BY GLENN GARVIN
SAN SALVADOR -- The Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front,
years ago seemed on the verge of becoming the first of Latin America's former
Marxist guerrilla groups to win power through the ballot box, faces another
stinging defeat in Sunday's congressional elections and may be on the verge of
breaking into pieces.
If the FMLN loses Sunday, it will be the party's fourth defeat
in a row in national
elections since El Salvador's civil war ended in 1992. And a long-simmering
debate between the FMLN's old hard-line guerrillas and a new generation of social
democratic reformers is likely to boil over.
``If you want to cure yourself of alcoholism, you must admit you're
said San Salvador Mayor Hector Silva, leader of the FMLN's reformist wing. ``We
must admit that the socialism we were taught in the 1980s doesn't work. Those
models cannot be imposed -- we have to find something new. If we don't, we
WEAK IN POLLS
With 84 congressional seats and 262 city halls at stake, a poll
week by the CID Gallup organization shows the right-wing ARENA party with
support of 22.5 percent of the voters, while the FMLN trails with 15.7 percent. Six
minor parties total 12.3 percent, with the rest of the voters answering that they
don't know or don't care.
El Salvador's complicated method of awarding congressional seats
fractional percentages known as ``coefficiencies'' makes it hard to foresee the
exact shape of the new Congress. But political analysts and diplomats in El
Salvador think ARENA might raise its seats from 29 to 31, with the FMLN falling
from 27 to 25 or 26. The balance would be held by small center-right parties.
The change, though seemingly small, would solidify ARENA's shaky
sustain vetoes by President Francisco Flores, a party member. And it would be
another reminder of how far the FMLN has fallen since a strong showing in 1997
congressional elections seemingly left it poised to take power.
``Back then, it really looked like the FMLN might have ARENA on
the ropes,'' said
a diplomat who follows Salvadoran politics closely. ``But things have changed
quite a bit since then.''
Ideological and generational differences within the FMLN that
were papered over
when the party was struggling to gain an electoral foothold after years of armed
struggle suddenly came into sharp focus. The old guerrilla commanders, who still
admire Cuban President Fidel Castro and criticize Marxism reluctantly if at all,
wanted a platform that called for near-complete state domination of the economy.
The new social democratic reformers believe in a market economy that makes
heavy use of public-private partnerships to finance new projects.
Two presidential nominating conventions ended in televised screaming
and several candidates from the reformist wing dropped out, accusing the
hard-line Marxists of rigging the vote. By the time a third convention finally came
up with a candidate, the party was so fractured that it never had a chance and
lost in a landslide to ARENA's Flores last March.
A showdown between the two factions was expected at a party congress
year, but both sides agreed to postpone it in hopes of maintaining a unified front
in these congressional elections. It hasn't worked out that way.
The party platform veers wildly between policy-wonk discussions
finance and shrill denunciations of ``monopoly capitalism.'' In many cities, each
FMLN faction maintains its own headquarters. Squabbles between the ``orthodox''
and ``reform'' wings, as they've been dubbed, are reported daily in the Salvadoran
Now many FMLN officials talk privately of letting the showdown
occur at a party
congress in April or May, where the reformers are expected to present a list of
demands -- and walk out if they aren't met.
Shafik Handal, the former guerrilla commander who heads the so-called
wing, pooh-poohs any talk of a split. Even in its days as a guerrilla group, he
notes, the FMLN had five factions that frequently quarreled, sometimes with guns.
``Our party rules recognize the existence of factions,'' Handal
differences we have will be resolved by direct vote of the members . . . I don't think
anybody will take off down some other road. But if somebody wants to leave, we
can't force them to stay.''
Silva, the American-educated technocrat who leads the reformist
``I don't think there is any future in the FMLN if it splits,''
said Silva, who is
expected to easily win reelection as mayor. ``I hope we'll stay together. . . . But
certainly we might come to a point where it might be difficult to hold [the party]
together because there is no flexibility.''
Copyright 2000 Miami Herald