US press taking notice of El Salvador's election race
The left has never won an election in El Salvador, and picking a moderate candidate for the March 2009 vote reflects a determination by the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN, to shake off its Marxist roots.
The former rebels, who battled a series of U.S.-backed governments in a 1980-1992 civil war, has lost the last three presidential elections to the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance, or ARENA, which has been in power since 1989.
However, the FMLN has moved closer to the political center and now has the largest bloc in El Salvador's national assembly.
"Choosing Mauricio is a reflection of the changes in the FMLN," said Gerson Martinez, an FMLN lawmaker and a rebel during the civil war that killed 75,000 people.
In contrast, the conservative Weekly Standard in an article titled, Losing El Salvador?, expressed a different view of the rising prospects of the FMLN and Funes' candidacy:
But the chief reason for the FMLN's robust standing is clever electioneering. Breaking with tradition, it has chosen a presidential candidate from outside the party. Funes is a former TV anchor who appeals to independents and has been able to parlay his name recognition into broad political support. Most Salvadorans do not view him as a left-wing extremist. The Chicago Tribune reports that Funes "wants to remake the FMLN into a pragmatic party."
Here's the problem: While Funes cuts a relatively moderate figure, he does not have any real sway over the FMLN's structure and ideology, which are inspired by old-fashioned Marxism-Leninism. The FMLN is a party that continues to defend the leftist narcoterrorists in Colombia, and refuses even to call them terrorists. Many analysts question how much its core beliefs have really changed. "If it flies like a duck, swims like a duck, and eats like a duck, it's a duck. The FMLN is a communist party," President Saca said recently.
Of course, Saca is not a disinterested observer. But it is hard to set aside the feeling that Funes is merely being used as a vehicle to win power for the FMLN. Should Funes become president, he still would have little control over the party. He could be made an ineffectual figure, or even pushed aside, by the FMLN's more radical power brokers, such as vice presidential candidate Salvador Sanchez Ceren. Indeed, it is reasonable to think that a Funes victory could lead to a sharp leftward turn in Salvadoran domestic and foreign policy.
Back to the Washington Post, which today ran another story on the election, this time focusing on support for Funes among the Salvadoran immigrant popiulation in the US:
Funes, a former journalist whose nonviolent past and embrace of centrist economic policies distinguishes him from previous FMLN frontmen, has been polling as much as 21 points ahead of the ruling Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party's candidate.
He is also proving to be the catalyst for a notable political awakening among the sizable Salvadoran immigrant business community in the United States, including dozens of influential entrepreneurs and professionals in the Washington area, where an estimated 133,000 Salvadoran-born residents make up the region's largest immigrant group.