People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 11

March 22, 2009


Winds Of Change In El Salvador

R Arun Kumar

Mauricio Funes of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) won the presidential elections held on March 15, 2009 in El Salvador. People have voted for him with a hope that this would pave the way for a process of change towards a developed, egalitarian country. This is the first defeat for the conservatives in the twelve years after the Chapultepec Peace Accords were signed in 1992 bringing an end to the civil war. According to the results announced by the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE), Funes won 51.26 per cent of votes, while his rival Rodrigo Avila of the ruling National Republican Alliance (ARENA) secured 48.74 per cent.

The victory of FMLN was achieved despite heavy campaigning against it by the ruling party and the classes backing it. This victory has put to an end not just the rule of the ARENA but also the 130 years rule of the oligarchs and military dictatorships that had plundered the resources of El Salvador. Moreover this victory assumes further significance because of the fact that the United States has spent more than $6 billion in the civil war from 1980 to 1992 in El Salvador to defeat the FMLN. This bloody civil war has left more than 75,000 people dead and most of them are common people who stood by the FMLN. The ruling classes in the country with the overt support of the United States tried to physically eliminate all the resistance to their hegemony. History has once again proved that it is impossible to snub people’s resistance.

After the news of FMLN victory was confirmed, people came onto the streets waving red flags. Once again the streets turned red, but this time not with FMLN’s blood, but with young children, boys, girls, elderly people, families dressed in red, joyously celebrating, singing revolutionary songs and commemorating their victory. They are indeed celebrating a joy that they’ve never known in their lives, coming out of a silence that the country has always known its whole life.

Begun as a coalition of five Leftist political parties and armed resistance movements, the FMLN has continued to represent the legacy of the tenacious Left-wing resistance during the protracted civil war. The FMLN has faced electoral disappointment and its activists have met with repression under successive post-war governments led by the conservative right. It has played a key role in El Savador's resolute social movements and stood against privatisation of healthcare, water and electricity and against US imperialism. A bedrock of its platform is its opposition to the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and the dollarisation of the country’s economy.

Unlike in previous elections, the FMLN was able to overcome fear wrought by the US government and its rightist allies, and instill hope among the people. El Salvador is dependent upon remittances for nearly 20 per cent of its GDP. ARENA and Republican legislators in the US have repeatedly threatened to cut off this infusion of cash to families of those already forced to migrate due to threats from death squads––or, more recently, the policies implemented under the regime of “free trade” agreements like CAFTA. Four days before the election, Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) reported that five Republican Congressmen threatened Salvadorans living in the US with the loss of their immigration status and a ban on remittances to their families if the FMLN emerged victorious. Supporters of the FMLN in the US flooded the State Department with complaints, and these threats were rebuffed. 33 members of the US Congress came out publicly against this and the past intervention and the Obama administration was forced to state that it will work with any elected leader. More importantly, the threat of the Republican and the right-wing legislators could not sway the voters in El Salvador, as they headed to the ballot box.

The FMLN promised people to work for generating jobs, reducing the cost of living and improving health and education, as well as implementing plans to eradicate the causes of violence and struggle against corruption. It also promised to work for strengthening the state institutionally, for rural development, creation of a food security network to protect vulnerable groups, and an economy committed to social welfare.

The main challenges facing the president-elect Mauricio Funes are about adopting measures to deal with the economic crisis, and especially its effects on the poor, and strengthening the country’s institutions. In El Salvador, poverty is affecting 40 percent of the population and due to its binding with the US, the effects of recession are severely felt. Remittances in 2008 fell to 8 per cent, adversely affecting its economy.

Keeping in mind these challenges, Funes in his victory speech had promised to crack down on big business and reorient policies for the welfare of the poor. He said that he would work towards converting the country's economy into a 'dynamic economy'. He also promised to develop an independent foreign policy and restore relations with Cuba.

FMLN victory changes the Central American political scenario. It joins the Nicaraguans, Hondurans and Guatemalans who have become part of the new wave of nationalist and popular governments, breaking the servility to the 'empire'.

This victory also completes a historic cycle. Defeating the Leftist forces in both Nicaragua and El Salvador was the absolute priority of the US foreign policy during Reagan years. Now both are ruled by Leftists whom the US administration had then branded as 'perpetuators of terrorism'. The victory of FMLN along with the victory of Sandinsta's last year in Nicaragua exposes the complete bankruptcy of the US foreign policy. This victory also demonstrates common peoples' yearning for a real change in their lives.