El Salvador elections: Fear defeats hopeFour years ago(March 12, 2000), El Salvador's Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional - FMLN boasted that it had become "the primary political force in the country, having won 31 diputados [congressional seats] in the Legislative Assembly and 80 municipal governments. This represents 50% of the national population and approximatedly 75% of the country's economic activity." Yesterday, the FMLN really thought it was going to win the presidency.
Pretty impressive hope for a revolutionary political party that had struggled against such enormous odds -- including not only the usual police repression of its leaders, but even massacres of those merely suspected of supporting its aims, since the birth of the tiny and clandestine Communist Party (PCS) in 1930 and up through the intense and terribly violent armed struggle of 1980-1994, which included the Communists and many other sectors united against the military dictatorship. In the election yesterday, the FMLN went back to its origins, putting up the old Communist Party chief and guerrilla commander, 74-year old Schafik Handal, as its candidate for president.
Schafik ran on a a message of revolutionary hope, only occasionally tinged by the enormous anger that he and his comrades must feel for the bloody harassment down through the decades. The campaign backing the right-wing ARENA candidate, 39-year old Antonio Elías Saca, was all about fear -- fear of what could happen to the poor country if Schafik were elected. Among hard-core ARENA supporters (not many), there is of course fear of anything labeled "Communist" -- though white-bearded Schafik was doing his best to appear as a wise and friendly uncle rather than an armed monster. However, ARENA knew that mobilizing its hard core was not going to be enough to win this election, and they went back to their dirty tricks, though (very fortunately) with less violence than in the days when they were murdering an archbishop, nuns and priests, students and peasants and any other opponents. The main campaign resource was fear that Schafik would so alienate the United States that investments would cease and the many Salvadorans who had emigrated there would be unwelcome, so that the remittances (the money they send back to their families in El Salvador) would be cut off. And the United States Government did little to allay that fear -- and, given the nature of current US policy toward Latin America, and fanatics like Otto Reich who are running it, the fear may have been justified.
Schafik now has lost the presidential election, by a big, big margin. To the FMLN's apparent astonishment (their website was predicting a win in the first round, i.e., without need for a runoff), Saca took nearly 60% of the vote. The FMLN remains a powerful force, in the Assembly and in local governments, but it looks as though even healing the bitter antagonisms of the 1970s and 1980s (and from even long before) will not be enough to let them take power nationally as long as the US Government and corporations retain a stranglehold on the national economy.
Check out the colorful website FMLN .
Here is a related comment, in English, on the tragic poetic life of revolutionary Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton, which illustrates something of the intensity of the struggles in that small country.