MEXICO CITY – In El Salvador, for the first time ever in Latin America, a former political-military organization that tried to gain power through the barrel of a gun has achieved its aims through the ballot box. Although the Sandinista Front in Nicaragua did win a semi-legitimate election in 1984, it had reached power five years earlier by overthrowing the Somoza dictatorship. By 2006, when Daniel Ortega was finally re-elected, the old Sandinista Front of 1979 was unrecognizable.
El Salvador’s Farabundo Martí Liberation Front (FMLN) was created in 1980, through the fusion of five guerrilla groups supported by Cuba and Nicaragua. The FMLN nominated a presentable and attractive candidate, Mauricio Funes, for last Sunday’s presidential election, and, despite seeing a 10-point lead whittled down to barely two points by election night, squeaked out an uncontested victory.
The conservative ARENA party, which has governed El Salvador since the country’s 10-year civil war ended in 1992, did everything possible to prevent an FMLN victory, resorted, once again, to every red-baiting trick in the book. According to ARENA’s relentlessly negative campaign, a triumph for the left would bring communism, Hugo Chávez, and the Castro brothers to San Salvador.
But scare tactics did not work this time. There is obviously a lesson here to be learned by other left-wing political movements and guerrilla groups in Latin America. The Socialist Party in Chile, the Workers Party in Brazil, the Broad Front in Uruguay, even Chávez in Venezuela and the PRD and FSLN in Mexico and Nicaragua, respectively, have shown that, after years of waiting, the left can win elections in Latin America.