[Marxism] re: CISPES, FMLN and factionalism

Greg McDonald sabocat59 at mac.com
Wed Feb 21 13:42:16 MST 2007

David wrote about the factionalism within the FMLN being just as bad  
as anything in the US.  To be honest, I didn't spend too much time  
worrying about the political differences within the various factions  
in the Salvadoran representation that worked among us. From my  
experience, the various groups were pretty much unified on the  
necessary tasks at hand.  That said, the FMLN was definitely weakened  
after the peace accord in 1992 because all five political parties  
that made up the FMLN began to pull their respective base back into  
more traditional political party formations. The decision to end  
armed struggle meant the need for underlying unity was largely gone,  
however much people wanted to see a strong FMLN to participate in the  
electoral arena.

The main split occurred between the ERP led by Villalobos, one of the  
main guerrilla commanders, and the FPL. The ERP had been the most  
militarist of the 5 groups, yet retained a social democratic  
political orientation which served to create a wedge between them and  
the so-called "ortodoxos" of the FPL and the CP led by Shafik Handal,  
who both retained their pro-Cuban socialist line.

In terms of CISPES being a model for activism or not, I would  
disagree with the assertion that CISPES was dependent on the o.k. of  
any FDR members for our political program.  We did what we thought  
best and more strategically valid for the revolution in El Salvador  
because this was precisely the territory where Ronald Reagan had  
decided to draw the line in the sand.  In Central America during the  
1980's El Salvador was in the vanguard of the struggle. The left in  
Guatemala had been severely damaged by 1982, the Sandinistas were  
under siege by the contras, and it was seen as important to take  
pressure off the FSLN by going for victory in El Salvador.  The  
Nicaragua network was working on Nicaragua while we supported the  
FMLN insurgency.  We worked closely with the FMLN-FDR precisely  
because we were a solidarity organization.  That was our raison  
d'etre, but that does not mean we lost any independence. We plotted  
strategy together to try and maximize the impact of our work to help  
achieve victory.  I thought we did a pretty good job of building  
grassroots support in the US, through organizing demonstrations, both  
in support of the popular movement grouped as the UNTS,  and as  
political support for the FMLN. We also built grassroots support by  
organizing monthly delegations to El Salvador, and  material aid  
fundraising to support both UNTS organizers and clandestine medical  
units of the FMLN.  Each participant in a delegation handed over  
$1,000.00 to the UNTS, and took back information to their respective  
communities to agitate and build the movement.

There was, however,  friction over our political line in support of  
the FMLN among various liberal anti-war groups that came out of the  
church, such as Witness for Peace. They thought that calling for  
direct support of the FMLN undercut broadening the base of potential  
support among the church-based pacifists,  while we argued that  
political support for El Salvador was necessary to stop the genocide  
of the death squad regimes backed by Washington and to legitimize the  
struggle there against those regimes. I think it was a correct  
analysis. The results from the independent UN Truth Commission in  
1992 indicated that 95% of the human rights violations were carried  
out by the government, among their military and their death squads,  
backed directly by the US.  That the war ended in a military  
stalemate should say something about the efficacy of our work.  
Against overwhelming odds, we kept the US from intervening more  
directly by sending in the troops, as well as prevented our air force  
from directly bombing the rural population, by mobilizing large  
demonstrations on a regular basis throughout the 1980's.

Our success at organizing led the FBI to target us directly. They did  
black bag jobs on us and used right-wing Salvadorans to monitor us  
and intimidate the Salvadorans who worked with us. If we had not been  
so successful I doubt the FBI would have wasted their time with us.  
In any event, that's how I feel about it.  It would actually be  
pretty interesting to get in touch with some old CISPES people and  
see how they feel about their experience. We all continued to  
organize despite political differences. The SWP people stayed with us  
for the most part, as well as the Line of March folks. People  
squabbled but continued to work together. It should also be mentioned  
that we were all under a great deal of pressure for much of the time,  
and in addition to the surveillance, some CISPES people went on to  
fight and die in the FMLN, and some were tortured by the regime. I  
personally recruited young people who went to the countryside and got  
wounded simply by mixing with the civilian population. They were just  
in the wrong place at the wrong time, and I guess that's something  
I'll carry with me for quite some time. In any event, I don't think I  
would have done anything differently.


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