Alice Embree on El Salvador : Reflections on a People’s Victory, Part 2: Organizing

SETA organizer from El Salvador talks with SEIU organizer from the U.S. SETA is the Salvadoran water workers union leading the fight against privatization. Photo by Alice Embree / The Rag Blog.

Our delegation heard from CONPHAS representatives, students, human rights organizations, legal rights advocates and publishers of popular education materials. These representatives were eloquent in their understanding of the neo-liberal policies of globalization.

By Alice Embree / The Rag Blog / May 12, 2009

[This is the second in a four-part series on El Salvador by The Rag Blog’s Alice Embree, who was part of Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), an international team observing the March 15, 2009, Salvadoran elections. For a live report, join the author and others at Monkey Wrench Books in Austin on Wednesday, May 13, at 7 p.m. For the first article in this series, go here.]

Our CISPES delegation received a crash course in El Salvadoran history and then was introduced to the ingredients of popular victory. As we traveled via bus to meet with university students, this song blared through the speakers:

No, no, no basta rezar
Hacen falta muchas cosas
Para consequir la paz.

No, no, no, praying’s not enough
There’s a lot of work to be done
To gain peace.

The upbeat song by the Venezuelan group Los Guaraguao was popular on the FMLN radio. It was an appropriate theme song for the tireless organizing that had been undertaken. The FMLN battled through the eighties in a civil war with many victories and defeats. They took much of the capital, San Salvador, in a 1989 military offensive. Under a U.N.-brokered peace accord, they put down their weapons. Many of the progressive peace accord provisions were not implemented or enforced under ARENA rule. The deck was clearly stacked against the FMLN. Election financing, the press and the electoral apparatus of voter registration were in the hands of ARENA and their wealthy allies. And a system of fraud had been perfected and utilized repeatedly. It included vote-buying and busing foreigners from adjacent countries to the polls with false registration cards.

The FMLN didn’t rest or just pray. They organized ceaselessly and they maintained a unified front –- a feat virtually unheard of on the left, or for that matter, in any kind of politics. They gained delegates in the legislative assembly and won municipal elections, but ARENA held on to executive power.

Key to the March 15 electoral success was a coalition of social and popular movement groups called Concertacion Para un Pais Sin Hambre y Seguro (CONPHAS). The coalition included organizations from the informal sector, market vendors, organized labor, and environmental activists fighting river pollution from foreign-owned mines. The concept is similar to a U.S. Jobs With Justice coalition. Under the umbrella of Jobs With Justice, unions, advocates and political groups with distinct agendas come together and agree to mutual support. CONPHAS is like Jobs With Justice on steroids –- a coordinated effort with a sophisticated political analysis, a diverse organizing strategy and a clear goal of changing government. The social movements and the Frente Sindical Salvadoreno (FSS), or Salvadoran Union Front, working together through CONPHAS, were important FMLN allies.

Our delegation heard from CONPHAS representatives, students, human rights organizations, legal rights advocates and publishers of popular education materials. These representatives were eloquent in their understanding of the neo-liberal policies of globalization. Equipo Maiz, a publishing house specializing in popular education, is a case in point. Their work is based on the education model of the Brazilian Paulo Freire. Pamphlets are illustrated with cartoon images but cover subjects like CAFTA, globalization, neo-liberalism, and community planning. While the subject matters are complex, the presentation is intentionally accessible and non-academic. Equipo Maiz does more than publish. Since 1983, they have convened workshops and theater productions throughout the country to further popular education.

At the Fundacion de Estudios Para la Aplicacion del Derecho (FESPAD), economist Raul Moreno addressed our delegation. Insightful and funny, Moreno speaks about the new face of exploitation — neo-liberalism. He dissects the elements and explains how the pieces work together. First, neo-liberalism relies on the use of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), or Tratado del Libre Comercio (TLC) in Spanish, to create a legal framework that subjugates a country’s sovereignty. With this legal framework in place, there comes a push for privatization for public services such as water and health and for development through mega-projects –- super-highways for data and goods –- that serve the interests of transnational corporations. A third part of the strategy has been to ramp up the repressive apparatus of the state. Legislation modeled on the Patriot Act has been passed under the guise of fighting terrorism and then used against activists protesting water privatization.

Both Moreno and the water-workers union (SETA) spelled out the way the privatization agenda has been furthered. It should be familiar to anyone with experience in public sector organizing. First, public sector funding is cut so services are compromised. Then an agenda of “decentralization” is pushed. The privatization battles are waged community-by-community, making national opposition more difficult. (Does this sound like education vouchers and charter schools?) International Monetary Fund (IMF) loans are conditioned on privatization and pursuit of mega-projects, with the puppet strings attached to corporate interests. It was chilling to hear the process described so vividly in El Salvador. It was like looking into the mirror image of a globalization strategy that pushes privatization of public services in the United States and ships off U.S. jobs and industrial capacity to unregulated maquilas all over the world.

Our delegation met with representatives from many different sectors. What emerged from these exchanges were the points of unity motivating the FMLN and the social movements that supported them. They shared frustrations, a sophisticated analysis and a common agenda. And they were tireless organizers. The breadth and depth of their organization was stunning. It was as though an ocean swell had gathered strength to become a massive wave.

Please see Alice Embree on El Salvador : Reflections on a People’s Victory, Part 1 by Alice Embree / The Rag Blog / May 11, 2009

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2 Responses to Alice Embree on El Salvador : Reflections on a People’s Victory, Part 2: Organizing

  1. ron ridenour says:

    Que bonito tu descripción
    Un abrazo, Ron

  2. heyward says:

    good writing, alice! reflecting such a big analysis and chain of events in such a small space! looking forward to the other parts and wish i could come to the event tonight. suerte, heyward

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