El Salvador’s Leftist Would-be President Sees Brazil’s Lula as Role Model

El Salvador's presidential candidate Mauricio Funes Lula's political star is riding high among some Latin American leaders as 2008 draws near. When asked recently which leader he would seek to imitate if elected president of El Salvador, Mauricio Funes, the 48-year old charismatic candidate for the leftist FMLN party commented to http://www.contrapunto.com.ec/ that he would choose Lula.

Funes did not give any clear specifics how and why the head of the largest Latin American country would be an example to the former journalist who is challenging the 20-year old hegemony of the rightist ARENA party in the smallest country in Central America.

By choosing Lula, Funes disappointed some of his ardent comrades who were cheering for Hugo Chávez, the embattled Venezuelan leader who has a hard time listening and who at a recent summit of Latin American leaders was publicly told to shut up by the King of Spain.

Although El Salvador is considered one of the most violent countries in Latin American, its violence doesn't make it to the evening news in the United States because of the Middle East conflict and the War in Iraq.

Things were different in the 1980s when El Salvador was a ghastly and nightly media picture show. Its horror led in the U.S. to California's Joan Didion's writing of "Salvador," to Carlos Santana's masterful "Blues for Salvador," and to "I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts" by legendary Los Angeles-based punk-rock band "X."

El Salvador was a battleground for the Cold War as the United States led by Republican Ronald Reagan pumped billions of dollars to beef up anti-leftist death squads and military rule that resulted in the displacement of a million Salvadorans within the country and the emigration of about a million Salvadorans who have made their home in such places as Brazil, Sweden, Germany, Canada, Australia, and especially the United States.

William LeoGrande's "Our Own Backyard" continues to be one of the outstanding scholarly books on the Central American Civil Wars of the 1980s that dealt with how the United States applied unorthodox and illegal counter-insurgency measures to battle leftist organizations long before former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales opined that torture might be a useful anti-terrorism legal tool.

The Salvadoran Civil War (1980-1992) ended when the FMLN guerillas and the U.S.-backed military realized that neither side would be able to prevail on the battlefield.

As part of the 1992 Peace Accords signed in Mexico City that ended the Salvadoran bloodshed, the FMLN gave up its arms and became the second political force in a tiny country with a population of 9 million.

The leading rightist ARENA party is backed by the United States and the powerful upper class of El Salvador made up of old money and the new money of a booming financial and industrial elite beset by charges of corruption and nepotism.

In 1993, the ARENA controlled national legislature granted a broad amnesty to all violators of human rights abuses in El Salvador.
 
In recent years the FMLN's internecine political conflict increased over the direction the party should go and whether it should look up to Cuba, Venezuela, or Brazil for its vision. The influence of Mexico, which recognized the FMLN as a lawful organization in defiance of U.S. policy, has waned as it has not been able to influence the anti-immigration policy of the United States, the militarization of and the creation of the infamous Wall of the Tortilla along its northern border, and its questionable failure to stem the flow of drugs into the United States.

The FMLN has lost three presidential elections since 1992. Its current political slogan of "Hope is Born, Change is Coming!" rides a large wave of popularity in one of the most densely populated and poorest countries in the world where a peasant has been earning US$ 81.51.

According to El Salvador's General Agency for Statistic and the Census (DIGSTYC), the paltry minimum salary for a peasant is a sum well below that of US$ 108.20 needed to buy the food necessary for a family of four to survive.

The difference in El Salvador's economy is made by the billion and a half dollars in remittances from Salvadorans who work abroad such as in California.

Brazil's Workers Party sent a symbolic delegation to the November 11, 2007, mass rally that launched the FMLN's presidential campaign in San Salvador's largest soccer stadium.

Lula might have an admirer in the media-savvy Funes even though the FMLN has not defined how Lula's Brazil might be its biggest ally were the leftist party of El Salvador to win. El Salvador is one of the most deforested countries in the world in ways similar to the deforestation taking place in the Amazon.

Although Venezuela's Chávez might have oil and a boisterous leader, Brazil has other significant advantages and assets. In the past five years, the exports of Brazilian products, such as soybeans, and foreign investments have risen to unprecedented levels.

Above it all, Brazil is the number one leader on ethanol technology and improved technology for growing corn for fuel. Brazil's dreams of becoming a world power is finally at hand.

Having neglected its alleged backyard over the Iraq and Middle East quagmire, the United States might finally wake up to discover that the new battlefield in Latin America won't be over Communism but over access to new environmentally-friendly technologies and economical fuels.

In that regard, Lula's Brazil and Brazilian multi-nationals might have the upper hand. The new pragmatic Socialists of Latin America wear made- in-China sun glasses with money signs because the future is bright.

Edgardo Quintanilla is an immigration attorney in Sherman Oaks, California. He is currently writing a historical novel on an obscure subject of Brazilian history. Comments are welcome at eqlaw@pacbell.net.

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