As President Premieres FMLN Debates its Unity
“We revolutionaries don’t only need debate among ourselves. We need to test strategies and tactics. Doing this is more risky today than it was yesterday, because today we are confronting an adversary that is in the full euphoria of triumph and has greater material resources.” (Shafik Handal, FMLN Coordinator, addressing the FSLN Congress)
In January 1932, a massive peasant insurrection shook El Salvador. The United States stationed battleships off the country's Pacific coast, ready to help put down the rebellion. The following month, General José Tomás Calderón, named by dictator Martínez to halt the just demands of peasants and indigenous, sent a telegram to the captain of the cruiser Rochester, anchored in the port of Acajutla. "We need no assistance," it said. "The revolt has been put down and is under control. Four thousand eight hundred communists have been liquidated."
The world press, interested in these events in Latin America's smallest country, did not describe the bloodbath and "white terror" to Calderón's liking. When journalist Joaquín Meléndez interviewed him some days after the telegram was sent, he found the general furious. "I have learned," Calderón said, "that my Acajutla dispatch was misinterpreted in some countries. To clarify, I have sent another telegram to all the newspapers: 'Ahuachapán, February 3, 1932. I have seen published in various newspapers the news that says 4,800 communists have been killed, which is incorrect data. In the laconic message I sent to Acajutla greeting the commander of the war ships, I said 4,800 liquidated, that is to say, totally crushed and dislocated in their diabolical plot.'"
Calderón RevisitedSixty two years later, in June 1994, Armando Calderón Sol, the general's grandson, was sworn in as El Salvador's 33rd President. He invoked All powerful God and deeply thanked the men, women and youth of the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA). The new leader, whose own past is linked to death squads, appears to want to follow his grandfather's example of "moderation."
Only Central America and Taiwan sent their heads of state to the inauguration. (Taiwan collaborated economically with ARENA's anti communist struggle and offered intelligence training to Salvadoran army officers.) The other delegations were second or third level. The United Nations Secretary General did not attend, despite a personal invitation by Calderón Sol. Nor did Archbishop of San Salvador, Arturo Rivera Damas. As when Cristiani took power, he did not want to endorse the new government by his presence.
Calderón Sol's inaugural speech was a long rosary of promises: legality, security, honesty, solidarity, respect for human rights, a fight against crime and drug trafficking, an integral approach to the problem of poverty, the reduction of illiteracy to a minimum, decent housing, etc. The new President, formerly mayor of San Salvador, offered to turn El Salvador into a country of opportunities. "We must break through the fatalism that says a person born poor is doomed to die poor," he stated, taking on in his own style Cristiani's unfulfilled inaugural promise of five years ago "to govern for the poorest of the poor."
Copying ChileBoth his speech and the makeup of his new Cabinet are clear signs that the program initiated by Alfredo Cristiani will continue. "This continuity is very important and positive for the country," says Pedro Arriagada, Chilean economist and former director of the Economic Research Department of the Salvadoran Foundation for Social Economic Development (FUSADES), which launched the Cristiani government's attempt to apply Chile's neoliberal model in El Salvador.
Recently, Hernán Buchi, minister of housing under the Pinochet government, National Party presidential candidate in Chile and high priest of this model, preached on the advantages to El Salvador of private solutions to public problems of electrical energy, health and the like. He claimed that Chile's economy would not be as vigorous as it is today had it not applied this model.
In contrast, Ricardo French Davis, head of the UN's Economic Commission on Latin America, advises against copying Pinochet's ultra liberal model, arguing that, above all, "it increased poverty and benefited only the higher income sectors." Like the Cristiani government, however, Calderón's objective in organizing the country will be precisely to make the richest richer.
Outgoing President Alfredo Cristiani began this work effectively. The centerpiece of his economic policy was to privatize the financial and banking sector. Doing so benefited the country's economically powerful groups, to which Cristiani belongs, in various ways. For example, in the general liquidation of overdue bank loans, debts were pardoned for businesses that had the ability to pay. Cristiani returned a healthy and profitable banking system to the economic groups, even though they were the ones that had bankrupted it. Who paid the costs of this clean up job? There was no need to share them. The costs were socialized and the benefits were privatized.
Massive Social CorruptionNow, as before, El Salvador's banks are controlled by the same tiny but powerful financial group. This group once again has determining weight in deciding on national economic projects, vetoing or promoting them as suits its interests. This drastic reconcentration of capital has been underway in El Salvador for some years.
