The Left Wins in El Salvador

In memory of Shafik Handal, Óscar Arnulfo Romero and 75,000 innocent victims of death squads (1982-1990) in El Savador

Kana’an eBulletin – Volume IX – Issue 1837

Leftist Salvadoran Party Wins Vote
REUTERS, March 16, 2009

SAN SALVADOR, March 15 (Reuters) – A former TV journalist won El Salvador’s presidential election on Sunday, bringing a party of former Marxist guerrillas to power for the first time after 20 years of rule by their right-wing civil war foes.

Mauricio Funes, running for the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN, won 51.3 percent of the vote against 48.7 percent for the ruling conservative ARENA party.

It was a momentous victory for the left in a nation where memories of the 1980-92 civil war that killed 75,000 people, many by right-wing death squads, hang heavy over politics.

Hundreds of jubilant red-clad leftists hugged each other, cheered and let off fireworks at a monument in the capital.

They waved FMLN flags and sang as Funes vowed in a speech broadcast to the crowd that he would start work at once to ease poverty and tackle the impact of the global economic crisis on a nation heavily dependent on the U.S. economy.

“We are living this triumph to the full,” said Rolando Martinez, 43, a former FMLN fighter. “This evening is ecstasy.”

Rodrigo Avila of the ARENA party, which has ruled El Salvador since 1989, conceded defeat and said his party would be “constructive in opposition.”

In his victory speech, Funes called for reconciliation with ARENA, whose founder was linked to civil war-era death squads.

“My party, the FMLN, has shown to the whole world it is ready for a new government,” Funes, the first FMLN candidate who does not have a guerrilla past, told supporters.

His election win boosts a growing group of left-wingers in Latin America, led by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, but Funes says he is a pro-business moderate who will maintain El Salvador’s close ties with Washington.

The United States spent billions of dollars in supporting a string of right-wing governments as they fought off FMLN rebels in the mountains and forests of El Salvador in one of the Cold War’s most bitter conflicts.

ARENA has kept the coffee-exporting Central American country firmly in the pro-Washington camp, even sending troops to help U.S. forces in Iraq.

But stubborn poverty and street crime have helped the FMLN, which laid down its weapons under a 1992 peace deal and set up a political party to seek power at the ballot box.


Funes, a familiar face on TV who reported on the war as a young journalist, gave a fresh face to the FMLN which lost the past three elections to ARENA, or the Nationalist Republican Alliance, as many still associated it with rebel warfare.

“This victory … has cost years of fighting, sacrifice and blood,” said FMLN lawmaker Orestes Ortez in the crowd.

Many voters wanted to join the shift to the left in Latin America, but others were nervous about handing power to a party schooled in Cuban-style socialism as an economic crisis bites.

In its 20 years in power, ARENA built up big manufacturing and service sectors and adopted the U.S. dollar in a country that used to rely heavily on indigo and coffee exports.

Avila, a former national police chief, raked up the past for some left-wingers however. He was a civil war sniper with a paramilitary unit that fought with the army and has admitted killing rebels in the conflict.

About a quarter of Salvadorans live in the United States and the tiny nation relies heavily on the money they send home. The government says as many as 40,000 Salvadorans may have flown in from the United States to vote.

But remittances and U.S. demand for Salvadoran factory goods are waning with the recession.

Funes used to host political talk shows often critical of ARENA governments. He has vowed to crack down on corruption and tax evasion and use the funds to create jobs and ease poverty.

Opponents worry Funes’ hardline FMLN running mate, Salvador Sanchez, could take policy to the left and align the country with more radical Venezuela and Nicaragua. “We’ll be totally in Chavez’s hands,” said Carlos Palomo, 36, who works in tourism.

The FMLN had gained in recent congressional races as young voters grew angry at a lack of prospects. Living costs have soared in recent years, and the failure to make ends meet has fed violent street gangs.

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Leftist Declares Victory In El Salvador Election

By William Booth

Washington Post Foreign Service, March 16, 2009; Page A11

MIAMI, March 16 — Mauricio Funes, a former TV newsman who was recruited to run for president, declared himself the winner of El Salvador’s presidential contest Sunday night, bringing into power a leftist party built by former guerrillas and ending two decades of conservative rule.

