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  Number 274 | Mayo 2004
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El Salvador

The FMLN and the FSLN Are Brothers, Not Twins

They are closely related neighbors, but how alike are their stories and do they share common causes? Just what are the similarities and differences between El Salvador’s FMLN and Nicaragua’s FSLN?

William Grigsby

New hope begins to blossom every five years in El Salvador and Nicaragua. The public squares in different Salvadoran towns and cities fill with the red and white flags of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), while the red and black flags of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) are raised across Nicaraguan territory. These are the emblems of two organizations responsible for truly heroic exploits and the standard bearers of so many universal desires.

For many, recitation of the Lord’s Prayer has been replaced with “Our time has come,” and although the world has changed considerably since the seventies and eighties, the dream lives on, among other reasons because the idea of utopia persists in the collective conscience of Salvadorans and Nicaraguans. Surveys suggest victory, the right-wing press resuscitates old fears and priests and ministers predict apocalyptic times. And every five years the predictions fail to materialize, frustrated hands lower the flags and hope crawls off to hibernate for another five years. When and how will this cycle be broken?

Who’s to blame:
The Left or its candidates?

It has been over 14 years since the US military campaign against Nicaragua ended and over 12 since the Salvadoran oligarchy stopped waging war against its own people. Yet the situation of both peoples has deteriorated rather than improved.

The objective conditions in both countries are sufficiently dramatic, with enough misery, corruption, greed and inequality, for their respective societies to declare that enough is enough and seek out a new alternative. So each new defeat brings the same old questions for the Left: Why? Does it all come down to the opponents’ fear-mongering? Is US power so great that we should resign ourselves to being permanently under its military heel? Are the Salvadoran and Nicaraguan populations just plain masochistic? Does the Left amount to a failure in this part of the world, or is this just true of the parties that represent it, or of the leaders that head them?

Defeats tend to be more enlightening than victories. Possible remedies can be prescribed for the methods used, the means of communicating with the people, the candidates selected and the programmatic proposals… as long as the revolutionary commitment to change the oppression of the countries’ poorest sectors remains intact.

Two main factors are at play in the three presidential election setbacks suffered by the FSLN (1990, 1996 and 2001) and the FMLN (1994, 1999 and 2004). The respective projects and candidates failed to penetrate the citizens’ consciousness sufficiently, while the open and crass US intervention made the poorese sectors fearful of what might happen were an alterntive goverment to be elected.

Reality reflected in figures

The differences—some of them striking—between Nicaragua and El Salvador are reflected in certain socioeconomic indicators. These different realities influence the way the two parties operate in their respective countries (see table).

The United Nations Development Program’s Latin American Survey on Democracy, published in April, revealed a number of other significant findings. For example, 58.5% of Nicaraguans identify with and always vote for a certain party, which is double the percentage in El Salvador (just 24.1%). Meanwhile, 16% of those interviewed in Nicaragua and 30% of those interviewed in El Salvador said that while they do vote, they don’t identify with any particular party. And an impressive 91.2% of Salvadorans and 93.3% of Nicaraguans feel that they were neither under pressure nor subject to any kind of blackmail in relation to the vote they cast in the last presidential elections (1999 in El Salvador and 2001 in Nicaragua). Paradoxically, however, 63.2% of those surveyed in El Salvador believe that politicians lie to win elections and only 4.5% feel that they honor their promises; the figures were not dissimilar in Nicaragua: 58.3% and 5%, respectively. In response to a question about who had most power in the country, 47.3% of Salvadorans replied that it was the financial institutions, 36% the state, 10.1% the military and 6.5% the political parties and unions. In Nicaragua, the respective percentages were 36.8%, 41.8%, 9.5% and 12.2%.

According to the same UNDP survey, 67.6% of Salvadorans felt that poor people could never, or almost never, manage to have their rights respected, while 27.9% believed the same with respect to women. In Nicaragua, the figures were 88.3% and 40.1%, respectively.



Washington’s veto power over electoral democracies

Argentinean sociologist and philosopher Atilio Borón stated in a recent presentation that “our region has barely known the lowest possible rung on the ladder of democratic development within the narrow confines permitted by the structure of capitalist society—merely electoral democracies. In other words, substantively oligarchic political regimes assume the tasks of administrating, controlled by and on behalf of big capital, totally independent of the governing parties, while the people, manipulated virtually at will thanks to the dominant groups’ control over the mass media, are called on to vote every two years to choose who will be in charge of subjugating them. With democracies like this, it is no coincidence if nonconformist social forces emerge after repeated frustrations.”
Although the FMLN and the FSLN—both of which emerged from battle-hardened guerrilla armies with anti-establishment ideologies—have pursued their own paths with a lot more differences than similarities, the FMLN’s current positions and the FSLN’s past are enough to earn them Washington’s veto, although these are not the only reasons the US government will do anything to prevent them from taking power.

