This page is where David provides periodic commentary on issues he considers important, and on which he pretends to have more than a passing knowledge.
May 7, 2009
Funes the Moderate?
In my most recent post, I discussed the recent election of FMLN candidate Mauricio Funes, to the presidency of El Salvador. A former correspondent with CNN Español, he is the first leftist ever elected to that post. (Although José Napoleon Duarte was elected president during the civil war years, he was a Christian Democrat, and thus something of a socially conservative economic moderate. To be sure, he was considered a Communist by the hard-line right, but the left saw him as a straw man for the Americans and the oligarchy.)Centrism or Cynicism?
As a testament to his moderation, Funes has often emphasized his friendships not with the more radical, anti-American leftists in the regionVenezuela's Hugo Chàvez, Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, Bolivia's Evo Morales, Ecuador's Rafael Correabut more moderate left-of-center heads of state such as Brazil's Luiz Inàcio Lula de Silva, Argentina's Cristina Kirchner and Spain's José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. He has made several trips to the United States to meet with Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemispheric Affairs Thomas Shannon, Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.), and others.
Funes identified his model for governance as Brazil's Lula, a former union leader who rose through leftist politics to reach a workable rapprochement with capitalism that still addressed social justice. This was no small feat. After the turbulent 1970s and 1980s, when the US, staunchly defended any regime, regardless of its human rights record, against any perceived dalliance with communism, the surviving governments by and large turned to the guidance of a group of American economists known as "The Chicago Boys" (due to their links to the University of Chicago and its devoutly laissez faire approach to economic policy). These economists, with their allies at the IMF and the World Bank, had a crucial role in developing the pro-privatization policies in Latin America that so exacerbated already crushing inequities of wealth that it resulted in the leftist backlash known as the "pink wave." This leftward tilt across the subcontinent has to date affected every major country in the region except for Mexico (by the narrowest of margins), Colombia and, up until March 15th, El Salvador.
Funes' identification with Luna was an attempt to make sure people saw him as a pragmatist who fully understood the need to build a strong economy with the help of all sectors, and to maintain good ties with the U.S.
Still, Funes made no secret of his intention to reverse the effects of the neo-liberal agenda. One of his advisors, Julia Evelyn Martinez, a progressive economist at the University of Central America, argued that the first thing the new government must do is to tear down all the neoliberal policies that were implemented in El Salvador since 1989. She suggests the new president and parliament put their focus on developing markets within the country:
"That would stimulate businesses to produce for internal markets, and not just for certain groups of the population. Instead, all the opportunities for development are directed outside of the country, in the form of remittances, maquiladoras [that export cheap clothing] or the need for foreign investments."This is echoed by Sigfrido Reyes, the party's chief of communications and one of its most influential members. Called Joaquin during the war, Reyes, 48, has since earned a master's degree in economic policy at Columbia University in New York. He attended the Democratic National Convention in Denver in August and met with President-elect Obama's foreign policy advisers to help forge a relationship between the FMLN and Democrats.
Reyes makes the case that the FMLN is not a monolithic pack of doctrinaire Marxists:
"All political movements, all social bodies, change. For us, change isn't bad. It's a natural state of adapting. We don't believe that the FMLN is a party that represents just the left in this society, but that it's obligated to represent other sectors. We don't just represent the workers, but also the national businesses that take the risk of investing in our country."An example of Funes' ability to forge his own course concerns CAFTA, the Central American free Trade Agreement pushed strongly by the U.S., and which is seen by many on the left as an economic disaster that has devastated the poor. FMLN officials have condemned CAFTA outright on the campaign trail, yet Funes says he wouldn't withdraw from the trade agreement as president. He would, however, attempt to renegotiate some of its more damaging provisions.
Another of his chief advisers and his onetime sociology professor, Hato Hasbun, emphasized:
"[A Funes administration will] respect the international agreements that have been signed, [though] nothing is written in stone, and we're not going to ideologize the discussion. We'll make decisions based on the current reality. We want to be a responsible government, not a reactionary one."
