Cambridge activist David Grosser had worked for this day for more than two decades. And when it finally came – when the left-wing FMLN party won the presidency in El Salvador on Sunday – “it was one of the sweetest days of my life,” Grosser said.
Grosser is one of five Boston-area members who traveled to El Salvador to support the FMLN and help it guard against election tricks that might deny it victory, despite a big lead in opinion polls. The ruling right-wing party, ARENA, had won every presidential election since it was formed in 1982. Backed by the United States, the ARENA government battled the FMLN guerrillas in a 12-year civil war that claimed more than 70,000 lives until a peace treaty in 1992.
But this time, Mauricio Funes, the FMLN candidate, defeated ARENA's candidate, Rodrigo Avila, by just a couple of percentage points, in what international analysts widely described as a relatively clean election.
|President-elect Mauricio Funes|
In a telephone interview from the capital, San Salvador, Grosser said the change in US policy toward El Salvador since President Obama's election played a key role in the outcome. Grosser said CISPES had joined in calls for the United States to make a clear declaration of neutrality, and to break from the Bush Administration's open support for the right-wing governing party.
Before the vote, a group of Republicans in Congress said an FMLN victory should prompt restrictions on remittances from the United States; Democrats responded with a letter demanding US neutrality. Indeed, the US embassy and the State Department made public declarations of neutrality in the days before Sunday's vote.
"Basically, the system is structured so that the capacity to commit large-scale fraud only resides with ARENA," Grosser said. "So a level playing field allowed the Salvadoran people to make their choice clearly and without fear."
Grosser, 55, has worked with CISPES since he helped Cambridge establish sister-city ties in 1986 with San Jose las Flores in the Chalatenango District of northern El Salvador, one of the hardest-hit in the civil war and an FMLN stronghold. CISPES was the target of lengthy Reagan Administration surveillance and allegations of inappropriate involvement with a foreign "terrorist organization," which were later dropped without any action against the group.
Grosser had thought the FMLN's victory would come in the previous election in 2004.
"I was here then and I was bitterly disappointed, and infuriated by the role our government played, intimidating voters, threatening to retaliate economically. That was not the only reason why they held onto power, but it was significant."
He said CISPES would reexamine its own role now that the FMLN will hold the presidency for the next five years -- the latest in a series of left-wing parties to win power in elections in Latin America. The Salvadoran National Assembly will still be controlled by right-wing parties, so Funes will need to compromise to get legislation adopted, and to cope with terrible problems of gang violence and drug trafficking.
"We’re certainly hopeful that the kind of positive outreach that the Obama administration has shown will continue, and we won’t have to be as vigilant against our own government as we did under Bush," Grosser said. But he added: "We do not expect the right here to give up."
' We expect the kind of social reconstruction that the FMLN will carry out will be extremely inspiring. I don’t think the FMLN is really interested in provoking conflict where it doesn’t exist. They are extremely pragmatic. They know that they face a lot of difficulties with a bankrupt state apparatus thanks to the outgoing administration, and with the world economy teetering on the brink. So they are treading somewhat cautiously."
About this blog
About James F. SmithJim Smith came home to his native Boston in 2002 to become the Boston Globe's foreign editor after spending 22 years abroad. He was previously based in Buenos Aires and Mexico City for the LA Times, and in Johannesburg, Tokyo and The Hague for the AP. In 2007 he became the Globe's national political editor, coordinating presidential campaign coverage. He is a Yale graduate, and has an MBA. He is married to Maxine Hart and has two sons, Matthew and Daniel.
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