Funes, a dynamic speaker and political outsider who compares himself to President Obama and pledged to be an agent of change in the small Central American nation, was leading the polls late Sunday night with 51.2 percent of the vote and more than 90 percent of the ballots counted. Turnout was high and election day was mostly calm.

If the lead holds, Funes and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) will take control of a nation struggling with an economic crisis and a murder rate that is among the highest in the world. The country has also suffered through 12 years of civil war, which left more than 70,000 people dead.

Funes’s opponent, former National Police chief Rodrigo Ávila, who represented the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), was trailing with 48.7 percent of the vote. Ávila conceded defeat, telling supporters, “We will be a constructive opposition.”

During a rough campaign season, Ávila insisted that a win for Funes and the FMLN would transform El Salvador into a hard-left satellite state of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Ávila further warned that Funes would turn El Salvador away from the United States. The two countries have traditionally shared close relations. More than 2 million El Salvadorans live in the United States, and thousands traveled home to vote in the elections.

Funes promised to create a broad government composed of FMLN members and outsiders like himself. He said he sought a close working relationship with the United States and vowed to champion the cause of El Salvador’s poor. “This is the happiest night of my life, and I want it to be the night of El Salvador’s greatest hope,” he said. “I want to thank all the people who voted for me and chose that path of hope and change.”


* * *

Leftist wins El Salvador’s presidency
Leftist’s victory brings former guerrillas to power for 1st time since civil war

The Associated Press, March. 16, 2009

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador – A leftist television journalist has won El Salvador’s presidential election, bringing a party of former guerrillas to power for the first time since a bloody civil war and ending two decades of conservative rule.

Mauricio Funes, a moderate plucked from outside the ranks of the rebel-group-turned-political-party Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, became the latest leftist to rise to power in Latin America at a time of uncertainty over how President Barack Obama will approach the region.

With 90 percent of the vote counted late Sunday, Funes had 51 percent compared to 49 percent for Rodrigo Avila of the ruling conservative Arena party, said Walter Araujo, president of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal.

Avila, accompanied by current President Tony Saca, conceded defeat and wished Funes luck.

Funes reported on the 12-year war that ended 17 years ago with 75,000 people dead, and he later hosted a popular interview show. He promised to unite the country after one of the most polarizing campaigns since the conflict.

‘Path of hope and change’
“This is the happiest night of my life, and I want it to be the night of El Salvador’s greatest hope,” Funes said. “I want to thank all the people who
voted for me and chose that path of hope and change.”

Jubilant, red-clad Funes supporters poured into the streets of San Salvador, whooping, clapping, blowing whistles and waving large party flags. Colorful fireworks shot up into the night sky.

Funes, 49, rode a wave of discontent with two decades of Arena party rule that have brought economic growth but done little to redress social inequalities. Fuel and food prices have soared, while powerful gangs extort businesses and fight for drug-dealing turf, resulting in one of Latin America’s highest homicides rates.

Funes promised to crack down on big businesses which he says exploit government complacency to evade taxes.

“The time has come for the excluded, the opportunity has arrived for genuine democrats, for men and women who believe in social justice and solidarity,” he told a rally of roaring supporters early Monday.

Avila, 44, a former police chief, had warned that an FMLN victory would send El Salvador down a communist path and threaten the country’s warm relations with the United States. He vowed Sunday to lead “a vigilant opposition that would ensure that the country does not lose its liberties.”

Close ally of Washington
Close U.S. ties saw El Salvador keep troops in Iraq longer than any other Latin American country and become a hub of regional cooperation with Washington against drug trafficking. The country’s economy depends on billions of dollars sent home by 2.5 million Salvadorans who live in the United States.

The Obama government has assured Salvadorans it would work with any leader elected – a marked departure from the Bush administration, which in 2004 suggested that an FMLN victory would hurt ties.

But U.S. relations with some leftist leaders remain tense, including Venezuela’s fiery Hugo Chavez and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, who lashed out last week at the United States for holding back aid over an election dispute.

