“We’re Going to Govern for the Whole Country, Not Just the FMLN”
Just days after the electoral victory of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), the Salvadoran online newspaper El Faro ran an interview with Vice President-elect Salvador Sánchez Cerén, one of the three most powerful members of the FMLN’s Political Commission. Here we offer the most relevant parts of this important article, in which Sánchez, a.k.a. Comandante “Leonel González,”
lays out positions openly contrasting with those of the
FSLN government in en Nicaragua.
In this interview, Salvador Sánchez Cerén could disappoint both followers and detractors who see the future Vice President as a straightjacket the FMLN could put on President-elect Mauricio Funes to keep his government from doing more than the party allows him to do. When asked if he will satisfy those who fear he will be the ideological padlock, his first words were: “My position is not to be the defender of ideology.”
Sánchez Cerén is one of the three most powerful people in the party, together with general coordinator Medardo González and José Luis Merino. In this interview he makes it clear that the administration to be inaugurated on June 1 won’t be there to fulfill the FMLN’s most intimate plans, so the party faithful can’t expect it to do everything it ever promised. He explains that the party understands it can’t presume representation of anything like the whole of society. “Society can’t be represented only by the FMLN.”
Dispelling ghostsThe words of the former teacher and guerrilla commander seem closer to the conciliatory speech of President-elect Funes than the pronouncements of some other FMLN leaders, who at various moments let it be understood that the main purpose of seeking the presidency was to leave no stone of what they found still standing.
In this interview, however, Salvador Sánchez Cerén may seduce those he disappoints by not validating their fears. He makes it clear that he doesn’t think everything inside the FMLN is good or everything outside of it is bad. He’s even humble about the Sunday, March 15, victory which he describes as a vote of confidence rather than an unconditional prize. He insists that the FMLN legislators won’t just rubber-stamp the executive office’s desires and hopes the Legislative Assembly will fulfill its watchdog role and its job as a counterweight to the presidency’s actions.
Word by word, Sánchez Cerén dispels some of the ghost his opponents conjured up during the electoral campaign: no to presidential reelection, to a party government (“it’s wrong for parties to fuse with government”), to a legislative bench that is the President’s puppet and to a Vice President who opens “friendly fire” on the President. Word by word, he slips in critiques of the sins of leftist groupings who, disconnected from reality, build—or built—a wall that distances—or distanced—them from the majorities that could give them power.
The FMLN’s top organic representative in the future government dares to make a series of public promises that Salvadorans can use to judge it at the end of five years in office. Aware that his party will be on trial this whole time, Sánchez Cerén reveals this understanding of the victory Salvadorans gave it on March 15: “We’re going to give you a chance, but if you don’t govern well, you’re out”
The FMLN doesn’t El Faro: For many, you represent a kind of ideological padlock that will serve to ensure the party’s interests. Will that be your role within the new government?
represent the whole country
Sánchez Cerén: My position won’t be that of defender of the ideology. Those parameters belong to the past, and we’ve moved on. We identify with the interests of the most impoverished, excluded sectors, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a national vision. And that’s the government we have won and want to implement: people’s desire has been for a nation united to deal with its great challenges. My concrete response is that I’m going to work and collaborate with Mauricio Funes to advance the project of change we proposed with an open, broad vision and way of thinking.
Some years ago we asked Schafik Handal why he didn’t let Mauricio Funes run for President and he answered that Funes told him he wouldn’t subject himself to primaries or the orders of the Political Commission (CP). Schafik said that in reality the FMLN wouldn’t have power in those conditions; it would only be a stepping stone. Now Funes has said that the party is a vehicle, that he won’t obey the CP and will be independent. How much of Schafik’s conception about the conditions for coming to power still remains within the FMLN?
