Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 215 | Junio 1999


El Salvador

A Tough New Government And a Lost Opposition

ARENA has just inaugurated the government it always wanted but never managed to have, one with qualified professionals, a humanitarian image and strict party control over the state. It faces a country full of problems and an FMLN weakened in its convictions and strengthened only in its infighting and aggressiveness.

Ismael Moreno, SJ

On June 1, addressing an audience of some 60 international delegations, Francisco Flores began his presidential term by expressing his appreciation and loyalty to his party. The new President was protected by an impenetrable cordon of police, whose colleagues, at the very moment he was being sworn in, were attacking hundreds of Hurricane Mitch victims demanding protection from the imminent rains.

When the presidential sash was placed over Flores' chest in that ceremony, he assumed much more than the task of heading the government. He also took on his party's mandate to work from his new office to assure that in next year's elections ARENA topple the FMLN and recover all the city governments and legislative seats it lost in 1997. With his pompous investiture and lyrical discourse—little substance and many aspersions cast on the opposition—"Paco" Flores inaugurated not only his government but also ARENA's electoral campaign, fully determined to assure that his party regain total control of the state. Nobody doubts that President Flores will continue to campaign from his new position, and will not really begin the task of running the government until the results of the March 2000 elections are in his hands.

President and political activist

The work of a President and the work of a political activist are not the same thing. A political activist takes the country's problems and transforms them into campaign promises in the hope of conquering the citizens' hearts and minds and thus winning their votes. A President, in turn, has above all else the responsibility of carrying out national programs that address those problems and make good on some of those campaign promises. Flores must do both at the same time. We can presume that between now and March 2000, his government will be a bit like lather—deceptively whipped up and ubiquitous. Flores will need to connect the launching of the government programs promised in his campaign with ARENA's new promises, replete with abundant images of the party's magnanimity and openness.

Many say that former President Alfredo Cristiani has learned the methodological lesson of Flores' electoral campaign and is already applying it on the new campaign trail. Just as Flores and his team sought to connect with the grass roots and listen to their concerns and problems, Cristiani is now engaged in a similar effort to connect with the municipalities, to ascertain what ARENA needs to do to get its candidates elected. And just as Flores made an effort to create an atmosphere of openness and analysis, Cristiani is following suit, portraying ARENA as a party in the process of revitalization, with new faces and ideas, and open to discussion.

Paco's seclusion

From March 8 through May 29, president elect Flores closed his doors to the press and began an internal transition process that would conclude with his taking office. He named his Cabinet and defined his government strategy, strictly controlling the information that got out. He stayed away from microphones and cameras, and only his most trusted representatives spoke in his name. This allowed him to reveal exactly what he wanted to reveal, and hermetically seal whatever he wanted to keep hidden. What his closest collaborators demonstrated in those nearly three months of seclusion was their blind devotion to Paco Flores. One can only hope they will be as devoted to the enormous demands of the Salvadoran people.

A positive measure

When embarking on a new enterprise, especially when that enterprise is to guide the destiny of a country, the most responsible approach is to wait and see how events develop rather than make hasty judgments about the political climate and the pros and cons of possible government actions. This appears to be what Flores and the key ARENA sectors have done. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, Paco's seclusion meant that they were putting themselves on hold.

Collaborators very close to Flores helped promote this positive perception. One example is Evelyn Jacir de Lovo, a woman with a reputation as a progressive and a history of honesty and service, who was one of Flores' advisers on government strategy and the choice of cabinet members. Jacir calmed the criticisms and suspicions of her anti-ARENA friends in an interview with one of the country's most widely circulated and influential daily papers, admitting without hesitation, "I'm not afraid to break molds." As coordinator of Flores' social program, Jacir believes it would be irresponsible to get bogged down in simple definitions of left and right in these new times. "People can change. And you must always leave room for this possibility, even for institutions with histories as questionable as ARENA's." This explains her political emblem: neither left nor right. Innovation is the watchword of the day, doing things differently. Jacir affirmed her passion for sincerity: "To tell the country that Paco Flores will eliminate poverty just like that would be reckless and unsustainable demagoguery. But we must believe that we can take on poverty, in all its intricacies, and take a qualitative step forward in the search for solutions." How? "First by giving people increased opportunities for more and better employment, better quality health care and education. By helping small and medium businesses increase their productivity. And by encouraging the broadest possible participation."
In Jacir's opinion, the Flores government represents an opportunity for the Salvadoran people to share more equally in development. And this is what she aims to achieve as the new minister of education.

