Today the Miami Herald published an interview with Joaquin Villalobos, a former guerilla commander of the People's Revolutionary Army ("ERP") segment of the FMLN during El Salvador's civil war who now lives in Oxford, England:
Q. Is the situation in El Salvador cause for concern?As the 2009 presidential election approaches, Villalobos has been speaking out from England warning against the risks if his former comrades in the FMLN take power. For example, he penned a recent piece in El Diario de Hoy, titled Who Would Govern, Funes or the FMLN?. In that editorial he argues that the FMLN is under the control of the Communist Party and that Mauricio Funes will be incapable of governing independently of the communist leadership of the party. The communists will direct the country because of the number of legislators and other FMLN members who will be in government and will take their orders from the leadership and not Funes.
A. It is. Some called me a traitor and others called me a fool when I warned about the dangers of polarization. The right and this government have made many mistakes. I said to myself: The Frente will come to power and it will last five years. I supported the idea that ARENA should be punished. But because of my work, I am asked to comment on what is happening in Venezuela, in Ecuador, in Nicaragua. And I made an association with what was happening in my country and these other countries. And then I worried: This is going to be much longer than five years, when you look at it in context. It is not just a situation that can alter the political balance in El Salvador, but it can become the situation that sends the country to Never Never Land.
Q. But I see prosperity in El Salvador. There is development, less poverty.
A. When I was young and in school and someone asked you: What does El Salvador produce? You had an automatic response: El Salvador produces coffee, sugar, cotton, shrimp. Now, even though I boast of knowing my country well, I don't know what it produces. The only fact that jumps up at me is that El Salvador exports people. And here comes the vicious cycle that is apparently positive but really fatal. The export of people has drained this country of its labor force. And all of the signs of progress you see are the result of that. We abandoned the land, we export people, we get another income -- the remittances -- and those remittances have depleted our labor capabilities and the imagination of our business class. And there is a social consequence of this apparent progress. We signed the peace, exported people and have become a violent society because of the disintegration of community and family. And this cycle is still open. The gangs are a part of this phenomenon. What you saw is the 10 square kilometers of peace. The route from the airport to the city. The most vital challenge of this country, and that is why it is a problem if the Frente wins, is to reinvent the economy.
Q. Why is it a problem?
A. Because we are not going to have a constructive government if the Frente wins. We are going to have a demanding government. This country needs someone that can put it back on track, and what we are going to get if they win is not those who can put it on track but those who will make the demands. Because what you have to do is a complete redesign in terms of technology, politics, social issues, operational processes, and the Frente is not capable. It is a demanding force that will be casting about for a guilty party, which is the cycle that has opened in Venezuela, in Ecuador, in Bolivia. And conceivably the Frente could manage, like others have, to build an electoral majority and win several elections by incorporating disenfranchised groups. And if this lasts 10 years, I don't know what could happen to us. We will not be viable as a country. We will not come to a war, but we will have a much bigger polarization.
Q. What about the right?
A. The Frente is not responsible for our current predicament. The right is responsible, and the situation is serious. It was a very stupid thing to play the polarization game. They thought nothing was going to happen. They used the Communists and its leader, Shafik Handal, to scare people. They played with something that was going to disappear. So Handal dies, Hugo Chávez comes to power and starts to throw dollars around. ARENA gets old. It is tired. A global economic crisis comes. The scary leader is dead and there is a new candidate, Mauricio Funes. It was the perfect star alignment. And now there is no option.
The western press likes to quote Villalobos, this former revolutionary turned English academic and consultant on peace processes. As Salvadoran blogger Hunnapuh recounts in a post called Joaquin Villalobos - a damned history(in Spanish), the brilliant guerrilla tactician is also infamous for having ordered the execution in 1975 of El Salvador's revolutionary poet, Roque Dalton. Villalobos, a leader of the ERP, ordered the execution of Dalton on trumped-up charges of being an agent of both the CIA and Cuba on May 10, 1975. In reality, Dalton was Villalobos' chief political rival. The killing led to bitter internal fights and schisms in the movement. There has never been a legal proceeding to judge those responsible for Dalton's killing, despite a long running campaign by his son Juan Jose Dalton calling for justice.
There is a Youtube video here of Villalobos describing the FMLN's aims during the civil war.
The viewpoints Villalobos is espousing now are the same ones he was espousing in the last presidential election. An article in Proceso, five years ago describes Villalobos current role in El Salvador's electoral politics:
Villalobos knows well how to take advantage of his image as a convinced military and Social-Democratic strategist. Although inside the country just a few take it seriously; abroad, he has been able to put himself over his actual capacities and talent. In El Salvador things have not gone so well for him, mainly because of his intentions to support to the right wing and ARENA in their strategy to discredit to the FMLN. Whenever he has been able to, the ex- commander "Atilio" has pointed his darts against his old comrades. The most recent of these attacks is titled “The ayatola Handal and the hysteric materialism".As I've noted before, there are many open questions about the 2009 elections in El Salvador including:
Once again Schafik Handal has become his target. Peculiarly, this text by Villalobos reveals more things about himself than about Handal. At least, it reveals part of his capacity to change history in accordance with his own convenience. In his last diatribe against Handal, it turns out that Villalobos was, during the seventies and the eighties, a true revolutionary man, neither fearful nor collaborative with the reactionary governments of the time. In this writing, far from abjuring from his past in the guerrilla, he vindicates it and he feels honored because of the fact that once he took the arms and subscribed the motto of the ERP, "The peace of the rich ones is over, the war of the people has begun", which became public when two national guards that were at the Benjamin Bloom Hospital were assassinated (in March of 1972). Villalobos does not say it, but that was the same ERP that kidnapped and assassinated Roberto Poma in 1977, and the one that two years before had judged and assassinated Roque Dalton. That is the ERP that Villalobos seems to feel proud of : a dogmatic, radical organization, an enemy of bourgeoisie and imperialism, that is, nothing to do with a Social-Democratic movement, and not willing to negotiate or to agree with the enemy at some point. Then, what is it? Had not Villalobos been the eternal faithful lover of democracy? Was not he a Social Democrat since his humble beginnings as a left-wing militant? Villalobos -and those who emulated him- should stop playing the role of the repented revolutionary and dedicate himself to the actually useful social duties, instead of following the anti-Communist game of the right-wing with fallacious arguments and a meaningless rhetoric.
- Is the FMLN changing?
- Can Mauricio Funes act independently of the party leadership which selected him as his candidate?
- Does El Salvador have democratic institutions and societal forces which would prevent it from experiencing some of the flaws of a Hugo Chavez or a Daniel Ortega while still charting a course towards the left?
But I'm not sure that Villalobos contributes much towards understanding the answer to those questions.