Any review of the weaknesses and strengths of these two parties leads to inevitable comparisons, not just because of the inevitable analogies, but also because it is incomprehensible how they fail to learn from each other’s experiences and tend to make the same mistakes.

The experience of power

The Sandinistas were in government and in fact created a system in Nicaragua substantially different from the current one. And although the FMLN has never been in power, the 1992 peace accords that put an end to the war brought important changes in the organization of the state and the creation of a National Civil Police Force, with the incorporation of an important contingent from the FMLN.

There are both advantages and drawbacks to having exercised power or not. The Sandinistas have always been credited
with building a free health and education system, but the country’s Right has always blamed them for the economic disaster caused by the ferocious US economic embargo and military aggression. The Salvadoran oligarchy, meanwhile, uses the FMLN’s inexperience as a party and its cadres’ supposed lack of preparation as an electoral weapon, while the FMLN displays its different proposals as something new that is worth giving a go.

FSLN: Just memories

Another substantial difference between the two parties lies in their leadership and their current political behavior. While the FSLN is a complex and contradictory political organization, the main reason for its electoral defeats is very likely its own incoherence, which leads to inconsistency. There is a systemic divorce between what it claims to defend and its own political practice, between the people’s interests and those of top party leaders. Many attribute the FSLN’s 1990 electoral defeat to this factor, giving it even more weight than the erosion generated by the imperialist aggression.

The FSLN’s original socialist and anti-imperialist ideological vigor are little more than memories now. It currently has a dispersed, unstructured, demobilized and at best disenchanted grass roots. Even the phrase “We fight against the Yankee, enemy of humanity” has been erased from its anthem in an attempt to placate Uncle Sam. The economic proposals it presented during the 1996 and 2001 presidential campaigns differed in no real way from the rigors of the Washington Consensus. This can be explained in ideological terms: after the 1996 elections, the FSLN leadership renounced the idea of transforming society and changing the system and embraced the terrible Latin American copy of European social democracy, which at the most preaches reforms to build a more “human” form of capitalism. In line with this new definition, the FSLN stopped being a party of militant revolutionaries—and thus agents of change in ongoing action—and turned into a party of voters.

A false image of Daniel Ortega
as the revolution incarnate

This change in the Sandinista party is intimately linked to its current leadership and the way it has consolidated itself. FSLN general secretary Daniel Ortega has taken it upon himself to destroy the whole honorable revolutionary image built on the sacrifice of thousands of young people during the eighties to attempt to construct a social democratic caricature that is much more to the right than to the left. His quest for political power is based more on an obsessive frenzy to be reelected President than on the legitimate aspiration of a revolutionary party that seeks power to transform the situation and benefit the great majorities. The rest of the FSLN leadership ranges between corruption and opportunism.

One key to understanding Daniel Ortega’s caudillismo is the way he is perceived by the Sandinista grass roots, impoverished by the market and marginalized by political power. The social works of the eighties are no longer seen as the fruit of the revolution and therefore of the people itself, but rather as gifts provided by the will and endeavor of the man who was President at the time.

Strengthening the false impression that he is the revolution incarnate, Ortega has taken care to cast off anyone in the FSLN who dares challenge his power, whether by questioning the ideological and political direction imposed on the party or legitimately aspiring to succeed him as general secretary or presidential candidate, or even to hold an internal post or run for public office without politically submitting to his interests.

The FLSN’s lost quality
of collective leadership

Ortega’s consolidation of power destroyed the FSLN’s collective leadership, which was one of its best qualities. It had been admired by the world’s Left, sick as it was of the personality cults practiced by the Soviets and other governors of countries practicing bureaucratic socialism.

Ever since the FSLN’s 1994 congress, when the internal debate was transferred directly, completely and democratically to the base and the final decisions perfectly reflected the correlation of forces between a social democratic tendency and the revolutionary left group, debate within the party has effectively been extinguished. That congress culminated in the excision of the social democratic group headed by Sergio Ramírez. Ironically, ten years later, Ortega and his group have taken up almost all of that group’s ideological postulates.