Funes hopes to start off relations fresh with the Obama administration and promises to respect a free trade agreement with the United States and keep the dollar as El Salvador’s currency.

“Integration with Central America and strengthening relations with the United States will be the priority of our foreign policy,” Funes said.

During the campaign, television broadcasts were flooded with campaign ads warning that a Funes victory would turn El Salvador into a Venezuelan satellite and emphasizing long-standing ties between the FMLN and Chavez. That stoked fears among many Salvadorans with bitter memories of the 1980-1992 leftist insurgency.

“We don’t want communists in this country,” said Jose Daniel Avila, a 65-year-old retired pilot of no relation to the candidate. “Look what has happened in Nicaragua and Venezuela. Those are not examples to follow.”

Chavez said earlier Sunday that his government was not taking sides in the election, adding that Venezuela wants to broaden its relations with whoever won.


* * *

A Conversation with Mauricio Funes

By Roberto Lovato & Josue Rojas

March 17, 2009

On March 15, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) became the first leftist party to clinch a presidential election in the history of El Salvador. By 10 pm, it became clear to Salvadorans and to the world that the former guerrillas had ended more than 130 years of oligarchy and military rule over this Central American nation of 7 million. In the streets, thousands of red-shirted sympathizers chanted “¡Si Se Pudo!” (Yes, We Could), while they celebrated the victory of the FMLN’s Mauricio Funes.

Funes captured 51 percent of the vote, to 49 percent cast for Rodrigo Avila of the Nationalist Republican Alliance party, which had been in power for twenty years.

Though Funes, a former journalist, is the best-known Salvadoran on his country’s TV networks, he is little known outside the region. Thanks to a collaboration between The Nation and New America Media (NAM), reporters Roberto Lovato and Josue Rojas had the opportunity to interview El Salvador’s next president on the night of his election. What follows is an excerpt from this interview with Funes, who addressed numerous issues: the meaning of his presidency, El Salvador’s relationship with the United States, immigration and other domestic and foreign policy concerns.

Immigration has become one of the defining issues of the US-El Salvador relationship. How will your administration’s approach to this issue differ from that of the outgoing Saca administration?

The fact that we’re going to rebuild the democratic institutions–enforce the constitution and make of El Salvador a democratic state that respects the rule of law–is the best guarantee to the United States that we will significantly reduce the flows of out-migration.

Salvadorans who leave to go the United States do so because of the institutional abandonment, the lack of employment and dignified ways to make a living. This forces them to leave in search of new possibilities in the US. It’s not the same for us to ask the US government to renew TPS [temporary legalization] without a Salvadoran effort to avoid further migration flows, as to do so from a position in which we have undertaken efforts to reduce the migration flows.

What’s the first message you’d like to send to President Obama?

The message that I would like to send to President Obama is that I will not seek alliances or accords with other heads of state from the southern part of the continent who will jeopardize my relationship with the government of the United States.

Opinion polls in El Salvador indicate that large majorities of its citizens reject key policies that define, in many ways, the relationship between El Salvador and the United States, specifically CAFTA, dollarization and the Iraq war. What will your approach be to these issues?

We can’t get mixed up in repealing CAFTA…nor can we reverse dollarization, because that would send a negative message to foreign investors, and then we’d be facing serious problems because we wouldn’t have enough investment to stimulate the national economy.

What do you think the United States government should be concerned about with regard to El Salvador at this time?

To the degree that we do our part, which is to rebuild our productive capacity and to create a coherent social policy that improves the quality of life, there will be fewer reasons to leave for the US and we’ll reduce migration flows. And that should be a concern for the US.

Where will the effects of the transition in power be felt most immediately?

We’re going to change the way we make policy. And one of the most significant changes is that we will no longer have a government at the service of a privileged few. And we will no longer have a government that creates an economy of privileges for the privileged. Now, we need a government like the one envisioned by [Archbishop of El Salvador] Óscar Arnulfo Romero, who, in his prophetic message, said that the church should have a preferential option for the poor.

