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February 2, 2005
Editorial: Revolutionary or Social Democrat?
Politics: The Destiny Manifesto and Francisco Flores
Economy: The rise in the cost of living
Revolutionary or Social Democrat?
CDuring the mid-seventies, the Ejercito Revolucionario del
Pueblo (Revolutionary Army of the People; ERP, in Spanish) saw itself -as they
prove in their documents, pamphlets, and official press releases- as one of the
most revolutionary military-political groups of El Salvador at the time. They
also saw themselves as one of the most radical and consequent groups with the
socialist ideology. In those certainly difficult times, secrecy did not allow to
clearly identify those who, within the ERP –as well as inside of the rest of the
military-political organizations- were the most emblematic figures. It is not
that everything about them was a secret –some aspects about their identity and
their revolutionary actions were known-, but what counted was the starring role
of the organization. To remember a terminology that was used back in those days
–which definitively had to do with the ERP- any individual sort of leading role
was nothing more than a bourgeois bad habit that had to be attacked by all
means, without excluding the capital punishment.
During the war, this conception was left behind. For many reasons, the identities and skills of the leading members of the FMLN –the addition of five military-political organizations that operated in the country by the end of 1979- are revealed inside as well as outside El Salvador. In the case of the ERP, its military prestige as an organization reached almost mythical levels: the best combatants, the most complete logistic resources, the most effective combat operations... That is, the true army within the FMLN. But those credits are no longer diluted in that revolutionary group, now they belong to that one that claims to be a great politician and a great military strategist, the undisputed leader, the one who knows the military and the political art rules: Joaquin Villalobos, formerly known as commander "Atilio". During the eighties, the myth of Villalobos as the most revolutionary of the revolutionary ones is created –because of his audacity, his intelligence, consequential manners, his commitment with the revolution and Socialism-, one of the most important myths that the Salvadoran history has ever revealed.
During the Eighties, Joaquin Villalobos is connected with the integrity and the revolutionary strength of the seventies’ ERP: it was thanks to Villalobos, some people say, that the ERP managed to become the most genuine revolutionary organization of El Salvador. Obviously, it is not mentioned that the presumed revolutionary solidity of the ERP -solidity in their dogmas, a fanatical Marxist-Leninist orthodox attitude- led to the murder of Roque Dalton -in which Villalobos had a direct participation. During the war, therefore, the myth of Villalobos as “the strategist” par excellence is not only created, but the myth insisted on his solid revolutionary profile, created in the heat of the depurations in the mid-seventies.
By the end of the war, this time with Villalobos already playing the role of one of the leading men of the Salvadoran contemporary history, an extremely peculiar phenomenon takes place. The history of the ERP -and, along with it, the history of Villlobos- is presented in quite a different manner: the ERP, far from being a Marxist-Leninist organization of a rigid and a military character, had been an organization with Social-Democratic ideals since those dark years of the early seventies. The creator of that list of ideals was no other than Joaquin Villalobos, a genuine Social Democrat. It is true, the ERP had been, during the war, the organization that had the most strategic capacity in the military field, but that capacity was –contrary to the rest of the organizations- at the service of a negotiated political solution, not a mechanism to take over the power of the State. Giving samples of an ability worthy of the best heirs of Stalin, Villalobos managed to create this new version of the history of the ERP (and his own personal history) and to make it prevail over the preexisting history.
Villalobos knows well how to take advantage of his image as a convinced military and Social-Democratic strategist. Although inside the country just a few take it seriously; abroad, he has been able to put himself over his actual capacities and talent. In El Salvador things have not gone so well for him, mainly because of his intentions to support to the right wing and ARENA in their strategy to discredit to the FMLN. Whenever he has been able to, the ex- commander "Atilio" has pointed his darts against his old comrades. The most recent of these attacks is titled “The ayatola Handal and the hysteric materialism".