Differences in alliances and allies

Another relevant aspect is how the FMLN and the FSLN have linked up with other political forces in their respective societies. The Sandinistas managed to forge a very broad and diverse anti-Somoza alliance during the insurrectionary period, the essential nucleus of which was grassroots organizations grouped together in the United People’s Movement. But once Somoza had been defeated, it extricated itself from its allies, relying instead on the overwhelming military power that had been a key factor in defeating the dictatorship. While the Patriotic Front of the Revolution—consisting of four center-left parties—survived the first five years of the revolutionary government, the FSLN always treated them like subordinates rather than real allies, and all those groups went over to the opposition or the counterrevolution after 1984.

The FSLN tried out alliances with various social and political sectors in 1996, mainly with a sector of those who had been the peasant base of the counterrevolution. But only for the 2001 general elections did it manage to bring together a group of tiny parties and some important personalities into what is called the National Convergence. The attraction of that alliance was limited at the time to a possible electoral victory, as the allies were offered a potential Cabinet post, but none were given a slot on the party’s legislative slates.

The FMLN’s alliances were much more consistent throughout the war. The creation of the Democratic Revolutionary Front and the leadership of Guillermo Ungo were key not only to legitimizing the armed option, but also to getting the world to understand the reasons behind the Salvadoran people’s struggle. The alliance broke up in 1994, due to a combination of the FMLN leadership’s intolerance and the social climbing of its allies, who wanted high-level public posts more for reasons of personal prestige than political influence. Ten years later, the FMLN ran alone in the 2004 general elections. Although it did make an effort to establish agreements with its former allies, its hegemonic style and ideological differences were not surmountable.

FMLN: Exodus and resignations

Unlike their Sandinista brothers, the FMLN resulted from the fusion of the five organizations that founded the guerrilla alliance in 1980, and one of the enduring consequences of the way the Salvadoran Left operated during the war is its essentially collective political leadership, even though three of the original five organizations are no longer in the organization. Following the exodus of cadres and the resignation of several formerly radical Marxist comandantes who are now confessed acolytes of neoliberalism, the members and leaders of the now extinct Popular Liberation Forces (FPL) and Communist Party make up the FMLN’s fundamental militant basis. As a result, its main leaders are Salvador Sánchez Cerén (who went under the pseudonym Leonel González during the war) and Shafik Handal, together with cadres such as Norma Guevara (deputy coordinator), Nidia Díaz, Violeta Menjívar and Oscar Ortiz.

From the resignation of Joaquín Villalobos and other well-known guerrilla leaders from the People’s Revolutionary Army (ERP) to the “leftist” schism of a faction of the FPL, the exodus of the majority of leaders from the FMLN’s original upper echelons was motivated more by ideological antagonism than leadership disputes or political differences. The most emblematic example is that of Villalobos, one of those behind the killing of poet and revolutionary leader Roque Dalton. Despite having made a great show of his Marxist “radicalism” when head of the ERP, Villalobos now offers an embarrassing spectacle of moral, ethical and political regression at the service of national and foreign masters.

The FMLN is a
more consistent opposition

The two parties have similar, though not necessarily identical, theoretical ideological definitions. The real difference lies in their political behavior. Up to now, the FMLN has been much more consistent than the Sandinista leadership in the way its legislative bench and party forces act in opposition to the ARENA regime, in exercising power through its municipal governments and in its electoral proposals.

While the Salvadoran Left has vigorously supported union opposition to the privatizing of social security, health and education, albeit it with moderate success, the Sandinistas have either approved such measures, as in the case of social security and telecommunications, or at least tolerated them, as in the disguised “liberalization” of state hospitals and schools.

The memory of the war

Both the FMLN and the FSLN arose out of war, but public perception about the quality of their involvement is ver different. In Nicaragua, the Sandinistas are still recognized as the main protagonists in bringing down the Somoza dictatorship. But in terms of their administration of power in the eighties, the Right has succeeded in getting the US-paid Nicaraguan mercenaries placed on the same level as the army or state security officers who defended the country from foreign aggression. And there are some grounds for doing so, as while the behavior of the armed forces was generally heroic, Sandinista officers and soldiers were also guilty of abuses and even horrendous crimes.

While the Sandinistas emerged as the victorious army in the war of national liberation then defeated the US military aggression, the Salvadoran revolutionaries had to negotiate a political solution shortly after their main ally, the FSLN, lost power in 1990. Although there was no victor in the Salvadoran war, the oligarchy has tried to invent a victory, using the most negative adjectives to condemn the guerrillas and blaming them for all the economic damage suffered by country during the conflict. It seems to matter little that the chilling events investigated by the Truth Commission have been overwhelmingly attributed to the military. Some of the perpetrators, such as Roberto D’Aubuisson or Vides Casanova, have even been dressed up as “democrats” and “patriots.”

