El Salvador: FMLN wins presidency

On 9 March, Faribundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) candidate Salvador Sanchez Ceren was declared a narrow winner of the presidential election in El Salvador in a run-off against Norman Quijano of the deeply reactionary Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA). Ceren’s majority was just 6,600; his victory came despite ARENA death squad intimidation in some communities, employers threatening those voting for the FMLN with dismissal and appeals by ARENA members for military intervention.

A bloody history

From the mid-1970s, the US funded successive Salvadorian governments to use every imaginable method to repress popular demands for basic economic and human rights. The FMLN was formed in response as a coalition of five armed workers’ and peasants’ organisations, to defend the poor and overthrow the US-managed gangster state. By 1989, US imperialism had realised that despite the horrific Carter-Reagan strategy of mass murder, which had accounted for the lives of 100,000 people, mostly the rural poor, its puppet governments could not defeat the FMLN coalition. So it supported negotiations for peace accords which were signed in 1992, ending the 12-year civil war. However this did not stop continued attacks of every type against the working class and small peasantry, and any political party or trend that supported the FMLN. The FMLN consequently struggled to establish itself as one party, but on 15 March 2009, the FMLN’s candidate Mauricio Funes won the presidential elections, and became the first FMLN president.

FMLN in government

In the last five years the FMLN has brought some limited decency for the mass of the people out of the chaos created by US imperialism and its ARENA allies. Some 25% of the present Salvadorian population of 6.3 million had been forced from the country by the violence, unemployment and hunger. 1.5 million of them ended up being exploited for the profit of capitalists in the US, 400,000 as illegal immigrants. As a result, remittances to El Salvador sent by struggling exiled workers in the Americas are the largest after Mexico.

In 2013, US imperialism threatened to withhold all aid if Funes did not pass a Privatisation Bill, unveiled in November 2011 during a visit by President Obama. US advisers ‘helped’ Funes’s office to draft a Bill that aimed to auction off everything from highways, ports and airports to municipal services and higher education, for the principle benefit of US multinationals. El Salvador’s public sector unions led the fight against it, preventing the immediate sale of water, health care and education.

Despite all the economic and social difficulties, there were real gains under Funes’ presidency. Adult illiteracy fell from 18% in 2009 to 13% in 2012. The Family Agriculture Plan, launched in February 2011, supports over 300,000 producers, improving yields and incomes and so fighting hunger. The FMLN’s School Packets programme has Salvadorian factories making uniforms and shoes that are given free to elementary students. A glass of domestically produced milk is provided daily to children at school. The Ministry of Health serves 80-85% of the population free of charge. Ciudad Mujer is a one-stop social service centre for women, with health care, protection from domestic violence, support towards economic independence, and professional childcare onsite.

Such programmes reflect the example of the Bolivarian programmes in the ALBA states while representing the organised demands of Salvadorian workers. Rural health centres, a pension system for the destitute, temporary financial assistance for the unemployed while they get skills training, are part of FMLN plans for worker and social advancement.

The second FMLN presidency

Ceren will head a minority government facing powerful constraints imposed by US imperialism, in the form of criminal gangs, many deported from the US, narco-trafficking, and corruption. Poverty and inequality remain the central challenges. The vicious ARENA party detests the FMLN and has strong, established links to organised crime. In 2007, three ARENA representatives to the Central American Parliament were murdered while transporting $5m and 20 kilograms of cocaine in Guatemala. One was the son of ARENA’s founder, Roberto D’Aubuisson.

The state is currently trapped by free trade agreements implemented by ARENA governments acting on behalf of the US – such as dollarising the economy after 2001 – that are very difficult to reverse for a single country. Government foreign debt repayments were 23.6% of its income in 2011. Two thirds of the country’s exports go to the US. The FMLN has pledged to create 50,000 jobs each year, and somehow deal with the country’s massive external debt whilst starting to tax big corporations. The new president has to work with the current congress until elections in 2015, which means continuing to cooperate on legislation with smaller parties like the Grand Alliance for National Unity, a conservative party formed in 2010 by ex-ARENA deputies.

Alvaro Michael

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 238 April/May 2014