The logic of the tecomate

Jacir is a natural born educator. With bubbly enthusiasm, she spoke with envío in her capacity as independent adviser to the President before assuming her new post. In response to the first concerns expressed by envio, she stood up, erased the blackboard and began to explain her thinking. "In this country," she began, while drawing a tecomate—a variety of squash shaped like a figure eight, with the circle on top much smaller than the one on the bottom—"we have to change things to reverse the logic of the tecomate. The country's privileged sector is the part on top, the smaller part. All the benefits flow directly in to them and stay there, never reaching the bottom part, the majority. I call the part on top the modern sector: the banks and commerce that link the country to the globalization processes. It's not that we should try to eliminate this sector or say that what they do isn't important. What I'm saying is that a serious government must govern with the more vulnerable sectors in mind. They're what we can call the traditional economic sectors: the farmers and small and medium businesses. One course this government should take is to govern for the majority, which has never happened before."
Looking at her sketch of the tecomate, she continued: "You understand that I'm speaking about things that will have major repercussions if this government takes them seriously. Because what's happened so far is that everything pools up and stagnates there on top. The sector there, the modern sector, has appropriated everything for itself, and the state has provided it with all possible means to do so. It has neglected the traditional sector of the economy, erroneously trusting that the benefits enjoyed by the modern sector will trickle down into the lower, larger part of the tecomate, resulting in greater benefits for the majority, which is found there. This has been the prevailing thinking for many years. But while the top sector receives greater and greater benefits, it always finds ways to keep them from filtering down to the majority. That's not what we want. We're convinced that government must be especially dedicated to the people of the countryside and the small and medium businesses."

Evelyn Jacir's plans

Jacir understands that this preference for the majority must be reflected in a series of sustained programs that guarantee resources for rural roads, for technical assistance, for information on marketing, technology and logistics, and for an educational system that supports and links both the formal and non-formal sectors and values both academic and technical training. She understands the new government's goal as "progress for all" and explained, "Progress cannot continue to mean the concentration of benefits in one single economic sector, or in one region like the capital. Progress must include the entire country, with special emphasis on the agricultural sectors and small and medium producers." She erased her tecomate and drew a huge cross, to explain what she has decided to support of Flores' government plans. "Our government motto will be `Communities in Progress.' Note that this doesn't mean just the progress of communities. We want to broaden the concept into a dynamic commitment." In the cross, the participation of the people and the decentralization of the state is highlighted at the bottom, with more decision making power given to the municipalities. On this foundation programs will be established that offer opportunities for progress, especially by continuing to make educational reforms, building and improving rural roads, and creating organized links between communities and solidarity networks of Salvadorans living abroad. A third programmatic line of the government plan that Jacir believes in and supports is providing effective access to basic services: economic and social infrastructure, safe drinking water, accessible housing, health care reforms, etc. The fourth programmatic line is to support personal development and family integration by providing support to families, women and vulnerable groups, and to culture, recreation and sports.

Jacir is aware of the risks she runs by joining the government team, but insists that this is a time for taking risks for the good of the El Salvador. She is convinced that her enthusiasm and abilities will help propel policies that favor the majority. "We won't resolve the problems through a party or through government," she says. "What a government should do is provide lots of opportunities so that diverse sectors of society can forge links to manage their own development. This will be my way of working, the way I see to continue along the path I've always chosen, on behalf of the poor. It's the same path I discovered in previous endeavors and confirmed in my religious life."

Grounding the enthusiasm

The announcement of Flores' Cabinet raised grave doubts about the new government's seriousness and professionalism, however. Everything indicates that the legacy and persistence of the hard-line and death squad sectors of ARENA ended up reining in all the good intentions and enthusiasm of some of the new President's collaborators, like Evelyn Jacir.

