Leftist Victory in El Salvador
Closes an Historic Cycle
by Marc Cooper
The apparent victory of leftist candidate
Maurico Funes in Sunday's presidential election in El Salvador
finally closes out the Cold War in Central America and raises
some serious questions about the long term goals of U.S. foreign
With Funes' election, history has come
full cycle. Both El Salvador and neighboring Nicaragua will now
be governed by two former guerrilla fronts against which the Reagan
administration spared no efforts in trying to defeat during the
entire course of the 1980's. We will now coexist with those we
once branded as the greatest of threats to our national security.
Those we branded as "international terrorists" now democratically
govern much of Central America.
Funes, once a commentator for CNN's Spanish-language
service, comes to power representing the Farabundo Marti National
Liberation Front (FMLN), a Marxist guerrilla group-turned-political
-party, an organization that the U.S. government once described
in terms now reserved for Al Qaeda and Hizbollah.
From the late 1970's until a negotiated
peace settlement in 1992, the FMLN fought a bloody civil war against
a series of U.S.-backed right-wing regimes. Those Salvadoran regimes
engaged in horrific massacres and deployed savage death squads,
taking a massive human toll. While the FMLN also perpetrated atrocities,
all independent analysts agree that the overwhelming majority
of the 75,000 who were killed in the war in El Salvador were victims
of government-sponsored violence.
This same FMLN which now comes to power
in El Salvador was once declared as the primary perpetrator of
"international terrorism" by the Reagan administration
who deployed hundreds of U.S. military advisors to the tiny Central
American country and who quadrupled the size of the Salvadoran
Army. In this all-out quest to crush the FLMN, U.S. authorities,
at best, turned a blind eye to the bloody excesses of the Salvadoran
regime. At worst, it encouraged them.
At the same time in history, the U.S.
spent billions creating a "contra" army to destabilize
and dislodge the leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front
(FSLN) which had taken power in Nicaragua in 1979, overthrowing
the dynastic and dictatorial rule of the Somoza family - another
During the entire eight years of the Reagan
era, defeating both the FMLN and the FSLN were the absolute top
priorities of U.S. foreign policy as the administration argued
that the Texas border was a short hop from the fields of Central
America and that all must be done to stop the northward march
of hemispheric revolution. The sort of inflammatory rhetoric used
to describe the Central American guerrilla movements was an eerie
precedent for the overheated war of words against "The Axis
of Evil" that would emerge earlier this decade.
The Nicaraguan Sandinistas were eventually
defeated by an American-backed opposition in elections in 1990
and democratically and peacefully transferred power (something
the Reaganites claimed could never happen). But the Sandinistas
returned to power last year re-electing its historic leader Daniel
Ortega as president. Almost twenty years of rule from the pro-U.S.
coalitions that had succeeded the Sandinistas had failed to implement
any meaningful social change.
The Salvadoran FMLN, meanwhile, which
has acted as a parliamentary opposition party since the 1992 Salvadoran
peace accords, now comes to power ending twenty years of uninterrupted
rule by the country's ultra-conservative ARENA party - a political
organization born directly from the death squads of the 1980's
and, yes, a close ally of the U.S.
All of this raises the question of why
so many lives were spent and so many billions in U.S. dollars
were burned in an attempt to expunge these leftist forces twenty
years ago? Wouldn't it have been possible in 1989 to find some
sort of accommodation with these radical forces and not postpone
the inevitable for twenty years?
In the case of Nicaragua, the year-old
reborn and duly elected Sandinista administration--while far from
a model of democratic ethics-- hardly poses any threat to U.S.
interests. Though President Ortega, saddled with governing one
of the poorest countries in the hemisphere, still clothes his
actions in revolutionary rhetoric, he has headed up what many
think is essentially a conservative regime which recently outlawed
all abortion (a move that could warm the deceased Ronald Reagan's
heart). Ortega campaigned successfully for the presidency last
year by quoting from scripture and has not flinched from pacting
with the most conservative of political elements.
In the case of El Salvador, President-elect
Funes has pledged to maintain close and cordial relations with
the U.S. And while the FMLN--like the Sandinistas - clings to
some of its Cold War revolutionary rhetoric, no one expects any
radical moves by the incoming government. Fighting widespread
poverty aggravated by the global slump and a chilling crime wave,
the FMLN will have its hands full just keeping the government
on keel. President-elect Funes holds distinctly moderate views
and in an American context would be little more than a liberal
Democrat. In any case, the FMLN can point to its recent governance
of several Salvadoran cities (including until recently the capital
of San Salvador) as its democratic bona fides.
The resurrection of the FMLN and the FSLN
at this time in history raises a troubling irony regarding U.S.
foreign policy. Yesterday we were told they were our greatest
enemies. Today, now in power, they hardly garner any U.S. press
coverage, let alone much attention from Washington. Likewise,
the right-wing forces we bankrolled with blood and treasure and
who we were told were a bulwark of Western Civilization, utterly
failed in solving the basic existential questions that bedeviled
their respective countries. Twenty years from now, we have to
ask, what will Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria look like? Might we
find ourselves peacefully co-existing with the same undefeated
forces who today we proclaim our mortal enemies? Might we be better
off using our soft power, our economic and diplomatic clout to
force negotiation and moderation with those we perceive as irrational
and radical enemies? Or do we only reach that conclusion after
the dissipation of prolonged, bloody and ultimately unsuccessful
armed intervention and war?