Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 January 2018, 13:56 GMT

El Salvador: FMLN Guerrilla Attacks on Infrastructure and Commerce in San Miguel and the Response of the El Salvadoran Armed Forces Third Brigade

Publisher United States Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services
Author Resource Information Center
Publication Date 20 November 2000
Citation / Document Symbol SLV01002.ZNK
Cite as United States Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, El Salvador: FMLN Guerrilla Attacks on Infrastructure and Commerce in San Miguel and the Response of the El Salvadoran Armed Forces Third Brigade, 20 November 2000, SLV01002.ZNK , available at: [accessed 17 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


To what extent did the FMLN guerrillas target infrastructure and commerce during the 1980s and how did the Third Infantry Brigade, based in San Miguel department, fare in defending against such attacks?


Beginning in 1979, and especially from 1981 onward, the Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN, Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front) carried out a concerted campaign of economic sabotage, particularly in commercially important eastern departments such as San Miguel, which severely tested military units in the region, including the Third Infantry Brigade.

The Third Infantry Brigade was based in the city of San Miguel, the capital of San Miguel department in eastern El Salvador. The principal units of the Third Brigade were three Batallones de Infantería Anti-Terrorista (BIATs, Anti-Terrorist Infantry Battalions). They were named the Leon, Ponce and Cuscatlán Battalions and each had about 500-600 soldiers (Jane's Intelligence Review 14 Apr 1990).

At least as early as 1979, the FMLN sought to undermine the Salvadoran economy by targeting the nation's infrastructure. In 1981 guerrilla attacks on bridges, the electrical grid, farms, factories and other infrastructure became more intensive and systematic, particularly in San Miguel and the eastern half of the country, and included in October of that year the destruction of the Puente de Oro, a Coast Highway suspension bridge over the Lempa River. The Lempa divides the country in two and also defines the border between San Vicente and San Miguel departments (Baloyra 1982, 162; Montgomery 1995, 140-142, 151; UPI 13 Mar 1982).

By 1990, according to one estimate, the total cost of economic sabotage by the FMLN were greater than $1 billion. Another estimate put the cost at more than $1.5 billion. From 1981 until mid-1987, by one count, the FMLN destroyed or seriously damaged 83 of the country's 92 major bridges, including the Puente de Oro and the Cuscatlán (Pan American Highway), the country's two largest, both of which spanned the Lempa River and connected San Salvador to San Miguel and other eastern departments. By 1984 not a single culvert or bridge along the Coast Highway running through San Miguel and neighboring departments had escaped FMLN bombings (Stanley 1996, 238; UPI 11 Aug 1987; AP 20 Jan 1984; Time 6 Feb 1984).

Prior to destroying the Cuscatlán bridge with plastic explosives on New Year's Day in 1984, the FMLN had regularly attacked the span, launching almost nightly raids against the structure during parts of 1982. The guerrillas also were able to dynamite power lines in San Miguel and other departments to such an extent that the eastern half of the country was often without electrical power. That further stretched the capacity of the Third Brigade whose units were assigned to protect infrastructure in the area, particularly along the Lempa River crossings. The FMLN on occasion also was able to penetrate military perimeters in attacks on the 15 de Septiembre hydroelectric dam located a half mile north of the Cuscatlán bridge on the Lempa River (AP 19 Aug 1982; UPI 18 Mar 1983; UPI 16 Sept 1983; Newsweek,16 Jan 1984; AP 21 Jan 1984).

The Third Brigade was hard pressed as well to contend with the FMLN tactic of combining attacks on infrastructure and agricultural installations with assaults on military posts, including the Third Brigade barracks in the city of San Miguel. In September 1983, for example, the barracks came under heavy FMLN mortar fire, while simultaneously other FMLN units attacked in other parts of the city, carried out assaults against three bridges elsewhere in the department, shelled a sugar mill south of the city and destroyed a sugar plantation. Eighteen soldiers and twelve guerrillas were killed in the city, according to military sources. It was at least the third time the FMLN attacked the Third Brigade barracks within a twelve-month period (Washington Post 18 Mar 1984; AP 5 Sept 1983; UPI 7 Feb 1982).

Another frequent guerrilla target guarded by the Third Brigade was the railroad bridge running parallel to the Cuscatlán bridge over the Lempa River, particularly after the Cuscatlán bridge was destroyed, causing the government to detour commercial vehicular traffic onto the railroad trestle (UPI 9 May 1984; AP 12 Jan 1984).


Associated Press. Allen, Arthur. "Power Still Out, Major Offensive Continues" (San Salvador: 19 August 1982).

Associated Press. Allen, Arthur. "Rebels Attack Third Largest City" (San Miguel: 5 September 1983).

Associated Press. Cabrera, Annie. "Army Repels Rebel Attack on Bridge" (12 January 1984).

Associated Press. Allen, Arthur. "Salvadoran Troops Launch Big Anti-Guerrilla Sweep" (San Salvador: 20 January 1984).

Associated Press. Cabrera, Annie. "Harvest Troubled by Rain and Guerrillas" (21 January 1984).

Baloyra, Enrique. El Salvador in Transition (Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1982).

Jane's Intelligence Review. English, Adrian. "Policing the State of El Salvador" (London: 14 April 1990).

Montgomery, Tommie Sue. Revolution in El Salvador: From Civil Strife to Civil Peace, Second Edition (Boulder: Westview Press, 1995).

Newsweek. Deming, Angus. "An Army on the Ropes?" (San Salvador: 16 January 1984).

Stanley, William. The Protection Racket State: Elite Politics, Military Extortion, and Civil War in El Salvador (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996).

Time. "The Battle for Usulután: Troops Try to Win not only Firefights but Hearts and Minds" (6 February 1984).

United Press International. Newhagen, John E. "Army Commandos in New Anti-guerrilla Drive" (San Salvador: 7 February 1982).

United Press International. Tamayo, Juan O. "Along Salvador's Sabotage Road" (San Marcos Lempa, El Salvador: 13 March 1982).

United Press International. Newhagen, John E. "FBI Tests Cannot Be Used As Evidence In Nuns' Case" (San Salvador: 18 March 1983).

United Press International. Drudge, Michael W. "Army Strengthened Against Rebel Attacks" (6 February 1984).

United Press International. Drudge, Michael W. "Guerrillas Say Duarte Presidency Would Bring U.S. Invasion" (San Salvador: 9 May 1984).

United Press International. Farah, Douglas. "Rebels Blow Up Bridge in El Salvador" (San Salvador: 11 August 1987).

Washington Post. Cody, Edward. "Attacks in El Salvador Shatter Lull Before Vote" (San Miguel: 18 March 1984).


Search Refworld