The rumor that the Cabinet's final make-up was determined by ARENA's hard-liners was confirmed when the names of the new ministers were announced. The social sector ministries— health, education, public works—will be headed by Flores' trusted professional advisers. The ministries that determine economic policy—economy, finance and the Central Reserve Bank—are in the hands of people loyal to the financial and trade program of Cristiani's group. And public security and the interior—the two ministries that will safeguard the party's control over the government—went to ARENA hard-liners. The governing party has thus made it quite clear that professionalism and inclusiveness are all well and good, but at the end of the day it is ARENA that rules. To quell any doubts, the specific individuals who will be heading the ministries that govern security and the police are linked to the most notorious chapters in the country's history of repression and corruption. Mario Acosta, for example, remains in the Ministry of the Interior, perpetuating the death-squad lineage of party founder Roberto D'Aubuisson, the murderer of Monsignor Romero. Mauricio Sandoval, the new director of the National Civil Police, was formerly director of the Office of State Intelligence. He is best remembered as the army spokesperson who was directing the national radio and television networks that publicly incited the assassination of the Jesuits at the UCA in November 1989 and the bishops Rivera Damas and Rosa Chávez. Flores' appointee in the Ministry of Security was superintendent of the financial system at the time of the biggest financial scandals in El Salvador's history. His experience more than qualifies him for the task of protecting the shadowy mechanisms used by groups in the party to maintain their economic power.

A new way of doing politics?

The new Cabinet casts doubt on all the speeches Flores made during the transition period and his seclusion about a "new way of doing politics." When he was running for office, El Salvador's new President, who presents himself to the nation as the most qualified professional in the country's entire democratic history, refused to engage in a public debate about anything to do with governing style or projects. During his months in seclusion, as he hid the true nature of the negotiations underway, his spokespeople talked about the ethics and professional criteria with which he would select his Cabinet members, highlighting his advisory team's technical capacity. But at the end of the day, the selectors selected themselves as ministers, undermining the enthusiasm of the new President's advisors.

In his day, outgoing president Calderón Sol proclaimed to the world that his government's main job would be to tackle poverty head on. But one of his first steps in office was to eliminate the Ministry of Planning and, with it, any opportunity to develop a socioeconomic strategy that could translate his proclaimed commitment into reality. Flores has done much the same. He inaugurated his government with a commitment to reduce violence—one of the country's most strongly felt problems—and in the same breath eliminated the Ministry of Justice. Affairs that were once under the Ministry of Justice's jurisdiction will now be handled by the Ministry of Security, whose main purpose is to coerce and repress. And there's more. He responded to the need for a more professional police force by placing Mauricio Sandoval in charge, promoting him from a post in which he distinguished himself by persecuting and spying on public officials and people in the media opposed to ARENA. There's still more. Mauricio Sandoval's replacement in state intelligence is a journalist, which suggests the possibility of increased corruption in the media and increased constraints on the freedom of expression.

ARENA's dream government

Now that the composition of Flores' cabinet is public knowledge, we can predict that the government will remain under strict party control, though there will be much talk of skilled professionals and an image of openness and sensitivity to social issues—all the ingredients needed to make the government palatable to the international community. But the internal course will be a repressive one. Analysts have already expressed their fears that ARENA is inaugurating the kind of government it always wanted but that political circumstances didn't allow until now: sufficiently repressive to control sectors that potentially threaten the interests of large capital, but with a reassuring fatherly image that holds out the promise of social justice and development.

In an interview just before taking office, Mauricio Sandoval promised the Salvadoran people that he would reduce street crime by 60% in his first two years. Flores has said that "equal opportunity" really means "giving equality an opportunity." These are the very two pillars of traditional fascism: a paternalistic state that protects and controls, while viciously persecuting its enemies.

Dealing with violence through repression

With an average of 139 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants and some 20,000 young people organized in gangs, particularly in the marginalized neighborhoods of San Salvador, violence is one of El Salvador's greatest challenges. Coinciding with the new police chief's initial declarations, four young men were found murdered. They had been tortured then shot in the head, with their arms tied behind their backs, in a manner reminiscent of the political murders of the 1980s. Their bodies were discovered on the slopes of the San Salvador Volcano, the very place where ARENA dumped the bodies of its political enemies during the war, when Sandoval was in the army intelligence forces.

With the FMLN's internal crisis and some of its leaders co-opted by official policies, it does not appear that its members are targeted as the main enemy to be eliminated, although ARENA has not discarded the use of selective repression. The fear is growing that the new police chief will replace the former practice of physically eliminating political enemies by the new practice of physically eliminating anyone who might be linked with street crime. The goal is the same: guaranteeing "law and order" to protect the interests of the country's big businesses.

FMLN: More divided than ever

On May 9, behind closed doors, 741 delegates—out of an eligible pool of 1,039— inaugurated the FMLN's Ninth Special Convention. The event was a new chapter in the self-destruction of a political organization that as little as a year ago was competing with ARENA to govern the country. Now, only a short time later, the FMLN is struggling for its own survival, while the new government treats it as little more than the butt of jokes.