Its media power is a big
advantage for the FSLN

The key input into how Nicaraguan and Salvadoran citizens—many of whom did not experience their countries’ respective wars—perceive the former guerrilla fighters has been provided by the media. The FMLN paid a heavy price for this in the March 2004 elections. According to the March 24 edition of the Central American University’s magazine Proceso, “The FMLN and its candidate played along with ARENA’s game: on the one hand allowing the battle to be waged in the media, and on the other basing their campaign on appealing to the party’s historic past, beginning with the figure of Handal himself, without having the insight to see that the rightwing media was appropriating El Salvador’s recent history and shaping it to its own vision. It was this vision that was imposed, in which the war and its evils are the exclusive responsibility of an FMLN led by a candidate who was one of the war’s historic leaders. The country was saturated with that message on a daily basis, and its effect on guileless people was corroborated on March 21.”

The oligarchy has overwhelming control of the Salvadoran media: more than 95% of the radio stations, the two national newspapers and four of the five television channels. The FMLN only has direct influence in one radio station, otherwise benefiting from the professional and democratic openness of one radio and one television station. In this respect, the Sandinistas have an enviable situation, including ownership of two national and eight departmental radio stations, a partnership in one television station and considerable influence in one of the two national newspapers, although it should be added that their own newspaper Barricada was allowed to slide into bankruptcy. In addition, a significant percentage—perhaps even half—of the country’s journalists lean politically towards the FSLN.

A large part of the FMLN’s relative success in winning votes in the recent elections—over 100% more than in 1999—is owed to the successful experience of its municipal governments, particularly in the capital city. Other elements behind this considerable advance were the oversight work carried out from its parliamentary bench and its solid support for grassroots struggles, particularly those of public doctors and health workers and of transport workers.

Sowing fear to reap votes

The Sandinistas’ recent experiences in Nicaragua’s general elections—which come two years ahead of El Salvador’s—did little to help their Salvadoran counterparts. For example, in 2001, the ruling PLC and the US government centered their attacks on aspects of central importance to popular awareness. Most of the polls pointed to a real possibility of a Sandinista victory, but as the big day approached, the campaign being waged in the media and from the pulpits intensified to shift people from skepticism to fear and from fear to outright panic. Voters were repeatedly told that if the Sandinistas won, national and foreign investors would pull out, there would be greater unemployment and even rationing, the Sandinistas would start confiscating property again, the United States would declare war on Nicaragua because the Sandinistas were in cahoots with terrorists (this was just after September 11, 2001), forced military conscription would be reimposed and Catholic priests and bishops would be persecuted... All these ingredients were mixed together and served up by the anti-Sandinista propaganda, with well-known results.

With local variations, the Salvadoran Right followed the same recipe in the run up to the March 2004 elections. It also added an essential ingredient of its own, reflecting an even greater level of perversity: if the FMLN won, the remittances would dry up and the United States would expel its Salvadoran immigrants. This invention spread like wildfire through the country and among the 2 million Salvadorans living abroad. The Sandinistas should study this particular experience closely, as Nicas increasingly depend on family remittances, making emigrants pivotal actors in politics.

Does transforming the country
involve having to win the presidency?

The political strategy of both the FSLN and the FMLN consists of strengthening their electoral machinery and using their existing arenas of power—local governments, legislative benches—as a springboard for election to the executive branch, so that they can push through the changes they are advocating. But is this the only way? Is controlling the presidency absolutely indispensable to transforming society?

Both countries’ economies are almost completely subordinated to the US market, despite recent attempts at regional integration, and economic policy decisions are taken in the headquarters of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, particularly in Nicaragua’s case. As a consequence, the governments have scant room for maneuver and limited capacity for resistance, unless they can somehow come up with powerful alternative allies to provide the financing they need to survive and to supply essential products such as petroleum.

In both cases, the percentage of the state budget transferred to the municipalities is established by the Constitution. It was recently upped to 4% in Nicaragua, and is to increase to 6% in six years, the same level El Salvador now has. Although the municipal governments have simultaneously been handed an exaggerated list of responsibilities, these resources do at least allow the parties running local governments to demonstrate their capacity to benefit the people. Furthermore, the municipal arena offers citizens a clearer, close-up view of whether power is being exercised in their benefit and of the quality of the leaders involved.