The Left makes huge errors when it lacks the capacity to adjust to reality. I believe there’s a different reality now, first in the party, which decided not to have an internal process. I wasn’t subjected to a grassroots consultation. Some preferred Óscar Ortiz, but the party’s decision was: “Well, it has to be Salvador, because he’s the man who’s been identified with all the party’s stages.” The same in Mauricio’s case. It was a collective National Council decision, based on conversations with him, in which there was full identification with the FMLN’s project, as expressed in the program, which is what unites us. The decision was taken to unite all the people because we came to understand that, although the FMLN had a firm, strong, solid base, it wasn’t going to represent the whole country on its own. The country needs to be represented by other forces and we saw that Mauricio could unite other forces.
I’m giving you elements that comply with an analysis of that reality, because for us a Left is only leftist insofar as it can analyze reality. Realities change and we were able to glimpse a crisis that the FMLN would find it very hard to lead the country out of all alone. I shared Schafik’s appraisal at the time because it was correct then. In the current moment, analyzing the crisis, analyzing that we wanted to take office, analyzing that the FMLN still isn’t a tight-knit force, that it has to be united, that the FMLN couldn’t lead the country alone, it obviously had to branch out.
Our commitment is Some years ago we also talked to José Luis Merino and he said the Left ends where the FMLN ends, that the other parties calling themselves leftist aren’t really, and that Schafik’s government plan was social democratic, one step away from the Right. He said the strategy was the following: winning government is step A to then get to B and finally to Z. With Funes’ victory, you now have A. Is this strategy for getting to Z still in force?
to deepen democracy
Sometimes when one sits at the table, one draws conclusions that have to be weighed against reality. No one believed the FMLN would win or come to office, that it could take power; no one believed an alternation of power would be allowed. We believe citizens are the ones who must make such decisions, that it’s wrong to substitute ourselves for the people. I think Merino’s vision comes from that logic: if people want to go further, how are we going to hold back? Besides, one of the Right’s great errors in El Salvador is to hobble plurality of thinking. Plurality is what permits democracy. I don’t see any danger in the FMLN identifying itself as a socialist party. It’s there in its declarations: it’s a democratic, revolutionary and socialist party.
Where’s the danger in that? Many of the most advanced societies are pluralist and permit the functioning of all parties, even socialist ones, which in fact govern in many countries. What’s the big crime in that? Democracy implies plurality, but the major decisions come from the people. We aspire to a different society, but fulfilling that aspiration is a decision that rests with the Salvadoran people.
A socialist society?Yes, socialist. In whatever form it takes, be it Salvadoran, European, whatever, but definitely Salvadoran. What does that aspiration involve? What can’t be ignored is that the FMLN’s commitment in all its documents, including the one it signed in the Peace Accords, is to intensify a society in democracy. We firmly insist on the need for a transition from authoritarianism to a democratic society. If you listen to Mauricio Funes, to all our leaders, our aim is to close all doors to an authoritarian society, because we come out of that and we want a society where there’s plurality, where no one can be stigmatized for thinking differently and having another aspiration.
We’re in transition from authoritarianism to democracy
In synthesis, then, the response is…?
Major errors are committed in the desire to simplify a response. I want to tell you that our decision, though in a frame of reference given by our statutes, is to make all progress possible in identifying this society and building a democratic one. That’s why our documents speak of a period of democratic revolution, in which the liberties aren’t just for one group. Here there’s talk of freedom of expression, but only for the few; of freedom of private property, but only for a few… That’s a very restricted democracy. Here they’re afraid of civic participation; citizens only get to vote; there’s zero democratic participation. For us democratic participation is what’s important.
When we talk about bringing the democratic revolution to full fruition, we mean full liberties and democratic conduct, so that peoples decide their own destinies. Not groups, but peoples. And in this case it’s the Salvadoran people who are going to decide. At this time the FMLN’s basic work is to achieve the full expression of democracy; it’s contained in the program we’ve presented, which puts us in full agreement with Mauricio Funes.