From the early morning on, envío circled the complex that hosted the party's event. It was the same place that witnessed the fruitless fights of the FMLN's two-part Eighth Convention in August and September of 1998, where the leaders laid bare their inability to manage their differences.

We couldn't get past the barriers in front of the assembly room, but even in the lobby we saw the very first disputes break out, when members of the accreditation commission squabbled over irregularities in the documentation of a number of delegates, delaying the start of the sessions. Many hours after those first incidents, leaders of the faction that call itself the renovators complained to envío that the radical-orthodox faction had been playing dirty pool from the start, preventing 78 renovator delegates from participating in the convention, thus guaranteeing a 391-350 majority of radical- orthodox followers over renovators. This explains the recount at the end of the day when proposals made by Shafik Handal and Leonel González were approved.

The media, interested in stirring things up, predicted the worst. ARENA naturally did the same, as did the average person on the street. Even the FMLN's own statements gave advanced warning of trouble. The commission responsible for coordinating and arranging the convention clearly understood that the FMLN's immediate future depended on unity and tried to express this in the convention slogan: "Unity in service of the people, a step forward." Unfortunately, however, in place of unity, there was only more division.

Useless test of strength

The barriers remained firmly in place throughout the event, but envío was there to glean the first comments of the departing delegates. "We lost, but just wait for the July convention," an FMLN assemblywoman and leader of the renovator faction told us, lamenting their defeat by the radical sector. When we asked what they had lost, she looked surprised at being asked about issues so obvious to FMLN members: "We lost on the issue of timing. We proposed that the party's new statutes be decided on in July, and the new National Council be elected in October, as stipulated. They proposed that we elect the new Council in July, then reform the statutes and choose candidates for the upcoming municipal and legislative elections. Because of the maneuver preventing accreditation of almost 100 convention delegates who would have voted with us, our proposal was voted down."
It gradually became clear that the convention had been a test of strength. "Settling accounts" was the title one of the capital's daily papers gave to its story of how the radical-orthodox faction had taken its revenge on Facundo Guardado and his "renovators," rejecting all their proposals by a few dozen votes.

Guardado's faction presented a package containing a strategy for the March 2000 elections: reform and approve the statutes and define the municipal and legislative candidates as well as a campaign strategy. They proposed electing the new National Council in October, as planned. Had that proposal prospered, the renovator faction would have been in charge of defining the strategy, since people aligned with Guardado dominate the current National Council. But the radical-orthodox faction was not about to remain under the leadership of a council that goes against its line. They presented other timetables and other formalities. And they got what they wanted: they will unseat the renovators, even at the cost of prolonging the internal battles and confrontations right as ARENA is inaugurating its government with a new image, attractive proposals and a clear and unified approach to the March 2000 elections. The FMLN may have bought itself more time, but it will probably be used not to forge a stronger commitment to the country, but rather to continue along the path of self-immolation and self-destruction. As hard as this is for the Central American and Caribbean left to believe, it is the sad truth.

Two bones of contention

The first part of the Ninth Convention, which will continue in July, clearly revealed the deep divisions within the FMLN and the discordant points on its agenda. The renovators lost against proposals put forth by the radical-orthodox faction, but as soon as they left the confines of the event they began making plans to confront their adversaries, first by challenging the decision to keep dozens of their members out of the convention.

There are two bones of contention awaiting the FMLN in the next round of the convention. The first is the election of the nine members of the council, now controlled by Guardado's renovators. Handal's forces are determined to oust their adversaries and "purify" the party, replacing them with people who are clearly "revolutionary and socialist." This is the position of those who refer to themselves as the revolutionary socialist tendency. Guardado's forces, on the other hand, have begun to oil their own machinery to avoid being "purified."
"If the party winds up in Shafik's hands, we'll be better off leaving to start a new project with a proposal that will bear fruit in 20 or 25 years," said a former Popular Liberation Forces (FPL) activist and bitter adversary of Handal and the communists within the FMLN.

The other bone of contention will be the discussion and approval of the reforms to the party's statutes, particularly the one dealing with the reincorporation of tendencies as an integral part of the FMLN's structure. Tendencies were eliminated from the party statutes in 1994. Handal's faction will put forth a proposal to restore them. Guardado's faction contends that this would create permanent divisions within the FMLN. "We can't exist in a constant state of conflict. It would mean agreeing that the only reason for our existence is to keep up the internal battles, rather than face the challenge of resolving the problems of Salvadoran society," says another of the renovator's leaders. The radical-orthodox faction is also clear: "All we want is to officially recognize what actually exists. This party is made up of tendencies, and formal acknowledgement of that will ensure internal democracy."