El Salvador and Nicaragua have essentially presidential models of government, though the legislative branches have considerable powers that allow the majority party or alliance decisive influence on economic policy definition, including the budget. Furthermore, if an opposition party wins the majority or forges one out of alliances, it can force the government at least to moderate its intentions, if not share power.

From whence should
power be exercised?

These realities should at least tempt the region’s leftist forces to concentrate on winning control of their respective parliaments and municipal governments, rather than focusing so much energy on the executive branch.

More important still is for both parties to realize that exercising power does not necessarily involve the formal, legally constituted arenas, but rather implies their capacity to organize and mobilize people. Although El Salvador has recently seen renewed glimpses of the vigorous grassroots movement of the seventies and eighties, before ARENA’s founders ordered the selective killing of almost all of its leaders, the social organizations in both countries are evidently weak.

Marta Harnecker, a Chilean Marxist political writer who has been living in Cuba for many years, wrote the following in 2001: “Seeing that El Salvador had one of the biggest and most combative social movements in the Americas, and that there was a direct relationship between those movements and the leftwing groups or parties of the time, which would later form the FMLN, it is very striking that one of the great weaknesses of that leftist political organization is precisely its problems relating to the grassroots sectors and rebuilding a strong mass movement…

One reason is that after quickly transforming itself into a big electoral party responsible for administering a considerable number of municipalities and putting in a good parliamentary performance, the FMLN concentrated its efforts in this area, leaving promotion of the grassroots movement to one side. Another reason could be the FMLN’s inability to create more effective means of communication...”

“The number one strategic task”

“It’s not enough to have revolutionary ideas,” states Harnecker. “They also need to be understood by the grassroots sectors. Improving the FMLN’s relations with the grassroots movement is the number one strategic task for realizing the organization’s proposal of building a broad concertation of social and political forces that would enable the peace accords to be fully implemented, creating the real democracy with social justice that all Salvadoran people so deserve.”

Two years later, Harnecker wrote that this situation had started to improve. She cited the colossal mobilization of public doctors and health workers, with firm support from the FMLN. And she congratulated the party on including the leader of that struggle, Dr. Guillermo Mata, on the presidential ticket. But events have since proved that even a highly significant qualitative change in the FMLN’s relations with the social organizations is not enough.

Mouthpiece or mediator?

The FSLN suffers from the illness of setting itself up as the best, if not only, mouthpiece of the grassroots sectors. The same is true of the FMLN, although to a lesser extent. The problems is even worse in Nicaragua’s case, because the top Sandinista leaders have not only been unable to defend the people’s demands through real actions, they have actually mediated on behalf of neoliberal “governability” on a number of occasions. In fact, one of the commitments the Sandinista leadership made as part of the pact hammered out in 1999 between Daniel Ortega and Liberal caudillo Arnoldo Alemán was the total neutralization of social struggles, exploiting the FSLN’s hegemonic influence in the few union and social organizations left over from the revolutionary era.

If both parties actually allowed the social movement to grow and develop with total autonomy, strengthening legal arenas from its own spheres of power, it would facilitate programmatic alliances for each election that involve a horizontal relationship rather than party subordination.

Members of the FSLN and the FMLN have admitted that vast sectors of the Nicaraguan and Salvadoran public have very limited critical awareness and are therefore very pervious to the native Right’s negative propaganda. A formidable way to raise people’s awareness involves knowing how to create successful and transforming municipal governments then use them as platforms; supporting the social and union organizations without subjecting them; overseeing the executive branch’s administration from a powerful parliamentary bench; and stubbornly disseminating programmatic proposals that are either anti-establishment or at least offer alternatives to neoliberalism.

Revolutionaries turned functionaries

The experience of the world’s Left has shown that renouncing basic principles to win elections at any price is not the way to change reality in favor of the impoverished majorities. When that has happened, as in Poland, Italy or Brazil, the damage is twofold: the people are affected because their problems are not resolved and the Left suffers because the electorate feels it has been deceived, with possibly irreversible effects.