Two examples: The Cuscatlán Bank belongs to the SISA group, of the Cristiani and Llach families. And one of the largest shareholders in the Commercial Agricultural Bank is its former president, Ramón González Giner, currently minister of planning.
Cristiani was the artifice of this massive social corruption. He was supported by Roberto Orellana Milla, vice president of the Cuscatlán Bank until Cristiani picked him to head the Central Reserve Bank. Since Calderón Sol just named Orellana to his second consecutive term in this post, it is fair to assume that the social corruption will continue.
The continuity in Calderón Sol's Cabinet does not end with Orellana Milla. Ricardo Montenegro, formerly president of the powerful Chamber of Commerce and Industry of El Salvador, is now Minister of Housing, taking over for his brother Eduardo, who was vice minister of the same ministry under Cristiani.
Calderón thus assures that fiscal policy will be in accord with the interests of private enterprise. This, in a country where, according to income tax declarations, only 18 people claim to have capital of more than one million colóns.
The Order: PrivatizeCalderón's economic centerpiece will also be privatization. "We have to be aware," he said when he took office, "that state telecommunications, energy, water and infrastructure services are inefficient, represent a heavy financial load on the public sector and limit development. It is urgent to establish conditions for the private sector to take a larger role. We will therefore initiate a privatization process for many public services."
The telephone company (ANTEL) is already being privatized. Transnational companies such as AT&T, MCI and Sprint International already manage the international telephone concession, which is a large sector due to the many calls to relatives in the United States. Cellular phones are also in the hands of private companies. Privatization of the Electrical Energy Company is now being mentioned, as is that of Acajutla, the country's main port.
"By privatizing Acajutla," warns the Industrial Port Union of El Salvador, "almost 50% of the workers would end up unemployed and the rest would earn starvation wages and lose benefits they now have. Privatization means hunger and poverty for the workers and unmeasured wealth for a few." But such opposition to privatization by workers has had no effect.
The FMLN's Crisis of UnityIn the meantime, there are great expectations within the FMLN for its National Extraordinary Convention, scheduled for June, to define the future of this political organization. To prepare for the Convention, consultations are being conducted in the various territorial and sectoral structures. They seek, according to the National Council statement, to gather opinions from the base and party organizations to ratify the National Council accords and make the corresponding decisions to normalize the situation and promote the FMLN's development and its struggle. Francisco Jovel, secretary general of the PRTC, attracted attention by declaring that "members of the ERP and the RN are not attending" these municipal and departmental conventions.
The first proposals for resolving the FMLN crisis are now being made public. They range from dissolving the Front and becoming a single party arguing that the FMLN cannot be like the Holy Trinity, one nature with five distinct parties to establishing a kind of pragmatic "marriage of convenience." This can be deduced from declarations such as this of ERP leader Joaquín Villalobos: "The FMLN forces cannot disintegrate, first because this would put the peace accords in danger. Second, it would give ARENA too much power in the Legislative Assembly. It is thus important, at least at this stage, that there be a counterweight to ARENA."
The PRTC emphasized that individuals should be incorporated into the FMLN who do not belong to any of the five parties. They would participate as full members with full rights to FMLN leadership at all levels.
The Communist Party proposes a new pact, which "should contain all the points on which we are still in agreement and a commitment to struggle together. It should encompass the minimum norms governing this understanding and common action, and the ways in which we should mutually consult every time we plan to act on these common points. It should also be clearly stated that everything not covered within the common agreement is an area in which each party is free to act according to its own identity."
Democracy in the FMLNThe biggest winner of all these contradictions within the FMLN is, naturally, the right, which is losing no opportunity to take advantage of the current division and controversy. It is discrediting and slandering the FMLN, presenting it as a force that does not deserve its political position and above all, is incapable of governing.
The FMLN's first post electoral dispute over Legislative Assembly leadership positions triggered evident discontent in the social organizations around the country. Edgar Palacios, Baptist pastor and leader of the Permanent National Debate Committee, declared that people voted for the FMLN because it was a different option, but its first actions were disappointing. "To keep up the hopes people have in it," he said, "the FMLN should resolve its differences and not fall into incoherence."
This divided action in the Legislative Assembly was really a tempest in a teapot. Going more to the heart of the matter, the FMLN should now look at its own internal democracy as an issue of survival and viability. It is crucial to unite its democratic public discourse with democratic proceedings in internal decision making, and not just for resolving disputes that may arise. If a serious renovation does not take place in the next few years, the FMLN will find itself in grave danger of losing the 370,000 votes it won in this election, thus becoming a marginal political force instead of the second most powerful electoral force in the country.