FMLN selects presidential candidates
By Allen Jennings
On September 27, amidst recrimination and tears, delegates of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) chose Facundo Guardado and María Marta Valladares, better known as Nidia Díaz, as their presidential and vice-presidential candidates, respectively, to contest elections in El Salvador on March 7.
This pair defeated the team of Dr Victoria Marina de Avilés and Dr Salvador Arias by 463 to 430 votes in a sometimes bitter contest, which took several months and three national conventions to resolve.
The competing slates reflect the two factions within the FMLN: the winning renovadores, headed by Guardado, and the ortodoxos, headed by Schafick Handal, leader of the former Communist Party.
Handal's losing faction is generally regarded as further to the left and also less interested in forming coalitions as an electoral strategy.
Despite the very public infighting and the electoral damage caused by such division, however, a result after months of uncertainty and the display of unity following the outcome are clearly positive results for the FMLN.
Handal addressed the convention after the result was announced: "This was a fiesta for our party. From this point on we are against [ruling party] ARENA. Have no doubt that we have left this internal process behind and give our full support to Facundo and Nidia."
For his part, Guardado stated: "Our only adversary is the right, which concentrates economic power in fewer hands each day, bringing poverty and misery to our country. We now have a great opportunity to work shoulder to shoulder to ensure a resounding victory on March 7."
Both chosen candidates are former guerillas.
Facundo Guardado, 43, was trained as an agronomist. In the early '70s, he was head of the Chalatenango peasants' movement, then secretary of the Rural Workers' Federation.
From 1979 until 1992 he was a leader in the Popular Liberation Forces (FPL), one of the five movements which formed the FMLN. He held the position of general secretary of the FPL from 1993 to 1995, when the movement dissolved its structures and integrated into the FMLN. In December 1997, he was elected the FMLN's general coordinator.
Nidia Díaz, 45, studied psychology as a student. She was a member of the Workers' Revolutionary Party (PRTC) and one of the founders of the FMLN in 1980.
After being injured and captured in battle in 1985, she was released in exchange for the daughter of then president Napoleón Duarte. She became president of the "Mélida Anaya Montes" union of women and from 1989 to 1992 was a member of the Peace Accords Commission.
Since 1994, she has been an elected member of the National Assembly, and was joint coordinator of the FMLN from 1995 to 1997. Until her selection as vice-presidential candidate, she was secretary of international relations for the FMLN.
The ruling ARENA party has avoided a similar public display of division by nominating its candidates instead of putting them up to a delegates' vote. In February, Francisco Flores, a 38-year-old Oxford and Harvard graduate, surprised political commentators and some of the leadership of his own party when he was nominated as ARENA's presidential candidate.
Predictably, ARENA's initial response to the newly elected FMLN candidates was: "It will be easy for ARENA to win. They have chosen a combination of pure guerillas, who are linked to violence." No doubt, this will be the central theme of ARENA's campaign.
Nevertheless, it is questionable whether this is still a viable strategy. As Juan, a campesino from Suchitoto, puts it, "Everyone knows who bombed us during the war. We'd all vote for the Frente [FMLN], whoever they chose as a candidate."
In addition, putting history aside, "ARENA is in the World Bank's pocket. We want a government that will defend our interests, not simply sell everything off." This is a reference to ARENA's privatisation policies.
Opinion polls at the end of September show that many Salvadorans (48%) are yet to make up their minds about their voting preferences. ARENA was polling at 26%, the FMLN 21%, all other parties combined receiving 5%.
These figures clearly point to a two-horse contest between ARENA, which was behind the death squads during the civil war, and its former military opponents, the FMLN. The political centre is in disarray.
The figures show a slight increase in the gap between ARENA and the FMLN since the previous poll. However, now that the FMLN has chosen its candidates, many of its supporters are growing in confidence.
The FMLN has attempted to develop a platform based on months of consultation with its grassroots members and all sectors of the social movements. Links with these movements are strengthening.
These discussions have also included members of the Social Christian Union (USC), a small, progressive Christian party.
Support came from the September 27 convention for an FMLN-USC platform for a "Government of National Consensus 19992004", which aims to develop common strategies and build the grassroots base necessary to implement any revolutionary programs, regardless of who wins the presidency.
[Thanks to Centro Internacional de Solidaridad "El Salvador Update".]