On March 15, the candidate of the left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), Mauricio Funes, won El Salvador's presidential elections — despite significant fraud carried out by the right-wing Arena party.
The FMLN carried out a popular, mass struggle — including guerrilla warfare — against the US-backed military dictatorship that seized power in 1979.
US-trained death squads carried out brutal massacres of tens of thousands of people, with any opponent of the regime targeted for killing.
A massive popular offensive in 1989 led by the FMLN aimed to topple the dictatorship. While it failed to bring the regime down, it proved that, despite the billions of dollars in support provided by the US for its campaign of terror and mass murder, the regime was unable to crush the FMLN-led opposition.
In 1992, peace accords were signed, ending the armed conflict and opening the way for the FMLN to participate in elections.
Since then, the Arena government, with ties to infamous death squads, has implemented harsh anti-poor economic policies, while the FMLN and social movement activists have continued to be targeted by paramilitaries.
Despite Arena's repression, corruption and utilisation of fraud, support for the FMLN and its program of pro-poor development and social justice has continued to increase.
Nidia Diaz is a former guerrilla commander and current FMLN deputy in parliament. The following interview with her is translated and abridged from Rebelion.
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What does the victory in this presidential election signify?
The victory on March 15 is an achievement of all peoples, built up over many decades. For decades, El Salvador lived under military dictatorships. Never, via an electoral process, has the left, progressive and democratic forces had the possibility of assuming formal power and been able to administer the country.
What has changed since the demobilisation of the guerrillas to allow for this?
Following the armed conflict that lasted 12 years and put an end to the dictatorship through political accords, a process of democratisation began. This was obstructed before it could consolidate itself by Arena, which has governed since 1989.
Arena has had real power, economic power, and promoted a neoliberal model that contradicted the process of democratisation initiated by the peace agreement.
During this time, the worst crisis that our people have faced was created — causing poverty, unemployment, immigration and crime.
The first problem for people is the high cost of living, the second is unemployment and poverty in general. The third is crime. This was constant throughout those years.
This is why people wanted change — to no longer continue to be governed by Arena, which had demonstrated its incapacity to resolve problems. On the contrary, its authoritarian way of governing led the poorest to become poorer and the richest, richer.
So how is it that the FMLN became the instrument for change?
The FMLN, over its 30-40 years of struggle, built a powerful popular front that aimed to put an end to the dictatorships. It was not possible to achieve this through political and social struggle, it was necessary to defeat the dictatorships via military struggle. In those days, to have an opinion was a crime.
After the civil war, we entered into dialogue and signed accords that put an end to the dictatorship.
Due to this struggle, freedoms and rights were established that for decades had been suppressed.
Over the last 17 years, the FMLN has been able to develop into the strongest electoral force in the country.
During that time, did the FMLN change, or does it continue to maintain the same positions as when it first originated?
The FMLN continues to be faithful to its project. Its identity has been preserved.
I'm not saying that we haven't passed through different moments in our process of construction and development, but since the FMLN was founded and legally registered, we have developed principles and values accumulated from the decades of the '70s and '80s, as to the purpose of our struggle, the values that inspire us.
These principles have been laid down on paper and govern the five organisations that founded the FMLN.
We incorporated another objective in 2001, which was that the struggle for democratic transformation had to go down the path of socialism.
What concrete policies are need to construct this society?
For a long time, we have had a project for where we want to take El Salvador — towards a democratic, sovereign society based on justice, equality and economic development.
We developed the basis of our government program through a process of consultation with citizens between September 2007 and August 2008. We participated in 33 citizens' roundtables, involving all sectors of society, with more than 14 departmental consultations. This structured our program of government, entitled "Hope is born, change is coming".
This program was adopted at an FMLN national convention. Mauricio Funes, who does not come firstly from the Front but who is a journalist and social leader, was present and he has adopted the program. The alliance was sealed with him.
What type of relations will be established with neighbouring countries, particularly in regards to some of the initiatives towards regional unity, such as the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA)?
The new president will promote an international policy of open, broad cooperation, without being limited by ideology.
We never had diplomatic or economic relations with Cuba. We are the only country in Latin America with no type of diplomatic relations with Cuba.
Mauricio has said: "When I enter government, I will talk about diplomatic relations with Cuba".
We have benefited from doctors trained in Cuba and from the Cuban doctors that have come here to combat dengue fever and epidemics. With Mission Miracle [a program run by Venezuela and Cuba providing free eye operations across the Americas], more than 7000 people have had eye operations.
The government will also prioritise Central American integration. We are working tiresomely to define concepts for real integration, with all the peoples, based on cooperation.
[FMLN activists living in Australia will present a workshop entitled "After the elections: the struggle continues", as part of the World at a Crossroads conference in Sydney, April 10-12. For more information, or to register, visit http://www.worldatacrossroads.org.]