Tendencies or currents?

In the FMLN lexicon, there are two ways of referring to the divisions within the party. One is to call them tendencies, which would be much like different parties all under the umbrella of the larger FMLN party, but with their own leadership, slogans, internal structure and administration. The other way is to call them currents, which means that there is one party with one leadership and one membership body that accepts different lines of thought and debate but no parallel organizational life.

These two ways of conceiving and expressing divisions is what will be at issue when this reform to the party's statutes is debated. The majority will decide whether the FMLN will be one party with different currents or an umbrella organization for separately constituted tendencies. The subsequent battles on the agenda will then be defined by whoever wins this one.

Gerson Martínez looking for solutions

In a world as full of uncertainties as today's, there are new stirrings in the FMLN of a movement that is encouraging reflection on what an FMLN split would mean for the country and particularly its poor majority. Since everything must have its label, this movement has begun to be called the "FMLN current."
Its most visible proponent is Legislative Assembly deputy Gerson Martínez, former FPL commander in charge of guerilla activities for San Salvador's entire urban area. He is a calm and thoughtful man, with an agreeable disposition, and is also one of the few economists in the Legislative Assembly who is good at making concrete proposals. Though he holds no official leadership position within the FMLN, he is the FMLN member with the greatest responsibility in the current government, in his capacity as first vice president of the Legislative Assembly.

envio participated in one of the sessions held by FMLN activists and sympathizers concerned about the direction and identity of the party. Martínez was the main speaker. He began with a few simple words: "I don't belong to any current, nor do I want to. I'm also not interested in holding any office in either the party or the government. I’m committed to finding a solution to the crisis that has the FMLN trapped in its clutches."
Martínez believes that the FMLN's crisis is part of a reflection process that has not been handled responsibly, and also part of the greater crisis that characterizes the current period. "Just as the 1970s were characterized by massive social struggles, the present moment is characterized by the minimizing of anything social, a lack of solidarity and the inability to come up with an agenda brings different groups together."
Martínez contends that this is an expression of the triumph of neoliberalism, whose followers know how to nurture it constantly. "The neoliberals have figured out how to structure the country for the coming century. And they have been able to interpret our differences and turn them to their own advantage. They know that the grassroots movements are depleted, which is why they themselves have shifted to promoting certain levels of grassroots participation. This participation is manipulated in the interests of big capital but gives the illusion of openness and democracy. Meanwhile, they leave us to stew in our own uncertainty, tearing ourselves to pieces in destructive battles over false and insignificant issues."

"Fracture without a break"

Martínez spoke to a small group of people concerned about the FMLN's immediate future and distrustful of the current leaders and tendencies fighting for power. He minced no words in characterizing the FMLN's current crisis as a "fracture without a break," in which everyone mistrusts everyone else under the prevailing but paralyzing slogan, "If you're not with me, you're against me." He referred to the party as weak in its thinking and strong only in its aggressiveness. He believes that today's FMLN leaders—both top and mid-level— must try to set aside their diversionary squabbles and engage in the debate within the framework of the current moment, dealing with what should be the central objective: "the transformation of power and economic, social and environmental policies to bring about more profound change." He insisted that the leadership bear in mind that the FMLN governs over half the Salvadoran population through the municipalities and that, from this stronghold, they need to deal with one of its most distressing weaknesses: that the FMLN's main opposition in the municipalities is not ARENA, but itself.

A left that has lost its way

There are Salvadorans closely identified with the history of left struggles who remind FMLN leaders that winning or losing the last presidential election should never have been their main concern. The key issue should have been to seriously examine whether the FMLN would or would not continue to be a party and a movement with a revolutionary grassroots character, capable of representing the needs and desires of the impoverished sectors of society. Many people feel that these leaders have lost their way. Revolutionary ethics have been replaced by a self-interested pragmatism that is making the FMLN just one more party on the political spectrum, one dominated by electoral practice that sees grassroots struggles as mere building blocks for winning votes.