In an article published in the Internet daily Rebelión, Malime, a Spanish leftist writer castigates revolutionaries turned party or government functionaries and all those who blame the people for demobilizing in the face of neoliberalism and assume it as a kind of “divine punishment.” He goes on to say that such officials tell leftist militants “not to be extremist, to be realists, to tone down our policies and ideology because the process towards socialism is a long one. In short, they recommend that we adapt to the times, coexist with capitalism, forget about revolution, about being the midwife of history, in the hope that history will just fall into our hands like a ripe fig. They tell us that revolutions are a thing of the past, that capitalism has become democratic and will no longer massacre people who want to propose their social liberation, and that this liberation can be obtained through ‘democratic’ means.” And he adds, “Revolutionaries turned functionaries are also victims of the system, even though they believe themselves to
be leaders because of the post they hold, as if the clothes make the man. They are unable to understand the falsity of the bourgeois democratic game.”

The US threatened
by “radical populism”

Beyond the anger caused by hearing a former compañero advise you to take down your revolutionary banners because your real prize is capitalist democracy, there is also the certainty that this is an enormous con, whose objective, at best, is to maintain the status quo. If anyone has any doubts, they need only review the declarations made by the top brass of the US military.

On March 24, General James T. Hill, head of the US Southern Command, appeared before the House Armed Forces Committee to explain what he felt to be the main threats facing his country. In his statement, he added a new “emerging threat,” which he termed “radical populism,” to other more familiar ones (terrorism, drug trafficking, drug-related terrorism, corruption, organized crime…). Among his examples were Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and even Néstor Kirchner in Argentina, not to mention Lula in Brazil and Nicanor Duarte in Paraguay.

And what links all of these leaders? Simply their defense of a national project—though seldom with a very progressive perspective—against the overbearing and annexing US power. None of them were guerrilla fighters, Marxists or communists. None came from leftist revolutionary movements. But each has dared challenge Washington’s “providential” designs to a greater or lesser degree.

Two historic victories
prove it’s possible

Central America has provided two of the most crushing defeats the United States has suffered in the last forty years. Both centered on Nicaragua: first the defeat of Washington’s chosen regional policeman, Anastasio Somoza Debayle, by a bunch of kids who revived the figure of General Augusto C. Sandino; then the Nicaraguan people’s military defeat of an eight-year war of aggression—more commonly known as the Contra War—in which the United States invested US$2 billion. In El Salvador, meanwhile, the people survived the ferocity of the death squads and the army, both backed by US governments, then obtained unprecedented liberties through the participation of FMLN guerrilla fighters in the peace negotiations only ten years ago.

No alternative form of political power can be built from the grass roots if we assume that nothing can be done outside of the capitalist system. In the words of Atilio Borón, “The starting point is to recognize that there are alternatives. The dominant ‘single thinking,’ which has been a fundamental weapon of neoliberalism, incessantly preaches the ‘TINA’ philosophy of Mrs. Margaret Thatcher: There Is No Alternative. And it does so with such success that many leftist intellectuals and politicians, not to mention that dying breed known as ‘leftwing economists,’ ended up firmly accepting the neoliberal mandate. This is all that can be done, there are no alternatives, anything else is madness or stupidity.

“So it’s a question of proposing that in reality the madness and stupidity belong to those who think it is possible for things to continue as they are and that there are no alternatives to the bleak panorama of social disintegration and the ongoing economic crisis prevailing in the region. How can there be no alternatives given the mass unemployment, the poverty affecting over half of the population, the absence of any social policies, the unsustainable weight of illegitimate and illegal foreign debt? What has been lacking so far is any correlation of forces that would permit the testing of existing alternatives that don’t require a great deal of imagination. The problem is not so much gnoseological as political. The good news is that the correlation of forces is gradually changing in favor of the popular classes and strata.”

It has been proved in both Nicaragua and El Salvador that the United States and its representatives can be defeated, that the power of money is not absolute. Achieving this requires reworking the formula by building authentic and consistent political instruments with coherent leaders and representatives from the different grassroots sensibilities.

Change means
going back to the people

For leftwing revolutionaries, change does not mean painting their principles rose-colored or changing their vocabulary so as not to worry the rich. Renovation is not synonymous with abdication, nor does self-criticism lead to abandoning one’s principles.

Change also does not imply the Left sitting on its parliamentary seats waiting for the people to acquire awareness or basking in past glories with stale messianic airs. The best way to renovate ideas and leaders is through grassroots wisdom. Experience shows that renovation consists of going back to the people—in particular finding a way of reaching out to young people and women—and recovering links with the citizens. The aim here is to become the authentic interpreters of their needs and aspirations, to build instruments for coordinating desires that could transform reality. Achieving this implies resisting the temptation to turn into wretched parties and cheap politicians that settle for the crumbs of power left over by the Yankees and the local rich.

William Grigsby Vado is a Nicaraguan journalist.

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