Once again Schafik Handal has become his target. Peculiarly, this text by Villalobos reveals more things about himself than about Handal. At least, it reveals part of his capacity to change history in accordance with his own convenience. In his last diatribe against Handal, it turns out that Villalobos was, during the seventies and the eighties, a true revolutionary man, neither fearful nor collaborative with the reactionary governments of the time. In this writing, far from abjuring from his past in the guerrilla, he vindicates it and he feels honored because of the fact that once he took the arms and subscribed the motto of the ERP, "The peace of the rich ones is over, the war of the people has begun", which became public when two national guards that were at the Benjamin Bloom Hospital were assassinated (in March of 1972). Villalobos does not say it, but that was the same ERP that kidnapped and assassinated Roberto Poma in 1977, and the one that two years before had judged and assassinated Roque Dalton. That is the ERP that Villalobos seems to feel proud of : a dogmatic, radical organization, an enemy of bourgeoisie and imperialism, that is, nothing to do with a Social-Democratic movement, and not willing to negotiate or to agree with the enemy at some point. Then, what is it? Had not Villalobos been the eternal faithful lover of democracy? Was not he a Social Democrat since his humble beginnings as a left-wing militant? Villalobos -and those who emulated him- should stop playing the role of the repented revolutionary and dedicate himself to the actually useful social duties, instead of following the anti-Communist game of the right-wing with fallacious arguments and a meaningless rhetoric.
The Destiny Manifesto and Francisco Flores
The defense of "the vital" interests of the United States
has always been more important than any other theory, concept, or principles
about the international policy. In the case of Latin America, time and time
again, this affirmation has been constantly verified. In November of 1989, in a
speech before the Congress of his country, the president at the time, the father
of the recently reelected President of the United States, talked about Latin
America in these terms: "Due to a burst of news on Nicaragua, Panama and El
Salvador and to a certain amount of arranged propaganda, many will find it
difficult to believe that we are interested in the problems of those countries
(...), the problems of Latin America specifically affect to the security and the
well-being of our own people. And Central America is much closer to the United
States, more than many of the most problematic places of the world that interest
us (...). El Salvador is closer to Texas than Texas is from Massachusetts;
Nicaragua is closer to Miami, San Antonio, San Diego and Tucson than those
cities are from Washington".
Along with the need to defend the interests of the United States, the American political leaders have always believed that their country must be leading the way among all the other nations in order to show them which way they must follow. The founding fathers of the American nation always said that "for the new nation, the most crucial aspect is to successfully conduct its foreign relations, the most successful product in our continent and the best exporting good is our sense of democracy and freedom (...)". The God of nature and the God of the nations –once a former American president said- "has traced that destiny for us, and with his consent we have to firmly maintain the incontestable rights that He has given to us until completing the high obligations that He has imposed to us".
In that context, it should not seem odd to find in the speech of the recently reelected President of the United States, George W. Bush, certain affirmations that follow this line of thought of the United States, such as their calling to defend and to propagate the values of freedom and democracy in the world. During his inauguration speech, Bush stated that "it is the policy of the United States to support and to look for the growth of the movements and the democratic institutions in each nation and in each culture, with the supreme objective to end with tyranny in the world". In addition, he declared that "the survival of the freedom (in the United States) depends more and more on the success of democracy in other countries".
However, what does this crusade for freedom has to do with Francisco Flores? First of all it is important to remember that the former Salvadoran president is the main card of Washington. Not too long ago the people in charge of Bush’s foreign policy presented him as a young and a new politician, with an allegedly unique commitment with democracy and freedom. The conservative diplomats in the White House said that they value the "open of mind of Flores", because he has decidedly defended the most difficult thesis of the hawks. Flores did not hesitate when he confronted Fidel Castro during a Latin American Summit in Panama. This fact, in addition, woke up a feeling of sympathy between the Cuban that live in exile in Washington, the ones that presently control the American policy towards the island.
