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Issue #1594      May 22, 2013

FMLN continues on the path of progress in El Salvador

Damian Alegria is a deputy in the Legislative Assembly of the Republic of El Salvador. He is a member of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), which is the main left-wing organisation in the country and currently the biggest party in the parliament. The FMLN was formed from the union of the Communist Party and several other left groupings that fought a long civil war against the regime dominated by pro-US elites. The war ended with the Chapultepec Peace Accords of 1992 and since then, the FMLN has been building its grass-roots presence and influence at the various levels of government in the country. FMLN candidate Mauricio Funes was elected president of El Salvador in 2009 and campaigning is already underway for the election of 2014 when FMLN member Sánchez Cerén will be the candidate.

Damian Alegria (centre) with representatives of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front in Adelaide.

Damian Alegria (a name adopted during his time as a guerrilla) has a strong academic background in law and economics with hands-on experience working with the most disadvantaged people in El Salvador. He is on Commissions of Treasury and Budget, Foreign Affairs, Central American Integration, Salvadorans Abroad and Municipal Affairs. He recently visited Australia to meet El Salvadoran communities and to talk to solidarity activists in several Australian cities. In Adelaide he took time out of his busy schedule to talk to Bob Briton from The Guardian.

Guardian: Is the FMLN satisfied with the pace of change in El Salvador since the Peace Accords? What do you consider to be your greatest achievements in that time?

Damian Alegria: We are happy with the process of change in El Salvador. Maybe we could have expected more but we understand the process is unfolding well. Maybe the most important change since the peace agreements is that the military is not the biggest power as it was previously. They don’t rule the country as before. They are an aid to civil society and they respect the constitution. They don’t carry out any coups d’etat as they did previously and they have changed significantly due to a number of processes that have put them in a very different category. So, the first thing we can say is that we have put the threat of military dictatorship in the ground.

The other most important thing we have achieved, the second most important change in El Salvador, is that now left-wing parties can be legal. The main symbol of that change is the FMLN; a former guerrilla force that has turned into a party. It is a legal party that is working very openly around the country. This means there is no longer political persecution in El Salvador. We can work wherever we want; we do it openly with the four letters “FMLN” on display and nobody says anything against us. There is a process underway in which more and more people are coming to know what the FMLN is and what we are doing and planning for the future. More and more people are coming to work and struggle with the FMLN to achieve these goals.

In this way we take part in the exercise of political power now. We started with a very small number of counties in which we were governing the cities. We are now increasing that number; we are now governing in 96 counties, which have some of the most important cities in El Salvador. We have a number of deputies in the parliament. There are 31 comrades in the Assembly. We are the biggest party now in terms of the number of representatives and this grants us a useful level of power to propose and approve a good number of laws. Even though we don’t hold a simple majority of votes in the Assembly, we enjoy good relations with other parties, even right-wing ones that differ with ARENA, which remains the main obstacle to the development and modernisation of the country. With these other parties we have cooperated to pass many laws in favour of the El Salvadorian people. We feel we can work with these other political parties. We are trying to build a different, more democratic country.

Maybe the other big issue in terms of political power is that in 2009, after a tough struggle during the elections, we won the executive branch of government. This is another very important change because, for almost 200 years, only right-wing individuals and parties have ruled the country. Now, for the first time in almost 200 years, we are ruling the country. It hasn’t been easy. It has been a matter of governing with a lot of problems of debt and other finance problems and a lack of resources. Even so, we used the limited budget in a very different way; investing a lot in education, health, supporting small business, small farmers and many other initiatives.

This is another important change made possible by having the executive branch. We are investing a lot in the people, trying to make changes that benefit the poor and to make our country in the long term, via strong investment in education, one of the most advanced countries in terms of the skills and academic level of the population.

So, the change that the army is no longer the main power it was before, the legalisation of the FMLN as a political party, the part we have in the administration of the counties and the National Assembly and in the executive branch, and the launching of a lot of progressive programs – these are the most important changes that have taken place in El Salvador.

G: How does the party rate its chances in the election of 2014? Where do the main dangers to progress come from?

DA: I think the chances for victory in 2014 are very strong because in many ways we are showing we are committed to the people, the poor, the people who need more and need the support of the government. I’m referring to workers, peasants, small farmers, small business, students – they all feel we are the party that can continue the changes we have started with this government. The polls are showing day-by-day that the FMLN has an advantage over the right-wing party and that the popularity of our candidate is growing. The right-wing candidate is losing support with every poll they take.

Through our group of parliamentarians and as a party we are launching programs to support agriculture, scholarships and other things that people need. For example ALBA Petróleos is an enterprise in which the FMLN participated with the idea that the profits of the company are used to finance other programs of use to the people. We are using other ALBA* programs to support farmers, to produce more energy in the country, trying to stop the rising price of oil and many things people understand will help them to have a better life.

The main dangers to progress continue to be the right-wing parties and the media. They are lying, confusing people, trying to distort information about how things are developing. Maybe the media is the main problem we have now in El Salvador. There is also an effort on the part of the some sectors in the US to interfere in the internal affairs of the country. We are trying to stop that. We insist we are an independent country.

The interference is probably not as strong as when the Republicans were in government in the US. But every time that somebody from the US government or its embassy says something about what we must do, we say “This is our country and we are going to rule it in the way we decide. Thank you for your opinion but this is an issue that we care about.”

I think there are fewer dangers than before but perhaps the media is the most important danger now because it has a capability to confuse people and to set them against the FMLN. We are doing our best to avoid this by going to talk with the people directly, to make them understand what we are really doing.

G: How important to the process unfolding in El Salvador are the changes underway in other parts of Latin America?

DA: We feel we are part of the process of having more independence, self-determination and sovereignty in Latin America. We are happy to be part of that wave of change taking place in Latin America. We admire things that are happening in other countries such as Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina.

We feel we are doing our part by introducing a lot of these changes and by participating in some of the forums – the Sao Paulo forum, the Latin American Parliament and, from last year, the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (CELAC), which is an alternative to the Organisation of American States (OAS). For a long time OAS has been used by the US as a tool against the interests of the people of Latin America.

We are part of all of this and we are on the way to a changed situation in Latin America. We are happy to be part of that and we feel we are giving a bit more strength to that process.

G: Are there any other comments you would like to make for the readers of our newspaper?

DA: I would like to say to all the readers that we are having an election next year in February 2014. I would like to invite everybody not only to pay attention to what is happening in El Salvador but also to take part as an electoral observer. I’m sure that a good number of people from Australia can go and be part of this celebration that we are going to have on February 2 when the election is held.

That’s because we are sure the people are going to support the FMLN to continue deepening the process of change in El Salvador. I’m inviting everybody to be aware of what is happening in El Salvador and support our process by going to El Salvador to take part in observing the elections at that time.

I would like also to thank all the organisations, the Communist Party, Socialist Alliance, Socialist Alternative, the unions in different sectors, the governments in different states, the federal government and the Australian people in general for all the support you have been giving to our people. They have been coming for 30 years, to help us have a different life. My thanks, my gratitude for all the things that you do to help our people.

I want to say thank you especially in the hope that that we can strengthen the relations between El Salvador and Australia in terms of an alliance of the populations, in terms of the peoples, in terms of the governments. I believe a future of better cooperation between Australia and El Salvador is possible.

* ALBA – the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America is an international economic cooperation organisation for Latin America based on the goal of integration, mutually beneficial trade and solidarity. It has eight full members including Cuba and Venezuela, which was the driving force for its establishment.   

Next article – No justice for Martin Corey

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