Friday, April 02, 2004

Electoral observations (2): Tommie Sue Montgomery-Abrahams

FROM: Tommie Sue Montgomery-Abrahams, Fulbright Professor, Universidad Centroamericana "José Simeón Cañas" San Salvador

"I've been in El Salvador, this time, since the first of January and I generally concur with Lisa Kowalchuk´s analysis. This election was the FMLN's to lose and, after 10 days here last July, I wrote that if Schafik
was the candidate, the FMLN would lose. There was tremendous sentiment for change and, to be blunt, had Hector Silva been the FMLN candidate, I absolutely believe he would now be the president-elect. 15 years of ARENA has been enough for most people, but Schafik carried too much baggage from the past and, as Lisa notes, his temper and intemperate remarks sealed his doom.

The FMLN ortodoxos have their heads in the sand (a great play on words in Spanish as sand = "arena"). This seems to be a plague among Central American leftists (not to mention Fidel): they simply don't know when to pass the torch. The irony in all this is that Schafik has turned himself into his old nemesis, Cayetano Carpio.

Remember Cayetano? 34 years ago he split from the PCS because Schafik and company were too moderate, wanting to participate in elections and all those reformist things. Cayetano and followers went off to the mountains of Chalatenango and founded the first of the political-military organizations, the Popular Forces of Liberation. Schafik and the PCS spent the 70s participating in presidential elections, through a legal front, the UDN, and were the last revolutionary group to take up arms, at the end of the decade, when they realized that if they didn't they would be left in the dustbin of history.

Meanwhile, Cayetano (Comandante Marcial) proceeded to build the largest of the mass organizations, the BPR, and the largest of the guerilla groups, the FPL. Why is this relevant now? Because Marcial became increasingly rigid and orthodox in his views, insisting that the only way to organize a revolutionary movement was HIS way. His intransigence caused endless problems in the process of trying to unify the FMLN, beginning in 1980 and the problems didn't end until Marcial committed the unpardonable crime of ordering the assassination of his 2nd in command, Mélida Anaya Montes, in Nicaragua. When the Sandinistas, a few days later, uncovered the truth (Marcial having wept at Mélida's funeral) Marcial committed suicide. Immediately thereafter, the process of unity and military coordination took off and the FMLN never looked back.

Schafik has fallen into the same monomaniacal trap: it's his way or the highway. His extraordinarily ungracious speech on election night (he refused to congratulate Saca) and his threats to paralyze the government (the FMLN holds the plurality in the Legislative Assembly) for the next 2 years (until the next elections for Assembly deputies and mayors) will not only damage the country; more important, it will damage the FMLN. One can be sure that ARENA will make great political hay out of the FMLN's deputies wholesale stalling of legislation, which will NOT help the Frente in 2006, especially if Tony Saca tries to live up to his commitment to negotiation and concertación (in contrast to Frankie Flowers, who announced 5 years ago that he had been elected to govern, not negotiate. He ended up doing neither.)

The other irony worth noting, since I'm on a history kick tonight, is that the smallest of the 5 original FMLN organizations--together with a segment of the former FPL-- has ended up running the show. On the other hand, this should not be surprising, precisely because Schafik and company spent so many years in political organizing before they headed off to the mountains.

It is regrettable that the current leadership is so married to the old Leninist (or was it Trotsky?) principle of democratic centralism. Even ARENA has left that one behind; one of their deputies between 1997 and 2000, Rodrigo Avila, voted against his party 5 times in those three years, and the party didn't sanction him.

The campaign, as Lisa has described it, was disgustingly dirty. ARENA did far more than it had to to win, simply because Schafik was his own worst enemy. He made ARENA's job easy. But the dinosaurs in ARENA, trapped in their anti-communist ideology and mind-set of 20 years ago had to MAKE SURE. These are not the people closest to Saca...but it will be interesting to see whether Saca can/will put distance between himself and the dinosaurs, or whether he will become their pawn. His strength is his youth; his weakness is his inexperience and that could leave him vulnerable to manipulation by the hard-liners. It will be interesting to watch....

Finally, one note about Joe DeRaymond's earlier commentary. He was factually wrong when he said that Ambassador Barkley belatedly said that the US would work with whatever government was elected. The ambassador made that comment publicly on a couple occasions well before the election and I personally heard him state it unequivocally in a town meeting he called for all US citizens resident in El Salvador on 25 February. My feeling after Noriega and Reich shot off their mouths was that, to all appearances, they had pulled the rug out from under Barkley who publicly was trying to play it straight."

Comments to

No comments: