Monthly Archives: March 2009
Written by the National Executive Committee of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization/El Camino
The electoral victory in El Salvador of Mauricio Funes, candidate of the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) has immense historical and political significance. The FMLN was a guerrilla movement that in all probability could have won control of El Salvador had it not been for the massive US intervention in the early 1980s. Nevertheless, the FMLN fought on until a peace settlement in the early 1990s. Despite the peace settlement, right-wing forces based in the notorious ARENA party continued to dominate the political scene until this election.
Funes is described by many commentators as a moderate, in part because he was not a combatant during the Salvadoran civil war. This description also probably relates to efforts by Funes to reach out to the US government and assure them that he is not planning on a radical reconstruction of El Salvador. It may also reflect the political situation in El Salvador because despite his victory, the FMLN does not hold a majority in the legislature.
There are many challenges facing President Funes. Along with leaders in other parts of Central America, and the Caribbean for that matter, they find themselves with economies historically deformed first by colonialism and then by modern imperialism. Compounding this has been the domination, at least in Central America, of thoroughly reactionary classes that have been prepared to take any and all steps to ensure their dominance. Though these classes may, in several cases, no longer occupy the Presidential seat, they have not gone away and continue to do what they can to undermine any and all moves toward the Left by the left-leaning governments that have emerged.
The Funes victory holds an additional significance in that, as opposed to the last Salvadorean election where the Bush administration effectively blackmailed the country into keeping the FMLN out, the Obama government remained relatively quiet. Though many progressives correctly wanted a forthright statement by the Obama administration of a commitment to non-intervention in the internal affairs of El Salvador, the Administration apparently chose to simply remain silent and let their silence convey a message subject to interpretation. Better and worse could have played itself out, but this is nevertheless an important lesson for US progressives and anti-imperialists: our voice must not remain silent in the face of even the possibility of imperialist intimidation of other countries.
El Salvador, in order to follow a progressive path, will need to undertake substantial economic and political reforms. These reforms will be resisted by reactionary forces on the ground and they—the reactionaries—will undoubtedly receive various forms of assistance from governmental and non-governmental players in the USA. In this sense, the Salvadorean struggle will continue to be international. Why? First, we in the USA will need to keep an eye on the US government as well as the political Right to ensure that they stay out of El Salvador’s internal affairs. We will need to highlight any funny business that is undertaken, including in the form of groups that mask themselves as allegedly being concerned about human rights. We, in the USA, continue to owe an obligation to the people of El Salvador as a result of the atrocities that the USA imposed on that country.
The second reason for the struggle being international is that, as identified by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, it is very difficult for smaller nations to operate and thrive in the current world situation. The absence of an alternative and revolutionary bloc, or even a superpower to rival the USA, makes it difficult for smaller nations to assert their independence. Even with excellent leadership they are often forced to compromise, if not cave into the demands of imperialism. In that sense, the building of regional trade blocs in the global South are a potentially important instrument in order to assert sovereignty. President Chavez has proposed ALBA, the Bolivarian Alternative, as the sort of bloc that needs to be constituted in Latin America. This question will be a matter for the new Salvadorean president to consider, as other leaders in Central America and the Caribbean are doing.
We, in the USA, need to greet with enthusiasm the FMLN’s victory. It is not enough to celebrate. We need to make sure that, at a minimum, the Obama administration does no harm when it comes to El Salvador. If we are successful in that, the people of El Salvador will figure out the rest.
Rolf Gerstenberger is President of the United Steelworkers Union Local 1005 in Hamilton, Ontario. Members of his union local were some of the first non-natives to answer the call for support from Six Nations after the Ontario Provincial Police invaded the territory and attacked the peaceful occupation at Douglas Creek. He was interviewed on video at the barricade in May 2006.
Our local first came out here after a week of local media propaganda about how “something has to be done” about the stand taken by the Native people here at Douglas Creek. The local media were trying to whip up support for the police or the army to move in and clean them out. So we came the first day with our flags and about twenty of our members to lend support.
For us, supporting Native peoples’ hereditary rights and their land claims is a motherhood issue. It’s been 500 years of injustice done to the Native people; it’s never been resolved. They had been promised certain things and the Crown never upheld their promise. They had almost a million acres of land, and no sooner did the Crown promise it in 1784, they started taking it away. Today they have less than five percent of the land still available to them.
Our position was that you can’t solve this question with police attacks, or the army coming in, or shooting someone, or arresting someone, or making it a lawand-order issue. It’s a political question that has to be settled politically, through negotiations. So when the OPP riot police moved in and arrested 16 of the Native people, attacked them, beat them up, tazered them, had assault rifles out, and thought they could just clean up this small group of “trouble makers,” then, of course, the Native people took measures to prevent that from happening again. They asked for people to come out to just be witnesses in case the police attack. So our members have been coming either as a group or just on their own just to be around and support the Native people in their just demands.
I got lots of calls from union members who live in this area. Basically, my argument to them was, first of all, they all have to agree that we don’t want to settle this through law and order, by beating someone, by beating the Native people up, or by shooting them, or arresting them. There was a general view that that shouldn’t happen.
It was interesting because every one of the callers said, “What the Native people are doing is illegal, this is an illegal occupation.” The more I discussed with them, as far as the history of it, it turns out that all the residents of Caledonia know that there’s a land dispute. Twenty or 30 years ago, the reason you could buy houses cheaply in Caledonia was be-cause you weren’t really sure if you owned the land or not! So it turns out everyone in Caledonia knows that; they may not have liked it, but they know that this is… you know, the six miles on each side of the Grand River, is Native land. They knew that. And then they would say, “Well why didn’t the Native people raise this issue before?” And then we would tell them that the Natives did, but unfortunately the courts won’t listen to them and it isn’t until they take a stand that the government is forced to deal with it. And then of course when they do take a stand, like they did at Oka, and Ipperwash, and Gustafsen Lake, they’re attacked. So it’s not an easy thing for the Native people to take this step, but at the end of the day they have no choice.
It always comes down to whether you know the history or not. Hopefully this will be settled through negotiations. The problem is there are about 600 unresolved land claims in Canada right now, and that may open a can of worms. So this is what the government has to think about when they’re settling this problem. But it’s about time that these things are settled. Five hundred years is a long time to not settle a question as basic as this.