it would ask Congress for an immediate 50 percent increase in military aid to the embattled Rivera government in El Salvador...


From the January 21st, 1972 broadcast of NBC Nightly News:

Independent sources at the headquarters for the chief of staff to the El Salvadoran air force have told NBC tonight that there is evidence a key fighter unit tasked to the air defense of San Vicente has gone over to the rebel side. According to these sources, the unit leader transmitted a brief radio message to an SCLN outpost on the eastern side of the Lempa River three hours ago, then contacted his home airfield to inform them that he and his wingmen would not be returning...


From the April 6th, 1972 Boston Globe, page 3:


White House continues to deny any plans to deploy ground forces in war-torn Central American country


To Be Continued



[1] Coatepeque was the launching point for the Salvadoran regular army’s June 1971 offensive to retake San Vicente.

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