Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Reflections on The Memory Question in El Salvador's 2014 Election

Salvador Sanchez Ceren-FMLN
One the one hand, the choice to vote for Salvador Sanchez Ceren, the FMLN candidate who has admitted to thousands of human rights violations, is unthinkable.  During the war of the 80’s Ceren was known under the alias “Leonel Gonzalez” and approved well over one thousand assassinations between 1986 and 1990 in which guerrillas killed other guerrillas based on hearsay accusations of treason and ideological weakness.  This process of internal purging took place in the San Vicente region known as El Frente Para Central.  Other members of the FMLN government such as Jorge Meléndez have been implicated in the similar unresolved assassination of Roque Dalton, an emblematic case of a national leftist poet who was accused of treason and assassinated by members of his own underground group.  These memories of a conflicted left are taboo memories for many who support the policies of the FMLN including some NGOs and solidarity groups like CISPES who prefer to commend censorship and conveniently dismiss testimonies of these human rights violations as dirty campaign tactics of the right wing ARENA party.  The FMLN has good reason to worry about the potential impact of these human rights violations gaining momentum because this record certainly undermines the legitimacy of their presidential candidate.  Evidently, Sanchez Ceren's campaign targets the country’s youth in the hopes that they won’t ask too many questions about the past.  The fact that Sanchez Ceren has so much to gain from ensuring that silence and impunity remain securely in place does not bode well for reckoning with the past. 

Norman Quijano-ARENA
On the other hand, we have the right wing ARENA party with a more widely known record of egregious human rights violations.  While their Presidential candidate, Norman Quijano, has a cleaner record than Ceren, the legacy of the ARENA party is extremely problematic.  ARENA’s founder, Roberto D’Aubuisson, was the notorious head of the U.S. trained Death Squads that tortured and killed thousands of Salvadoran civilians during the war.  The ARENA party continues to glorify their history of brutal repression and the narrative that they primed the country for Democracy.  ARENA has accepted almost no responsibility for the vicious human rights violations the right committed during the war including the massacres of El Sumpul and El Mozote and the assassinations of Archbishop Monseñor Romero and the UCA Jesuits, just to name a very few. 

Tony Saca -GANA
GANA, or ARENA “light”, is a weaker third party option in El Salvador headed by candidate Tony Saca.  Saca served as El Salvador’s President previously with the ARENA party and members of his administration have been charged with money laundering and corruption.  The charges surround the construction of Monseñor Romero Boulevard that ended up costing more than 4 times the original budget.  Notably, one of his most public proponents is Joaquin Villalobos, one of the ex-leftists responsible for the assassination of Roque Dalton. 

Given that the parties would collapse like sand castles if the past were to be openly confronted, the presidential “hopefuls” give little real hope that any meaningful push for dialogue or disinterested memory work will come from the top-down.  El Salvador needs to break with historical lore manipulated in the service of today's extremely polarized present. Sadly, voting for any of the candidates in El Salvador’s February 2014 Presidential elections is a vote for continued silence and impunity. 

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