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Issue # 1404      25 March 2009

Long struggle crowned with FMLN victory

The full significance of the FMLN victory in the recent presidential elections is still sinking in for the people of El Salvador. For the first time since independence was declared in 1821, the troubled Central American country has a socialist President – a head of state committed to a program of thorough change, a reordering of the political priorities of the country with the needs of the poor majority at the top of the list. Maurico Funes and his party overcame huge obstacles to secure the leadership of the country and now a massive backlog of nation-building tasks awaits them.

In January, the FMLN (the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front) became the largest party in the country’s National Assembly. It won 35 out the 84 seats while the right wing ARENA party won 32. In the presidential poll, popular former independent journalist Mauricio Funes won just over 51 percent of the votes to defeat private security business mogul, Rodrigo Ávila. Two smaller right wing parties, the Christian Democrats and the National Reconciliation Party, withdrew their candidates to throw their support behind ARENA.

The FMLN grew out of the guerrilla struggle that erupted against tyrannical pro-US governments during the 1980s. Following UN-brokered peace accords in 1992, the FMLN became a leftist political force with mass support among the workers and other exploited people of El Salvador. ARENA was founded by former members of the rightwing death squads that terrorised the rural areas of the country in particular during the civil war. The FMLN victory ends ARENA’s twenty-year grip on executive power and underscores the general leftward political trend in Latin America.

Funes had to overcome a major scare campaign against him to secure the post of president. The right, which owns the media and uses it shamelessly to promote the agenda of the country’s wealthy elites, pulled out all the stops to create fear in the electorate of a rift with the US. It continued with long established practices of financial and other inducements to poor citizens to attend its rallies and vote for its candidates.

ARENA bussed voters to polling booths from remote areas and even from neighbouring countries. Polling arrangements penalise poorer residents wanting to vote for the FMLN by placing booths in distant central locations. Citizens living overseas – often as a result of the civil war and intolerable economic conditions created by successive right wing governments – were not entitled to vote.

The new government is hopeful that the Obama administration in the US will respect the decision of the people of El Salvador to set out in a new direction. During the presidential campaign, a group of US academics forming part of an international team observing the poll visited the US embassy in San Salvador. They were seeking an assurance that the US would remain neutral in the elections. Hector Perla, who headed the delegation, reported that in response to the request for a statement of neutrality, embassy staff responded “No, we can’t do that.”

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