President-elect Salvador Sánchez Cerén’s victory in El Salvador’s tightly contested election last week is an important milestone in the democratization of El Salvador. It is also another chapter in the remaking of Latin America, from the bottom – led by poor and rural communities. Sánchez Cerén is a 1960s-era activist whose life story personifies the struggles of the Salvadoran people: a teacher in rural and public schools, he was driven underground in the 1970s by a repressive U.S.-supported government. He became a guerilla leader who survived death squads and U.S.-trained, armed and led military forces to eventually take his movement into peace talks, and then into nearly two decades of building a successful democratic party in harsh circumstances. His victory marks the second successive presidential election for the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN).
Cerén campaigned on an education, security, employment platform, with progressive policies including creating a Ministry of Women, and a “one child, one computer” program. He also indicated his intention to strengthen ties with Venezuela and the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas.
But the victory in not secured.
His U.S.-backed right-wing opponent from the ARENA party is contesting the victory despite certification of the election’s fairness by the nation’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal and outside observers (including the United Nations and the Organization of American States). ARENA’s candidate appealed to the armed forces to intervene; fortunately they’ve pledged to respect the electoral process. The losing candidate is now appealing the election outcome to the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court despite its limited mandate to address only constitutional issues. The chamber is heavily weighted in favor of the traditional elite. ARENA is supported in its efforts by the (U.S.) Republican Party’s international network, the International Democratic Union. All this requires careful attention and continued solidarity from U.S. progressives.
The election win against the U.S. political elite’s favorite is also a victory for the U.S. progressive movement and its international solidarity wing, which took leadership from the Salvadoran people and not only provided material aid over the years, but also personnel (including election monitors), and above all else grassroots activism. The solidarity movement has drawn attention to the School of the Americas – which trained death squads in Georgia, and exposed US corporations exploiting El Salvador’s working people and environment, as well as having organized sister cities and people-to-people delegations.
For this election, the solidarity movement secured neutrality pledges from more than 50 US Representatives in Congress and prompted the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador to similarly declare its neutrality. Looking ahead, solidarity activists will have to support El Salvador’s right to join the regional Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America and counter U.S. efforts to encourage privatization in the water and health sectors.
The solidarity movement’s fine work stands apart from the Reagan administration’s prosecution of the Salvadoran “Civil War” which cost 75,000 Salvadoran lives according to the United Nation’s Truth Commission on El Salvador. It is also salutary at this moment in international relations to reflect on these costs and fact that Central America became the flashpoint for the Second Cold War. Today, as before, the world needs to prevent another unnecessary Cold War.