Salvador reflections–and echoes

In the 1980s, El Salvador’s “Pol Pot Left” was an obsession with America’s far right, which was at the time well represented in the halls of power. The governing US Republican party made stopping the allegedly imminent threat of a Soviet-Castroite takeover of Central America–with El Salvador next, after Nicaragua, on the “hit list”–one of its highest priorities. And that meant stopping the Farbundo Marti Front for National Liberation, or FMLN, from seizing power by force of arms and popular insurrection. It also meant not negotiating with it until it would “lay down its arms” and participate in elections. The very real and grinding inequality of land ownership, against which the FMLN was fighting, was de-emphasized (although there was a small land reform undertaken with US support in the 1980s).

The ideological affinity between the far right in the US and El Salvador was so strong that the latter even named its emerging movement the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), as it turned its original death-squad structure into an essentially fascist (and I do not toss that term around lightly) political party.

Now here we are in 2009, with the far right (mostly stripped of its fascist baggage but not of its economic ideology) having governed El Salvador for twenty years. The FMLN laid down its weapons in the 1990s, during the G.H.W. Bush presidency, and has been participating in El Salvador’s elections since 1994. Its candidate in today’s presidential election* is not tainted by the war and does not advocate radical economic reform. In other words, El Salvador’s left has done precisely what it was told to do by Uncle Sam. The Soviet Union is a distant memory and Fidel Castro is barely hanging on in a country whose government no one considers a model. Yet here we are, 15 years into El Salvador’s post-war democracy, and certain far-right dead-enders in the US Congress just can’t get over the fact that the FMLN might actually win an election.

Sometimes it is at least useful when the real extremists reveal themselves.

(Hat tip, Tim’s El Salvador Blog.)

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* The link was updated to a post-election entry.

6 thoughts on “Salvador reflections–and echoes

  1. You should see the “reds-are-coming” editorial on elsalvador.com: it’s just right out of the Cold War.

    I’m not sure I’d have called ARENA a fascist party, but in the early days they were certainly in the vicinity, as demonstrated by their absurd insistence that the late Salvadoran President José Napoleón Duarte – who actually kissed the U.S. flag during a state visit to the White House – and his centrist Christian Democratic Party (PDC) were really closet Communists: remember the infamous watermelon analogy? “Green on the outside, red on the inside”. This was pure extremist nonsense, albeit quite familiar on a personal level: I have a far-right relative who belongs to the same “liberals-are-commies-in-disguise” school of thought, and his tirades differ very little from those of ARENA’s founder and late leader, Roberto D’Aubuisson.

    U.S. policy towards El Salvador in the 1980s was certainly flawed, but many in Latin America saw U.S. support of the reformist Duarte administration – which proved to be a complete disappointment – as an improvement when compared to the U.S.’ previous practice of lining up behind the reactionary right in the name of anti-communism. In fact, during the 1984 presidential election in El Salvador, the Reagan administration toyed with the idea of backing PCN (which had misruled the country from 1962 to 1979) as a “middle-of-the-road” alternative to both PDC and ARENA, but that went nowhere once it became clear the party’s candidate was mired in third place.

  2. Yes, I was going to mention the ‘watermelon’ analogy, but could not manage to work it in to the narrative. (A shameful failure for Fruits & Votes, I know.)

    I think there were numerous aspects of the party’s early days that had fascist tendencies–the rabid anti-communism, the development of an agrarian mass base that was explicitly reactionary, the connection to violent right-wing organizations. But also ways in which the tag does not fit, such as a mostly non-statist economic ideology.

    On the Reagan administration backing of Duarte, agreed. But I think they were dragged into that by congressional Democrats.

    In any case, the transformation of ARENA from something resembling fascism to a fairly modern form of right-wing economic liberalism is a (mostly) untold story that is quite interesting.

  3. Pingback: El Salvador joins the panachage ranks, president’s party holds steady | Fruits and Votes

  4. Sadly, the lady link no longer works, although it does take you to Representative Dana Rohrabacher’s page. At the time, he issued a statement decrying the expected left-wing win in El Salvador.

    • Thank you, Miguel! That is it. Just one tiny change in the URL from what it originally had been. I updated the URL in the post above, and also saved the file (in all its absurdity) for posterity.

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