El Salvador: Left challenge gathering momentum

Issue 

El Salvador is an exciting Central American nation to be watching at the moment, because if current polls are to be believed, the left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), looks set to win the parliamentary elections in January, and the presidential elections in March.

Currently 31.1% of people will vote for the FMLN, 224.8% for the incumbent right-wing ARENA party, with 44.1% undecided, according to a poll by LPG Datos, an August 1 Angus Reid Global Monitor article reported.

The FMLN already hold more than 50% of the mayoral positions in El Salvador, including the capital San Salvador. A huge amount of the country is governed by local FMLN administrations.

From 1931 until 1980, all but one Salvadoran president was an army officer. Periodic presidential elections were seldom free or fair and the oligarchy in alliance with military forces ruled the nation.

As in many Latin American countries, this inequality led to peasant-based opposition to the ruling oligarchs. The FMLN is a popular, left-wing, political party that was formed out of this struggle and officially came together in 1980 to wage an armed struggle against the military dictatorship and the death squads, both heavily backed by the US.

El Salvador's other major political party is ARENA, which represents the forces from the dictatorship that have regrouped since the peace accords in the early 1990s and has consolidated its control through the ballot box.

Social struggle

Judging from recent political trends, ARENA's political monopoly is jeopardised. This is largely due to the FMLN becoming more effective at reaching out to the broad masses through grassroots political struggle.

The Salvadoran people are increasingly tired of the right's relentless implementation of neoliberal policies, including privatisation and shredding labour protections for public sector workers.

In particular, ARENA's recent attempt to privatise the health care system proved deeply unpopular and was beaten back by the likes of doctors and nurses, supported by the FMLN. The ARENA government has privatised banks, the pension system, and the electricity and telephone companies.

El Salvador has a very low tax income at around 11% of GDP. Around 53% of tax income is from a goods and services tax, which hits the poor disproportionately.

Remittances from Salvadorans living abroad, sent to family in El Salvador, are a major source of income and constitute approximately 16.2% of GDP — almost US$4 billion a year. According to the United Nations Development Agency, an estimated 22.3% of families receive such remittances.

Poverty is soaring and organised crime has reached epidemic proportions in the country, with 3500 people murdered every year.

Repression

The reigning ARENA party was originally founded by right-wing death squad leader Roberto D'Aubuisson, who was one of those behind the assassination of left-wing Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1980. The hymn of the party touts El Salvador as a tomb where "the Reds will die".

Under pressure from the US administration, ARENA instituted draconian anti-terror legislation based on the USA Patriot Act in 2006. ARENA uses the anti-terror legislation to pick up and jail political activists who protest unpopular government moves, such as the privatisation of water resources.

Targeted killings have increased as the elections have gotten closer such as the assassinations of FMLN mayor Wilber Moses Funes in January and that of anti-water-privatisation activist, 19-year-old Hector Antonio Ventura, in May.

In October of last year, Alejandro Funes, the 27-year-old son of the FMLN presidential candidate Mauricio Funes, was bludgeoned to death while dining in Paris, just days after his father announced his candidacy.

The agricultural sector, meanwhile, has been flooded by cheap goods from the US and hasn't been able to compete. In desperation, cooperative farmers have been selling off the land and sending their children to the US to look for work. The abolition of the national currency in favour of the US dollar has also created major problems as whenever Wall Street has a hiccup, El Salvador's economy gets hit hard.

While at rallies, Funes doesn't sing the party's anthem, or wear the traditional red colours, and prefers to campaign in a crisp white shirt. He is presenting himself as someone capable of saving El Salvador from the ARENA government.

During the 2004 presidential elections, ARENA campaigned on the claim that the FMLN would not be able to effectively manage the economy, and argued that the US government would see to it that remittances ceased to come into the country in the event of an FMLN victory.

While many have since realised that the US cannot actually carry this out, ARENA government continues to campaign on these points anyway.

Currently, El Salvador exports everything from textiles, to shoes and processed foods to the US. The FMLN is put in a position of not wishing to jeopardise such a vital trade relationship with the world's only superpower that has not just raped El Salvador and stolen its wealth, but also propped up the murderous military regimes that killed and tortured thousands.

Right now the US is El Salvador's most important market, purchasing 57.1% of the Central American nation's goods.

El Salvador in turn receives more than 40% of its imports from the US. With this in mind, Funes has stated numerous times that he wishes for democracy in El Salvador, a more dynamic and competitive economy, institutions that function properly, and declared that El Salvador need not line up with US President George Bush, Brazilian President Lula da Silva nor Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to achieve these goals.

Nonetheless, the FMLN has stated its intention to join the trading bloc based on solidarity, established by Venezuela in alliance with Cuba — the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA).

One of Funes' first decisions as president would be to withdraw Salvadoran troops from Iraq.

The events unfolding in El Salvador are doubly exciting as they are happening as part of the broader movement to the left that is occurring across Latin America. If the FMLN were to win, it would mean yet another super-exploited nation beginning to slip the clutches of US imperialism.

A fear is that the right-wing forces will succeed by using electoral fraud to deny the FMLN victory. The FMLN is calling for election observers to go to El Salvador in 2009 to help prevent this from occurring.

Brigades are being prepared in various countries, including Australia, that offer people a chance to see yet another oppressed people challenging the US empire.