by Nicolas Lopez of Barrio Nuevo Basics Issue #13 (Apr/May 2009)
Patiently enduring a long road of suffering and disillusionment, the FMLN, the main people’s party of El Salvador, has set an example of how perseverance and conviction can achieve what it aims for. On March 15, 2009 the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) triumphed in El Salvador’s presidential elections, bringing a major political defeat to the right-wing governing party, ARENA, and bringing the people one step closer to the reality of social and economic justice.
During the 1980s, five insurgent groups united to form the FMLN coalition, which they named after the internationalist-minded Farabundo Marti, a Salvadorian leader of a peasant and working class uprising against electoral fraud in January 1932. Dictator Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez reacted with furious violence against the movement, backed by U.S. and British military support. During an event known as ‘La Matanza’ (The Massacre), Farabundo Marti was executed and historians estimate that some 30,000 people were killed during four days. Since then, the people’s movement in El Salvador took to the underground to organize themselves clandestinely to overcome repression. In response, the Salvadorian government began using death squads to kill the revolutionaries’ social base. During those years of fierce repression, the people’s movement was forced to take up armed struggle as a way to defend the poor from the violence imposed on them, enduring the hardships of a gruesome civil war that lasted from 1979 until 1992. Although the people’s movement was unable to seize power from the powerful Salvadorian army aided by a million-dollar-a-day U.S. investment in paramilitary squads, the movement was still able to achieve wide political support and legitimacy, laying the foundation of what today is a victorious movement.
This is the brutal history that set the tone for the 2009 Presidential elections in El Salvador.
A week before the elections, the FMLN closed the campaign in the capital, San Salvador. Hundreds of thousands of people participated in a public gathering, the largest crowd for a political event in decades. It was a show of support far superior to what the right wing party displayed the next day. It was obvious by then that the FMLN had a greater following than the opposing party, and during the days of that week ARENA (Republican Nationalist Alliance) desperately tried to convince people through an intensive media bombardment that if FMLN were to be elected, El Salvador would become subordinate to Venezuela and “President Hugo Chavez’s expansionist project”, and that Salvadorians would risk having remittances from family members in the U.S. halted by the U.S. government.
ARENA’s maneuvers to discredit the revolutionaries included personal attacks against FMLN candidate Mauricio Funes, to which Funes responded by highlighting his party’s proposals to overcome the devastating effects of the neoliberal capitalist policies implemented by ARENA since 1993. ARENA has a long track record of using tricks and foul play to maintain power, but this time the frustrated population would not allow another fraud to occur and perhaps wouldn’t limit their furious reaction.
ARENA has in past handed out thousands of fake IDs to people they brought in from neighboring countries to fraudulently vote for their party. Although widespread evidence indicates this also happened on March 15th, 2009 FMLN was still able to move their voters and supporters to the vote and defend their electoral rights against these ‘tactricks’ of ARENA.
However, change will only occur gradually in El Salvador, with the right still firmly entrenched in the bureaucracy, the judiciary, and with the FMLN lacking a majority of seats in the Parliament. At best, the FMLN’s presence in the government will only be able to pave the ground for future rounds of struggle. For a start, it will begin by opening the books and taxing big business and recover the U$2 billion lost every year on tax evasion. This could allow them to increase wages and subsidies to basic social services, implement land reform and increase agricultural production, increase employment and scholarship opportunities and reduce gang violence in urban areas. Also, the FMLN’s political presence will give them the opportunity to strengthen the social and political capacity of the mass movements, for example by strengthening community media. Furthermore, with the FMLN at the head of the executive branch of government, they will be able to establish independent foreign relations, which under ARENA’s governments were so submissive to U.S. policy.
All of this, however, will only be possible through the continued participation and increased development of an organized mass movement to defend and advance the struggle for the economic and social power of the people.