Paraphrasing Monseñor Romero, I would say that this government should have preferential option for the poor, for those who need a robust government to get ahead and to be able to compete in this world of disequilibrium under fair conditions.

This government implies a break from traditional policy-making.

Now, what we’re going to do is put the government and the structure of the state at the service of the Salvadoran people–the totality of the Salvadoran people–but fundamentally, of that great majority who are oppressed and excluded from the country’s social and economic development. [The people who for] not just the last twenty years but for last 200 years or more have not had the possibility of participating in the formation of public policies.

A government like the one I’m going to create will give them the protagonist’s role, which, until now, they have not had.


Roberto Lovato, a frequent Nation contributor, is a New York-based writer with New America Media.

Josue Rojas, is a reporter for New America Media.

* * *

El Salvador May Join ALBA

Prensa Latina, Havana, 18 March 2009

Havana, Mar 18 (Prensa Latina) The newly-elected government of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front in El Salvador is interested in strengthening ties with ALBA countries, FMLN Representative in Cuba Alfredo Elias said.

According to Elias, El Salvador has already been benefitting from the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) by getting oil, fertilizers and medical aid Venezuela and Cuba, ALBA´s two main pillars.

We should establish relations with all nations, Elias said on Cuba´s national television.

He also said reestablishing diplomatic ties with Cuba should be a priority for the future government.

“For us, Cubans are blood brothers,” said the FMLN representative, who recalled Cuba´s solidarity to El Salvador.

In the past, Cuban hospitals were open to our war victims, while right now, many Salvadorans are having free eye surgery here, or are studying at Cuban universities, Elias said.

According to Elias, the FMLN will inherit a complex social panorama in El Salvador, characterized by extreme violence and emigration to the United States, as well as a free trade agreement with the US government that resulted in layoffs, a devastated agriculture, increased tariffs and the dollarization of the economy of one of the poorest countries in the region.

Based on that, we asked all social organizations and the people for support to design an action program that will prioritize the reactivation of agriculture, he explained.

Sunday FMLN’s victory in El Salvador put an end to 20 years of administration by the rightwing National Republican Alliance (ARENA). The new government will be sworn in on June 1.

ALBA is made up of Cuba, Nicaragua, Honduras, Bolivia, Dominica and Venezuela.{F1B…

* * *

President Chavez congratulates President-elect Funes on his victory

Caracas, Mar 15. ABN.- The President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez Frias, through a statement emitted by the Ministry of People’s Power for Foreign Affairs, congratulated the President-elect of the Republic of El Salvador, Mauricio Funes, who obtained more than 51 percent of the votes thanks to the massive participation of the Salvadoran people.

Following the full statement:

The President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, on behalf of the people of Bolivar, welcomes the unquestionable and resounding victory of brave journalist Mauricio Funes and the Farabandu Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) in presidential elections that took place in El Salvador on Sunday, March 15th, 2009.

This victory strengthens the historic wave that, in this first decade of the 21st century, has arisen in all of Latin America and the Caribbean, and opens its doors to other sibling peoples in the challenges they will face.

Today, the Salvadorian people did not waver; they stepped forward and displayed their clarity and courage, defeating a campaign of lies, trash and manipulations unleashed against the Bolivarian Republic and against progressive and dignified leaders of Latin America and the Caribbean. These disgraceful campaigns fomented by the international right wing in our continent were destroyed today by the consciousness of the majority of the Salvadorian people.

President Hugo Chávez congratulates President-elect Mauricio Funes, reminding him that the unity of our peoples is the only path to overcome the crisis unleashed from the heart of capitalism in the North. In this crucial moment, the children of Bolivar offer our hands in solidarity to President Mauricio Funes, so that together we may advance in the strengthening of this new era we are living through, together overcoming under-development and poverty.

Today we Venezuelans are happy, and in this hour of happiness we recognize the leader of peace, Shafik Handal, and the many men and women who gave their lives for the rebirth of the Salvadorian people. We recognize them with a song by Ali Primera: “Go Salvadorians, for there are no small birds that stop flying after taking off.” Let us fly together, El Salvador and Venezuela, towards our great homeland of the Americas in the time of the people.