In the 1980s, El Salvador’s “Pol Pot Left” was an obsession with America’s far right, which was at the time well represented in the halls of power. The governing US Republican party made stopping the allegedly imminent threat of a Soviet-Castroite takeover of Central America–with El Salvador next, after Nicaragua, on the “hit list”–one of its highest priorities. And that meant stopping the Farbundo Marti Front for National Liberation, or FMLN, from seizing power by force of arms and popular insurrection. It also meant not negotiating with it until it would “lay down its arms” and participate in elections. The very real and grinding inequality of land ownership, against which the FMLN was fighting, was de-emphasized (although there was a small land reform undertaken with US support in the 1980s).
The ideological affinity between the far right in the US and El Salvador was so strong that the latter even named its emerging movement the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), as it turned its original death-squad structure into an essentially fascist (and I do not toss that term around lightly) political party.
Now here we are in 2009, with the far right (mostly stripped of its fascist baggage but not of its economic ideology) having governed El Salvador for twenty years. The FMLN laid down its weapons in the 1990s, during the G.H.W. Bush presidency, and has been participating in El Salvador’s elections since 1994. Its candidate in today’s presidential election is not tainted by the war and does not advocate radical economic reform. In other words, El Salvador’s left has done precisely what it was told to do by Uncle Sam. The Soviet Union is a distant memory and Fidel Castro is barely hanging on in a country whose government no one considers a model. Yet here we are, 15 years into El Salvador’s post-war democracy, and certain far-right dead-enders in the US Congress just can’t get over the fact that the FMLN might actually win an election.
Sometimes it is at least useful when the real extremists reveal themselves.
(Hat tip, Tim’s El Salvador Blog.)