El Salvador

What is the FMLN?

The FMLN, short for Farabundo Martí National Liberation, is a political party and the current government of El Salvador. The FMLN has been a registered political party since 1992. In 2009, the FMLN won the presidency in with Mauricio Funes, and received a plurality of seats in the legislative assembly.

The Canadian Minister of State, the Honourable Peter Kent, attended President Funes’ inauguration on June 1st 2009. A free trade agreement is currently being negotiated between Canada and El Salvador.

Unfortunately, the Canadian government has made contradictory and absurd policies regarding the FMLN and the Salvadoran government, as Canadian immigration officials have been mistakenly categorizing the FMLN as a terrorist organization.

The Salvadoran Civil War

The 1980-1992 Salvadoran Civil War was a conflict between the military government and the FMLN, an umbrella organization that led the resistance. The military government slaughtered an estimated 75,000 people during the conflict.

According to the 1994 truth commission, the military dictatorship committed 95% of the human rights abuses during the civil war, while the FMLN was responsible for 5%.

The war ended in January 16, 1992 with the signing of the Chapultepec Peace Accords, and the subsequent peace process took place under the supervision of the UN. With the signing of the peace accords, the FMLN disarmed and became recognized as a legitimate political party, and the state’s armed forces were restructured and reduced by 70%.

FMLN during the Civil War

El Salvador was already a violent country before the civil war, as the military government used brutal violence and suppression against their political opponents.

It was a plantation society with land and wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, while at least two-thirds of the population lived in extreme poverty. El Salvador has a history of popular organizing for social and economic reform, but the state had been antagonistic towards any attempts at reform and used violence to suppress these popular movements.

Reform within the electoral system was not possible due to fraudulent elections. The military government denied electoral victories to reformist political parties, dismantled their organizations, and exiled their leaders.

Due to a combination of widespread state-sponsored violence and the impossibility of reform within the system, many popular organizations began to support guerilla groups to resist the state’s violence and bring social and economic reforms to El Salvador.

The FMLN was an umbrella group formed by a coalition of five guerilla groups, formed in 1980. The FMLN had political branches that worked with civil society groups, and also had combatant units who carried out armed resistance against the military government using guerilla warfare.

Due to American foreign policy during the Cold War, President Reagan backed the military government because of a misplaced fear of a communist revolution in the Central America. The U.S. and the government of El Salvador had framed the FMLN as a terrorist aggressor, when in reality, the FMLN was a popular resistance group against a military government that violently attacked any political opposition: students, priests, workers, or any member of the popular organizations that sought reform. The UN never considered the FMLN a terrorist organization, and countries such as France and Mexico had recognized the FMLN as a legitimate opposition to a destructive and illegitimate military government.

Twenty years ago, while in college, Jose was in a student group with links to the FMLN. Jose only dealt with the political side of the FMLN, and had never played a combatant role. Many Salvadorans were part of civil society groups that had some link to the FMLN, as a large portion of the population supported the FMLN in order to defend themselves against the military government’s brutal violence.

El Salvador Now

While it has been almost 19 years since the end of the civil war in 1992, El Salvador is still plagued by high levels of violence, and is considered to be one of the most violent places in the world.

The official homicide rate is 50.3 per 100,000 persons, which is more than seven times the rate of the US’s homicide rate of 7 per 100,000. There are also high levels of gang violence.

Much of the violence stems from problems of poverty and social exclusion, as educational and employment opportunities continue to be severely limited. These factors have created the conditions for the formation of gangs among Salvadoran youth—as they search for social power and to better their material quality of life.

The political system has greatly improved, and many Salvadorans have high hopes for the reforms that President Mauricio Funes can bring to the country—but the historical problems of social and economic exclusion are still not resolved.

While El Salvador is technically in a state of peace, daily life is anything but. It would be a great tragedy if the Canadian government were to force Jose and his family to relocate from their home in Langley, B.C. to one of the most violent places in the world.

Further reading:

From Revolutionary War to Democratic Revolution. The FMLN in El Salvador. http://www.berghofconflictresearch.org/documents/publications/transitions9_elsalvador.pdf

Rufina Amaya, a survivor of the el Mozote massacre during the Salvadoran Civil War. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rufina_Amaya