The Salvadoran presidential election: An alternative view
On March 17 RedStar504 posted an article, "Victory in El Salvador: an inspirational sign along the path", on the March 15 Salvadoran presidential election, in which Mauricio Funes, the candidate of the Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN), defeated Rodrigo Ávila, the candidate of the right-wing Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA), by a margin of 51.3 percent to 48.7 percent.
The article contained much useful information about the FMLN's struggle, first as a guerrilla alliance and then as a political party. It rightly described Funes's election, the culmination of fifteen years of the FMLN's running in elections, as "a continuation of the 'red and pink' tide that is sweeping Latin America."
The article contained elements of a revolutionary analysis of the election in its description of the contrast between Funes's election platform and the FMLN's historic program. But it didn't pull them together. It asked but did not answer questions that we, as Marxists, really can answer, at least provisionally, based on what we know of El Salvador and the lessons we can derive from historical experience.
The article reported that "Funes has stated that he has no intentions of repealing CAFTA or dollarization, and has taken pains to assuage the fears of both the national bourgeoisie and the US ruling class that he will not make any moves that jeopardize foreign investment. In this, his actions echo Lula's."
The New York Times in its March 16 article on the election emphasized Funes's moderation:
"Mr. Funes has promised 'safe change' and says he will lead in the mold of Brazil's president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. He has sought to allay fears that the FMLN would nationalize important industries, as occurred in Venezuela and Bolivia. Advisers have said they do not plan new taxes, just better enforcement of the existing tax law. Mr. Funes has said he will keep El Salvador in the Central American Free Trade Agreement and retain the dollar as the country's currency.
"He has also sent a strong message that he intends to continue El Salvador's close relationship with the United States. He met with the chargé d'affaires at the United States Embassy, shortly after his victory speech Sunday night." (See http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/17/world/americas/17salvador.html.)
The 2009 Salvadoran elections were much like the 2002 Brazilian elections. In the 2002 Brazilian elections the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT), a party with a history of militant struggle, ran a candidate on a platform of "managing the affairs of the capitalist state," to use RedStar504's apt expression. The Brazilian and US ruling classes at first accepted Lula as a necessary evil and then embraced him as their most capable defender.
In the 2009 Salvadoran elections the FMLN, another party with a history of militant struggle, including armed struggle, ran a candidate on a platform of "managing the affairs of the capitalist state." Funes and the FMLN leadership abandoned he FMLN's longstanding positions on privatization, CAFTA, El Salvador's relations with US imperialism, justice for victims of the the right-wing death squads in the civil war, and other issues in order to prove their fitness to govern.
This about-face and the FMLN's minority status in the legislature (35 of 84 seats) provide ample basis to answer the question RedStar54 asked about the election: "But will it continue to give inspiration for years to come or ultimately disappoint?" As in Brazil, the government will attempt to do what it said it would do during the campaign, maintain the status quo in all fundamentals.
Funes's election is inspiring in somewhat the same way that Obama's election was inspiring. The electorate rejected the candidate of a discredited right-wing party and elected a candidate who seemed to represent and personify progressive change. But Funes, like Obama, will attempt to do what he said he would do during the campaign, maintain the status quo in all fundamentals.
The FMLN is quite different from the Democratic Party, of course, since it was born of an armed struggle and, until recently, often portrayed itself as anticapitalist, if not socialist. The situation in El Salvador is more like that in South Africa, Ireland, Nicaragua and many other countries with relatively recent histories of armed struggle. The former leaders of struggle are now the governmental coopters and, if necessary, repressors of struggle.
The government will disappoint. It will betray. The question we can't yet answer is whether the workers, peasants, and youth will resist despite this. Will the activists keep the unions and other grassroots organizations independent of the government? Will the FMLN ranks reject their leaders' accommodation with the old order and build the new political party they will need to succeed?
The examples of South Africa, Ireland, Brazil and Nicaragua suggest that a minority of activists will try to do so, but the majority will need the experience of the new government in power to learn that they need to do so. Indeed, "La lucha continúa..."