what they were up against
Two photos of a woman being paid for her vote by ARENA party activists (from FUNDASPAD, photographer unknown)
What follows is a translation of a letter from Lorena Pena, former FMLN guerrilla commander, describing in detail the conditions under which this election victory happened:
March 18th, 2009
From Joel Suarez in Havana, Cuba: Lorena Pena is an FMLN guerrilla commander formerly known as Rebeca. She has held a number of party posts, has been a representative in the National Assembly and is now a representative in the Central American parliament (PARLACEN).During the Salvadoran mayoral elections in January, Rebeca was the campaign coordinator for Violeta Menjivar, who ran for re-election [as mayor of San Salvador]. The extreme right-wing candidate Norman Quijano organized a massive fraud which enabled him to defeat her. The FMLN’s activists learned from that devastating experience.
This is a short account by Rebeca of how the Salvadoran poor were organized so that they could finally win governing power in America’s “Little Thumb:”
At last, the victim’s turn
(Ed: the phrase el turno del ofendido — the victim’s turn– is from a poem of that title by Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton)
“I swear to you all that something’s wrong with me, because I haven’t been able to cry as I should at this news. We fought tooth and nail, with everything we had. The loss of the capital city showed us the enormous scope of the fraud perpetrated by the ARENA party. So in the two months [since then] we’ve had to turn things around to an extent that it should have taken 10 years to do.
But what’s really important here is that there was a sort of “electoral insurrection,” in which hundreds and thousands of people surrounded the different locations where foreigners who’d been issued false national identity cards (known as DUIs) and then listed in the electoral rolls were being housed: Cuscatlan Stadium, the Olympic Village in Ayutuxtepeque, in 5-star hotels. They stayed there all night, and they followed them and stopped them at the voting places the next day.
In Guarjila, in Arcatao, in Corinto, in Sociedad and Carolina, in all these remote little towns on the border, the campesinos set up road blocks, put chains across roads, did everything they could to stop the buses coming in from Honduras and to send back those who came in to vote.
It was really the poorest people who set themselves the task of tracking them down, even though there were riot squads guarding the ARENA activists directing caravans of hundreds of buses until they were lost among the crowds. More than one of these people took fright and refused to go and vote, and some even fled into the coffee plantations on the slopes of the San Salvador volcano early Sunday morning, where helicopters hovered overhead trying to find them with searchlights and the ARENA people hunting for them like lost cattle. There’s no doubt we have to purge these bloody voter rolls. I just want you to understand that Funes closed the campaign more than 11 points ahead in all the polls, and he has won the election only by two percent.
And it hurts not to have been on top of this in time, since they did exactly the same thing to Violeta.
Another thing was that there were brigades of FMLN community leaders and campesinos going door to door to get out the FMLN vote, bringing people to their polling place. This was very effective: we gave this task to our best activists, as well to be at the polls themselves.
I’m happy and surprised at the same time, knowing that if all this hadn’t happened in the San Salvador mayoral election, we’d be regretting it now. But it’s over, and I think that we still haven’t fully understood the extent to which we’ve been able to change things.
My mother Angelita went with me at 10 pm, in her wheelchair, to the celebration at Masferrer Circle. There were 50,000 people there on Sunday night, all along General Escalon Way, and everywhere in the city there were cars, flags, red-dressed human pyramids in pickups, good ones or old clunkers, whatever, and thousands of people walking up the avenue on foot.
Another thing that impressed me was the slums of Escalon, cradle of the oligarchy, where there are tiny paths leading down into the ravines where the shacks are; there we saw the poorest of the poor waving and cheering at every car that passed.
Restructuring will come soon. Let’s keep writing: I’m not vengeful, but I’m happy to see that at last the victim’s turn has come.”
Ahora es la hora de mi turno
Now my hour, my turn has come
el turno del ofendido por años silencioso
the victim’s turn, silent for years
a pesar de los gritos
despite the shouts