El Salvador: In power, former guerrillas to hold first congress

October 18, 2015

FMLN supporters celebrate election victory. March, 2014.

Thirty-five years after its founding, El Salvador's historic Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) is set to hold its first national congress at the end of October.

The congress has been called to help re-arm the activists of the left-wing party that began life in 1980 as a front of revolutionary groups engaged in a guerilla war. Today, 13 years after peace accords ended the armed conflict, it is in government.

The FMLN has held national conventions to elect its leaders, but this is the first time the group is holding a congress to facilitate such a wide-ranging discussion. The gathering will debate three key documents looking at the social and economic structure of the country, the programmatic guidelines and general strategy of the party. It will also discuss measures to strengthen the party's structures.

Much has changed in the country since the 1992 Peace Accords that involved the FMLN laying down its guns and shortly after becoming an official party.

It has grown to become the largest political party in the country.

In 2009, the FMLN successfully ran respected journalist Mauricio Funes as its presidential candidate. Although not a member of the party, the FMLN believed he was best option available to ensure the first victory for a left-backed presidential candidate in El Salvador's history.

After a full term in office, the FMLN felt it was in a position to stand its own candidate for the presidency. The party won last year's elections with Funes' vice-president and former guerrilla leader Salvador Sanchez Ceren as its presidential candidate.

As part of the process of party deliberations in the lead up to the congress, more than 300 meetings involving more than 10,500 party members were held across the country at the end of July. These were the first of three dates set for meetings to discuss the key documents to be debated at its congress.

FMLN branches outside of El Salvador are also taking part in the process by debating the documents and electing delegates to the congress.

In her roles as vice-minister for overseas Salvadorans and a member of the FMLN international relations department, Liduvina Magarin visited Australia in September. Meeting with the local Salvadoran community, Magarin also spent time with local FMLN committees who are in the process of debating the documents being presented to the congress.

Green Left Weekly's Federico Fuentes spoke to Magarin about the situation in El Salvador today and the upcoming congress.


What can you tell us about the situation in El Salvador 18 months after the election of Salvador Sanchez Ceren?

Under Sanchez Ceren, the changes [begun by Funes] have deepened. The social programs Funes initiated have been deepened and broadened out by the Sanchez Ceren government. New social programs have been created to benefit the population.

We are also focused on strengthening the institutional capacities needed to allow us to improve the economic situation of the country — to help support small and micro-enterprises and re-establish the productive apparatus in the countryside, particularly agriculture.

We are also seeking to benefit different sectors, such as youth, women, children, in terms of things such as education, helping them enter the workforce, as well as providing opportunities for the elderly through providing a universal pension.

At the same time as we are continuing to support these programs, we are also attending to the victims and veterans of the civil war, who have always been with the process of change in our country.

Why has the FMLN decided now to hold its first congress?

This is the first party congress we are holding as the FMLN as a united political party.

Previously, during the civil war, each of the parties that made up the FMLN held their own internal congresses. But the FMLN as such, especially the FMLN as the political party it is today, is organising such a meeting for the first time.

To date, there has been a broad process of participation involving all party members and activists in analysing and discussing the political situation and looking at the economic and social situation of the country after the signing of the peace agreement.

We are also reflecting on the role we have to play and the challenges we face as a party in government. What is our view on the role of the state? How should change be carried out in the country once you are in government?

And how can we build a greater united force, a greater capacity to not only defend the changes that have taken place, but also implement the historic vision of the FMLN? This vision is based on the need to carry out deep changes, to better redistribute wealth and benefit the immense majority that have been abandoned for years.

The congress is a process, because it is not just about the days it meets but the entire participatory process in the lead-up. The days when all the delegates meet will be important. But for me, what is much more important is the whole participatory process in the lead-up, in which people are analysing, discussing — putting forward their contributions.

This has been a space where everyone can put forward their ideas, differences and confusions. They can seek to clarify and redefine concepts, looking once again at our historical analysis of the political life of the country and the proposition that we are a party that struggles for the majority, a party with a socialist vision, a party that wants to keep working for change to benefit the immense majority.

What do you hope will be the main outcome of the congress? There are currently three main documents being debated. Is the idea the congress debates and approves these documents?

The congress is a space for discussion, analysis, reflection, participation by party members and activists, which strictly speaking will not adopt binding decisions.

But, obviously, it will express the consensus of the majority of leaders at all levels of the party in terms of our vision, our characterisation of the socio-economic situation in the country from the revolutionary standpoint, from the standpoint of a left party.

[It will also reflect] the vision we need to adopt as a party regarding our role within government. And, of course, what we need to do to strengthen ourselves internally as a political instrument that will endure, which will continue the struggle independent of whether we are in government or have majority in parliament.

As a political party, we hope to obtain clarity, a holistic vision of the direction the party is going in, the direction of the country and the direction we need to give to the Sanchez Ceren government.

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