“It could be that the change we wanted for so long is possible this time” said a joyous Salvadoran woman after the election Sunday, March 15 of the FMLN (FarabundoMarti Liberation Movement) candidate for president. Mauricio Funes was the first FMLN candidate to defeat the rightwing Arena party in Salvadoran elections since the civil war in that country came to an end in a UN brokered ceasefire in 1992.
The most bloody face of the Salvadoran began in 1979, when a so-called reform coup was carried out by junior grade military officers to stop brutal violence against the people. But, in short order, reformers were forced out by hard line military dictators who launched a campaign of slaughter, targeting domestic and foreign “subversives” for assassination.Progressive reformers from some 80 mass organizations, the Democratic Revolutionary Front(FDR), joined forces with a coalition of revolutionaries, the FMLN, to defend the masses of landless peasants, factory workers, students, teachers, and health care workers from assassination, imprisonment, and dictatorship.
Over the decade of the 1980s, the FMLN gained control of regions of the country, establishing “zones of popular control,” where peoples’ assemblies could build rudimentary political institutions. But the FMLN never assembled sufficient forces to defeat the Salvadoran military, treasury police, death squads and other instrumentalities of the 2 percent of the population that controlled 60 percent of the land, the so-called “14 families.”
Throughout the eighties, sympathetic church people were slaughtered, from US nuns in 1979, to Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1980, to six Salvadoran Jesuit priests in 1989.
Perhaps the most egregious omission in recent stories in the mainstream US press concerning last Sunday’s elections was the fact that the decade of violence, killing 70,000 Salvadorans and causing hundreds of thousands to flee the country, was fully encouraged and supported by United States foreign policy. Nearly $2 billion of military aid flowed from the US treasury to El Salvador, about 100 US militaryadvisors were in country to direct the war effort against the people, and US soldiers and airmen provided logistical, radar and other support to the Salvadoran military in their war from neighboring Honduras. If the US had not taken sides and given its full resources to the dictators, and their “elected” officials from the Christian Democratic and then Arena parties, the FMLN and the mass organizations who had joined with them would have been victorious by 1984, saving thousands of lives.
Back in the United States CISPES, the Committee in Solidarity With the People of El Salvador, created a national organization with over 100 chapters in cities and towns. CISPES members marched, rallied, lobbied Congress, raised money for sister city projects in the zones of popular control, and in other ways tried to show the people of El Salvador that there were Americans who opposed military dictatorship andgrotesque economic inequality in their country. CISPES stood against US imperialism in Central America.
When CISPES members marched to the chant of “The People United Will Never Be Defeated” they did not realize how long the struggle might take. The election of Mauricio Funes, however, does confirm that what was being chanted may in fact be coming true.