Way too ready and willing to accommodate to the Salvadoran political system, many FMLN leaders have been bending over backwards to make the FMLN into just one more political party, with no ability to mobilize political or social grassroots movements. And the further the FMLN moves in the direction of a traditional party, the further away its leaders get from the grass roots. Instead of struggling to get into a position where they can best serve the people, the party leaders have been situating themselves where they can best serve the government—in the state bureaucracy. Instead of representing the majority, they have been progressively remaking themselves into representatives of the state. In so doing the FMLN has been making itself into just the kind of left opposition needed by Salvadoran big business, represented by ARENA. Many FMLN leaders have been more concerned about making themselves and their party attractive to capital than about responding to the interests of their society's impoverished sectors. As the FMLN acquires formal power, it is losing real power among the poor. For a few years now, a good part of the FMLN leadership has operating under the assumption that real power has to do with occupying administrative positions in government and acquiring quotas of personal power. As long as these patterns continue, the FMLN can win or lose as many elections as it wants, but nothing in the country will change.

Three leadership traits

The number of people in El Salvador who recognize that real power can never be wielded solely from public office or by winning formal spaces in government is increasing. Quite the contrary, the organized and militant nature of protest and the determination of those who suffer from domination and exclusion is what can create alternative power.

FMLN leaders would need to go through a personal transformation process, returning to the coffee farms or the factories, so that from the perspective of that practice they could comprehend the new Salvadoran reality and develop a new political vision and strategy. Perhaps by doing that they could shake themselves out of the comfortable pragmatism they have adopted in recent years, imitating political leaders and businesspeople whose tastes, luxuries and cravings have become their own. The FMLN can only truly be leftist, with the ability to inspire real change, if it is guided by leaders who link clear theoretical preparation with a commitment to grassroots struggles and whose commitment is reflected in their personal conduct. These are the three essential ingredients of leadership. Many FMLN leaders have gone too long without the theoretical ability to shed light on Salvador's situation, the courage necessary to participate in grassroots struggles, or the personal experience that fuels true commitment.

"We don't know what the fights are about"

Another arena for today's debates is among the FMLN's grass roots. To gauge their awareness of the internal conflicts in the party that claims to represent them, we went to Arcatao, historic guerrilla bastion in the era of organized civilian withdrawals, underground shelters, arms caches and clandestine attacks. There we listened to peasant farmers, local leaders, community group members and former guerrilla combatants. The words of one peasant leader basically summed up the experience of all the people we talked to: "All we know is that there are fights within the party, but we don't know what they're about or where they come from. I was accused of being a renovator because I hang out with María Chichilco, who supported Facundo's candidacy. The people who accused me are orthodox, but I don't even understand what they're trying to say when they call me a renovator. I don't understand what it means to be orthodox. All I know is that we're in trouble and that we're looking at another five years of ARENA."
"The worst of it," said one peasant farmer from the outskirts of Arcatao, "is that Facundo and Shafik are up there fighting over who gets to take home the biggest piece of the pie, and we wind up fighting each other down here because we receive orders from the top. Orders without any explanations about anything."

Time for the grass roots

With a soft singsong voice, a peasant woman from Arcatao shared her private thoughts, ones she has probably kept to herself for a long time. "It's our fault, too, because we let the leaders do what they want. But why, if the party belongs to all of us! We can't allow a few freeloaders to continue living off the memory of the blood of 50,000 dead. We have to struggle for ourselves, for this country and against ARENA. We must also struggle against the attitudes and behavior of our leaders, and we must do it with love. We must put the same love into this that we put into fighting the war for our children and for a fairer country, and we must speak clearly with our leaders. They need to change. Perhaps we'll have to fight to change the leaders who now, in our name, are living a life of luxury."
Although the conflicts in the FMLN's upper echelon filter down to the grassroots members and the division permeates their own problems, we can already begin to see signs of more militant and active attitudes among the grass roots in relation to the party's internal problems. The fights and divisions among the party elite have reached such heights that grassroots members no longer know who to follow or what to respond to. They aren't sure how many currents or tendencies even exist, or if the leaders belong to the same currents as before or have developed new ones.

The awakening of the FMLN's grass roots is the most hopeful indication we have at the moment. If these signs continue to grow, reaching beyond Arcatao and Chalatenango, if respect for the fallen and love of a more just El Salvador move the members while the FMLN hangs over the chasm it has created for itself, then the grass roots could be what saves the Salvadoran left. The last seven years of the FMLN have belonged to the leadership, the party's ruling class. The future belongs to the people.

Ismael Moreno is the envio correspondent in El Salvador.

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