The Committee to Defend Human Rights in El Salvador (CDHRES) is organising the "Feliciano Ama" work and solidarity brigade to travel to El Salvador in December. The brigade will participate in the construction of a city to be named "Guillermo Manuel Ungo" in honour of the late president of the Democratic Revolutionary Front.
In January, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) and the government of El Salvador, under the auspices of the United Nations, signed agreements to end more than 11 years of civil war, which caused casualties of more than 80,000 dead, 8000 disappeared and 1 million displaced.
Paul Ingerwers has worked for the magazine Mesoamerica. He interviewed Martin Bernardo de Jesus Zamora, former secretary of AGEUS (the General Student Association of El Salvador), about the construction of a new El Salvador, and about how Australians can play a role in the "Feliciano Ama' brigade. The translation for Green Left is by Lara Pullin.
El Salvador is entering a new phase in the journey towards socialism. How do you explain the changes which have reached the point where the government will permit a brigade to enter territory which is under the control of the FMLN — and for the express purpose of helping to construct a new El Salvador?
Without doubt, the untiring struggle of many sectors of our people was what generated the national and international conditions required so that the opposing parties signed the agreements which finally ended the armed conflict.
They have set into the peace agreement the freedom of political expression, the guaranteeing of respect for human rights, possibilities for participation in new structures of social security, a more just justice system.
Now is the moment for us to embrace all of these spaces which the peace agreement opens up, in order to guarantee them and convert them in ways which work in favour of the majority of the Salvadoran people (who have been marginalised). I believe that we are breaking new ground which is actually a gain in the process of making socialism a reality in El Salvador.
Looking forward to the elections in 1994, can you explain the importance of beginning now to construct a new society?
The Salvadoran people must begin now to break with conservatism, with timidity, and begin to discuss the many different forms which national life could take. It is the people who guarantee the accords and their future in the medium term by participating in all the activities within the spaces opened up through the peace process.
What role can the "Feliciano Ama" Brigade hope to play in the construction of a new El Salvador?
Now we have achieved the peace accord, we face the task which our Commandante Shafik Jorge Handal prefers not to call reconstruction (because this term gives one the idea that we are
going to reconstruct that which formerly existed, and this is false).
We are going to construct a new society together with the masses who have accompanied the combatants of the FMLN. It is for them that we are now organising this show of solidarity. The brigade also serves to show the government that they should concede to the diverse social forces in order to reach the end of the process of national reconstruction —and this requires the participation of all Salvadoran people —and international aid and solidarity.
After the 1994 elections, if the left wins, what initiatives will be taken to ensure the construction of a new El Salvador — one which is more just, free and democratic? How can a brigade such as the one you are organising influence the process of constructing a new El Salvador?
It is necessary to democratise our society in order to guarantee any changes. The agreements, in and of themselves, don't guarantee these aspects. There must be accompanying changes in direction and coordination, and also in the methodology and functioning of the unions, of the political parties and of the revolutionaries calling for change.
It is an error to say that we are democratising, because it is the country which will be democratic, because we are not the leaders of all society, the solvers of its problems, and we are still not an option for the majority of people. In that sense we have moved to the rearguard of the process.
The leaders, political parties and revolutionaries who are opening the valves of democracy are those who truly gather strength and popular support. Those who do the opposite and look to traditional methods are left isolated and outside the context.
We won peace but we have to look to the struggle still. We haven't won the application of the agreements because for this we must achieve, in a united way, an amplified and massive participation of the nation.
We have to break with the fear of being displaced. Democracy is for everyone, and we are going to build democracy working together — and it won't be a gift from President Alfredo Cristiani, but from the majority.
I can't tell you that we are going to win this, but I also can't tell you that we are going to lose. Only our people will decide this.