Also, unlike many hardliners within el frente, Funes enjoys some support within the Salvadoran business community. This support includes a wealthy fraternity of supporters with no ties to the FMLN, many of whom call themselves "amigos de Mauricio."
Geoff Thale of the Washington Office on Latin America, a coalition that promotes human rights, democracy, and social and economic justice in the region, remarked:
"One interesting thing about Funes is that there are clearly business sectors that are willing to live with him. Though they may not be enthusiastic, they're unhappy with the last 20 years of ARENA rule." [ARENA is the rightwing party that has owned the presidency since 1988.]
Thale added that he didn't realize how much things had changed since the war until he recently ran into a former guerrilla commander, whom he knew, at a hotel in San Salvador. When asked what he was up to, the former commander replied that he was off to a business meeting at the chamber of commerce.
However, many critics saw Funes' purported moderation, in conjunction with more traditional leftist rhetoric from other FMLN candidates and supporters during the campaign, as either a wildly mixed message or outright hypocrisy. To this, Martinez, the Funes advisor and economist at UCA, responded:
"El frente is a social democratic party now, but a party that claims it's developing toward a socialist revolution. They're doing that for their base... people in rural areas who were combatants or families of ex-combatants. If el frente were to renounce their effort to build a socialist society, it would lose a big chunk of what it considers its solidarity vote, its voto duro."Of course, politics being what it is, Funes' opponents claimed that his supposed moderation would be undermined by the more orthodox hard-liners within the FMLN, who were still the real power center within the party. Worse, some claimed his moderation was really just a cynical ploy to fool the voting populace.
This confrontation may continue to play out on the policy front since Funes' ability to pursue his own agenda will be severely curtailed by simple arithmetic. Neither the FMLN nor ARENA enjoys a majority, but ARENA can dominate matters by working with the equally conservative National Conciliation Party (PCN). The distribution of deputies in the 84-member Assembly is: ARENA with 34 deputies, FMLN with 32, PCN with 10, Christian Democrats with 6, and the Democratic Change party with 2. In practice, El Salvador has a two-party system, dominated by a four-vote majority of ARENA in alliance with its fellow right-wing party, the PCN.
This raises the question: Will ARENA work with Funes to solve the country's considerable problems, such as increasing poverty and spiraling crime, or will it seek to undermine and discredit him with an eye toward regaining power in the next presidential election?
Can ARENA Accept a Role as Loyal Opposition?
To rule effectively, Funes and the FMLN must overcome the troubling history of El Salvador which, as many observers note, has never had a fully fair election.
Indeed, it was the violent suppression of peaceful political campaigns in the late 1970s that drove the FMLN into a guerrilla war against the government's security forces.
Kevin Casas-Zamora, previously vice-president of Costa Rica and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute in both Foreign Policy and the institute's Latin American Initiative, remarked:
"This [Funes' election] is remarkable in a country that for as long as anyone remembers has been ruled, by hook or by crook, by a reactionary oligarchy. If the Salvadoran left's close electoral victory is peacefully acceptedas it has been so farit means that Latin America has truly come a long way."There are still seismic divisions along ideological, political, and economic fault lines that keep the country polarized and prevent a cessation of persistent conflict. For example, on November 11, 2007, the date that marks the launching of the Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation's final 1989 offensive in the country's bitter civil war, the FMLN held its 23rd National Convention to nominate Funes, its candidate for the March 2009 presidential election. In response, the ARENA-dominated assembly declared November 11 a "day of national mourning" and put up a black flag to remind voters of the FMLN's past as a guerrilla force.
The election campaign itself was marred by numerous reports of not just dirty tricks and disinformation but violence:
To date, the neither left's nor the right's worst fears have materialized, i.e., Funes has not torn off his moderate mask to reveal an inveterate Marxist beneath, nor has ARENA marshaled its forces to resist the surrender of power. The nation's bloody history does not provoke optimism. But history has turned a page here; it remains to be seen whether that augurs for good or ill or just more of the same.
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Sources consulted for this piece include:
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