Flores himself also introduced himself, during his campaign, when he was running for secretary of the O.A.S., as the chosen one to reconcile the sub continent with the United States. The former president generally uses his friendship with Bush as his most important presentation card. He has always openly exhibited his connections with the American President. He even stated, back when he was president, that his friendship with Bush was the most honorable thing that had ever happened to him.
With the intention to promote democracy in the region, Bush has made of the former Salvadoran president his candidate to direct the O.A.S.. The day of his presentation before the ambassadors of the organization, Flores received the effusive support of Roger Noriega, the American public official designated for Latin America. What was already known became even more evident, that Flores was the protégé of the most important American politicians. The main bet is that Flores will follow the line drawn up by Washington. In the present context of Latin America, with the political strength that the left win now has in the South cone, Flores entirely shares the postulates of Washington. He is not only a fervent defender of the free market in favor of the American companies, but he would be willing to politically support, from the Secretariat of the O.A.S., the most controversial plans of the present administration on the internationalization of the war in Colombia or the diplomatic isolation of Venezuela because of the connections between the president of this country with Cuba.
With the other candidates postulated by Chile and Mexico at the top of the O.A.S., Washington is not certain about their fidelity to them. Mexico as well as Chile, whose candidates come, in addition, from the government, rejected the military preventive war plan of the United States against Iraq. Whereas Flores not only saluted what he considered as an important step for the international peace, but he also sent Salvadoran soldiers to help maintain the occupation of Iraq. In that sense, it is possible to understand that Flores is the ideal candidate for the American cause.
In other words, the American decision to support Flores fits perfectly with the self-imposed mission of this country -to bring freedom and democracy to the world-, a mission that the American President just renewed during his inauguration speech. It is evident that the disagreement with the rest of the Latin American leaders has nothing to do with the promotion of democracy in the region. It has been a while since the Latin American and the Caribbean nations declared that they defended the idea of democracy in the continent. In addition, an analysis of the last political events in Latin America reveals that those who have been on the side of democracy and the people’s right of self-determination have had to take distance from the official position of Washington.
The difference between Flores and the other candidates to the secretariat of the O.A.S. has to do with small details, without a doubt important, but connected to personality, the level of ideological fanaticism, and the independence of criterion. Allegedly, Flores would be willing to do what the White House indicates without hesitating, whereas the rest would try to ask themselves how much does this attitude actually favors the democratic institutional performance in the region.
However, it would not be appropriate to have high expectations about a hypothetical independence of a secretary of the O.A.S. in reference to the United States. This country is the most important contributor of the organization. In addition, the President of the United States counts on a political ancestry and with an incomparable capacity of economic pressure in the region.
In this context, it should not seem odd if Flowers is elected as the secretary of the O.A.S.. However, on the other hand, from an ethical perspective and in terms of the prestige of this institution, Flores should not occupy that position. Flores shamelessly supported a coup d’état in Venezuela, in addition to his scornful attitude against the left wing it is very probable that he will not be able to negotiate with the leaders of the South America. In other words, if Flores is chosen, he will not help the organization to increase its level of prestige and political importance. Will the bet placed by Bush (to have a faithful ally in the O.A.S. to confront the left wing and the critics against the region’s Neoliberalism) prevail?
The rise in the cost of living
Last year, the population was affected by the price
increase of several products from the basic food basket. This tendency was
explained from different perspectives. For some people, everything was
fundamentally due to the concomitant rise in the prices of petroleum, an
important element to transport the agricultural products from the country side
to the city. Others mainly considered that the rise exclusively had to do with
the speculation of some of the most important growers and food retailers,
especially when it came to the essential products.
During last year, the media were focused on the opinions of the population that revealed the people’s discomfort before the excessive increase on the prices of many necessary goods for the home. Perhaps, for some consumers, the wage increases that were established during the salary adjustment of 2003 (implemented due to inflation) would be enough to keep the living standards at an acceptable level, a little bit in accordance with their needs. Nevertheless, they did not know that the actions of both the world’s -through the rise in the prices of petroleum- and the national market came together to complicate the daily life of many Salvadorans.