That’s why we say this society is a transitional one, because it’s in transition from authoritarianism to democracy and that’s the effort we’re going to make. That’s why we talk about respecting the Constitution, about guaranteeing the rule of law. It’s why we talk about not allowing an economy of privileges; why we say institutions have to function and there has to be transparency; why we say there has to be civic participation.
The FMLN isn’t going to Schafik Handal wanted a candidate who would answer to the Political Commission. How will it function now?
shanghai the government
The reality is that this is a national project that the FMLN-Mauricio Funes and all our allied forces will move forward and guide. The media strategy is one thing and reality is another. And the reality is that there are differences in any directive body. We discuss things and debate in the Political Commission itself, just as any leftist party does. There’s discussion. And there are necessarily going to be topics of discussion with Mauricio because we’re in a new process, a process of change.
We’ve already traced some routes, but there are immediate problems within them, which could lead to differences of opinion. And even more so if it’s a broad government, as it’s going to be. Mauricio Funes will preside over the government but it’s a government made up of those forces. The FMLN as a party isn’t going to shanghai the government, because that would be the death knell for our party.
Our party must play the role of guiding the municipal governments it has headed and the legislative fraction it has won, and helping Mauricio Funes govern and coordinate better with the municipal governments and our legislative fraction. We’re not going to break the checks and balances that any society should have.
The Legislative Assembly must function independently in its role as a body that drafts laws and oversees the executive branch. So what has to exist is a relationship involving a lot of dialogue, understanding and cooperation, based on the common program we have with Mauricio Funes. That’s my vision. It’s an error for a party to fuse with the government
It’s going to be a broad government, with Mauricio Funes leading and directing as President. As a party that professes democracy, we’re going to collaborate with him. The latest resolution of the Political Commission, released by Medardo, says that Mauricio Funes will name his Cabinet and we’re going to cooperate with him. That’s the vision of a party that has analyzed the experience of other countries where parties have erroneously fused with the government. The government governs all Salvadorans while the party represents the interests of one sector of society. Therefore, the government must be given the chance to represent all of society.
We’re not going to take over government or the Cabinet. The Cabinet isn’t about quotas of power. We haven’t formed an alliance with Mauricio around quotas of power; we’ve created a serious national program that we mutually identify with. The FMLN isn’t going to negotiate posts with Mauricio. The ministries will be headed by the people the President-elect chooses, period.
Not everything we do will And what role are you going to play as Vice President?The Vice President’s current role is mainly in international economic and political cooperation. My own experience is more in the field of education, in the search for harmony and understanding, and also in the social area. So we’re going to work with Mauricio from these fields to see in what aspects I can collaborate.
be like the FMLN thinks
How is it explained to the party membership that people the party got rid of or who left the FMLN over substantial differences will now apparently have more leadership within the government?
In the party—and I’m not talking only about the leaders, but also the members—there’s real clarity about the intention of making a broad government of change, that we’re not talking about just the FMLN. We’re not talking about entry into the FMLN, but rather the formation of a government of national unity. The grass roots understands this and understands that this government is made up of more than just the FMLN, which of course will play a very important role, but it also knows that not everything will be brought to fruition the way the FMLN thinks. Why? Because this government has to give space to other ways of thinking. That’s why I told you that we’ve resolved these possible contradictions based on a program and on the determination to get ARENA out of government and implement another project.
We’re not going to The electorate has defined a behavior for the political forces. First, we’ll need a lot of dialogue, a lot of understanding and consensus. You’ve seen and heard this in all the parties, but now there’s a national and international context that’s going to oblige all political, social and economic forces to seek understandings. If they don’t, this country will go under. El Salvador is going to need major loans and it’s not going to get them without the backing of all political forces. Anyone who opposes it is going to sink the country.
buy legislators’ votes
We can analyze scenarios. First, that of a united Right opposing an FMLN that has won more legislative representatives and has taken the executive branch, but doesn’t have the correlation of forces in the Legislative Assembly. All the people’s demands have to be analyzed through laws. It could be that these laws don’t always identify with Mauricio’s thinking, but that’s why we have the government program; that’s what’s going to allow us to identify with each other and work in common.