One of the consequences of the rise in the prices of petroleum in the international market was the rise in the public transportation fares. For many years, such fare, stipulated by both the owners of the buses and the government, had not been altered. Nevertheless, and according to some businessmen from the public transportation system, the rise in the prices of diesel began to bring a series of losses. Finally, and in general terms, the different bus routes, decided along with the government, to establish a new bus fare of $0,20, increasing with this the weekly transportation expenses of a person by approximately 17%.
During the last week of August the DYGESTYC presented what all the Salvadorans with limited resources knew: a considerable raise in the prices of the basic nutritional products. This is how inflation was attempting against the diet of the less fortunate. By the second semester of the year, the prices of beans and corn were constantly increased, that clearly indicated a rise in the cost of the Basic Food Basket. By the first months of last year, the Basic Food Basket had been increased by 2.13% and 7.04% for the urban and the rural areas, respectively.
According to the opinion of several analysts, it is probable that the prices keep increasing. This is fundamentally due to the fact that the price of petroleum is far from becoming stable in the international market. Nationally, the prices of gasoline and diesel are ultimately established by the most important distributors of fuels that do not find a regulatory frame to prevent the abuses against the consumers. For 2005, the Salvadoran population has complained once again about the cost of food. That is, because of the activity of the world’s market and the speculation of the basic grain’s commercialization, so far for this year the prices have been increased, and therefore the price of the Basic Food Basket has also been increased.
In this context, what can be expected? One of the answers of the State is to follow the evolution of the prices through the Direction for the Protection of the Consumer. In addition, the Attorney General’s Office, in accordance with the law, can intervene in those cases where there might be growers or traders that accumulate basic grains in order to speculate with them. Since the year started, a series of rises were recorded, just as in the last year, two basic products in the diet of the Salvadorans: corn and beans. According to the specialists, this tendency to increase the prices was noticed since mid- December in some sectors of the country, especially in the urban areas.
The problem has such dimensions that, during the week in course, a portion of the economic cabinet of the government was interrogated by the Commission of Economy of the Legislative Assembly. The opposition party suspects that the fiscal reform implemented by the Executive authority would have played a preponderant role in the problem. The representatives of the government did not totally deny that hypothesis, and they committed themselves to investigate if this reform has had this kind of impact. For the Minister of Agriculture, Mario Salaverría, the increases in the months of December and January occurred because during the Christmas holidays the market was out of provisions in some areas of the country.
To this date, and from an academic perspective, the economic training centers that are in the country -FUSADES, the BCR, and the Ministry of Economy- have done nothing but to collect information and analyze it, but it is also important to reveal what is the actual source of this concomitant raise in the prices, especially in the case of an stagnated economy where the unemployment rate does not seem to decrease. It seems that now we do not have a monetary vision able to explain why the prices keep increasing. Years ago, during the late nineties, the behavior of the Index of Prices for the Consumer was mostly explained by this theory.
It is also possible that the country is going through "a structural" inflation, a typical feature of an underdeveloped economy with many imperfections that distort the operation of the markets. An increasing level of consumption, in spite of the low income levels, the stagnation in the productivity levels, and the increasing prices of the resources due to the raise in the prices of petroleum lead us to think that the inflation problem will be present during a considerable portion of this year.
The economies with diverse characteristics –such as an increasing population level, migration towards the urban areas, changes in the taste and the preferences of the population due to the " demonstration effect", the unequal distribution of the land, unqualified labor, the limited efficiency of the public administration, and a regressive fiscal system- are the ones that suffer from concomitant inflationary processes. And almost all of these characteristics can be perfectly applied to the country.
It is crucial that the present government is able to realize the importance of implementing economic reforms able to improve the economy. The economic model built in the nineties has grown weaker, and if it works it will only be useful for just a few. It is important to make substantial reforms to face the future of the country, if to rule the country in a competent manner is what really matters.
Tel: +503-210-6600 ext. 407, Fax: +503-210-6655