Mauricio Funes’ relationship with our legislative fraction is going to be one of understanding and cooperation but will also have to be of dialogue and negotiation because the Legislative Assembly can’t be subjected to the executive; it has its own independence and field of action. We want to change the habit of seeking agreements just to get the votes. I think that’s a serious problem for the country, because if you don’t get them through negotiation, you buy them, and I think that practice has been incorrect. It has damaged the country and the institutions.
If we wanted to, we could get the votes we need just with ARENA, but our intention is to seek the required understanding with all political forces. Getting the vote of a simple majority isn’t the same as getting the vote of all 84 representatives. A simple majority doesn’t give a law the political force to be accepted by everybody, but if citizens sees that it has the whole Assembly’s backing, their reaction is to make it their own as well.
We won’t commit the You have all constantly complained that ARENA has given the executive branch a legislative bench that is effectively a rubber stamp: the President sends a bill to the Assembly knowing it will immediately get the ARENA bench’s entire vote. Are you going to give Mauricio Funes the same kind of rubber stamp?
governing party’s error
Our work with Mauricio Funes is going to be very cooperative because we have the same project, the same program, but we’re going to govern seeking dialogue and respecting the independence of the branches. We believe the Legislative Assembly’s procedures must be respected. The Assembly can decide that “yes, this law is urgent, let’s prioritize it,” or “no, this law needs the established process and has to be consulted with the population,” then take the appropriate legislative steps. We’re going to avoid pre-dawn votes and the buying of wills; we’re going to ensure that this institution functions as it should.
If the executive wanted to convince the FMLN legislative bench of the need to approve a law but the bench isn’t convinced, which side would you take?
I’m going to be Vice President and our interest is to govern for the whole country, not just the FMLN. In that regard, some bills that will necessarily be strongly debated within the bench. But the fact that we have a program that’s more identified with national interest means we won’t encounter much resistance in the FMLN fraction. The national program we’ve constructed is for the party, its legislative bench, its municipal governments and the central government, and we’re going to reach agreement based on that program. But my position is that of an official who obeys the mandate conferred by the Constitution, which is to govern for all the Salvadoran people. We’re not going to turn the Assembly into an appendage of the executive and we’ll respect the party-government relationship because we believe the party mustn’t monopolize the government. Doing so would be a serious error for the party.
There’s no reason to fear democracyHow do you convince people that you’re now more government and less party, and that this is what’s needed?
It’s not about convincing. The people made me their Vice President knowing I was an FMLN candidate. They gave me a mandate to govern everybody, not just those who voted for me. So I don’t think there’s a problem. The people will see that this decision is one of both the FMLN and the government.
You say “the people have elected us,” but terrible atrocities have been committed in the name of the people throughout history, and in totalitarian regimes “the people” become the party and the party becomes “the people,” which is abstract and all-powerful. If having won one term you were to then win another, what would you say to people who might fear you’re beginning to seek mechanisms to perpetuate yourselves in power, as has been seen in other Latin American countries?
There’s no reason to fear democracy. What have the people said? “We’re giving you a chance, but if you don’t govern well, you’re out!”
When we talk about “people” it’s not to perpetuate ourselves in power, but to give them power. The problem is that those who talk most about democracy are the very ones who substitute themselves for the people. That’s why they’re afraid of people, because they’ve turned “liberties” into their own liberties, which are not the people’s liberties.
Democracy means having clear norms. We have a Constitution and we’re going to base ourselves on that. It establishes that there can’t be reelection, and we aren’t thinking of reforming the Constitution to permit a second term. That’s not our logic. We’re going to respect the Constitution, and within five years the people will decide whether we as a party continue governing or not.
This article by Sergio Arauz and Carlos Martínez appeared in the March 19 edition of El Faro, and was edited by envío.