Sunday, January 29, 2006

the death of schafik handal

i just realized that i forgot to put the whole “these views aren’t the views of the peace corps” statement on my blog, and when i started writing this entry, i decided it was time since this is primarily a political entry. anyway....

i don’t know if this was covered at all in the u.s., but schafik handal, the leader of the FMLN party died on wednesday. he had a heart attack in the airport after his trip to bolivia to attend the inaugeration of evo morales. this is really important for el salvador because the FMLN (which stands for ¨Frente Farabundo Marti para la Liberacion Nacional¨- sometimes simply referred to as ¨The Frente¨) is the only other serious party in opposition to ARENA, which is the conservative party here, and the party of the current president, and george bush ally, tony saca. anyway, schafik was described to us by one of the guys who gave us a little political lesson during training in san vicente, as being a man that would scare the bejesus out of anyone. i’m not sure if that’s because he was so radically left, or what. but that’s how i first heard him described. in weeks afterward, i read a lot about him in articles and in the newspapers and things like that, simply talking about him as the leader of the FMLN, and former presidential candidate (in 2004). there was article in the international version of newsweek magazine where venezuela’s hugo chavez named him, as well as fidel castro, and also evo morales (who just won the presidency – mostly with the help of the indigenous vote – in bolivia), as one of his closest friends. some say that was his last final ¨victory¨ - helping morales get elected. schafik was very anti-american and wanted to have weaker ties with the u.s.

i’ve heard many poor people here tell me stories of how ARENA, for the past 14 years has “rigged” the presidential elections. despite this being a democratic country, with the peace accords of 1992 stating that it should be, the only party that has held the presidency since 1992 is ARENA. i was talking to someone just the other day about how there are so many poor people here who can’t read or write, and when they go to vote, apparently, members of the ARENA party “help” them. or they give them money to vote for ARENA. in the last election they also ran on a platform that if the people voted for handal, many salvadorans in the u.s. would be deported (because of handal´s strong anti-americanism), and i´m sure this scared a lot of the poor people who have relatives in the u.s. and rely on their dollars they send back here. and obviously, ARENA is the party that implemented the change from the colon to the u.s. dollar as the national currency. my mom in molineros talked to me one night about this and she said that change was the death to any opportunity for the poor people here to make any kind of good living for themselves. she said in the past, for example, something that used to cost one colon, now costs one dollar......which is way more than one colon used to be. it just seems so ridiculous in more ways than one that a country has another country’s currency as their national currency. anyway, ARENA was responsible for that and i don’t know how they keep winning the presidency because the majority of this country is poor and just that one thing – the change from the colon to the dollar – had to effect every single one of those poor people, and not in a good way. obviously, i´m not an economist and i don´t know the ins and outs of why these things happen. all i know is what i´ve heard from the people who struggle to make it every day here. that´s all i´m going on.

we as peace corps volunteers are absolutely not, under any circumstances, allowed to participate in anything of a political nature here. i believe this is mostly for our safety – latin american countries and political involvement haven’t had a good past. we aren’t allowed to attend political rallies, or have political signs or whatever near us, we can’t take donations for projects (such as trash cans in a canton) from a political party – well we can take the donations, but we can’t let them paint their political insignia on them or anything..... basically, we can’t have anything to do with the politics here. we can discuss it with people and if we want, voice our opinions, but it’s pretty much not something you want to do if you don’t want to alienate the other half of the people who think opposite of you. but basically, everyone who knows me well knows that if i were a salvadoran and i had the chance, i’d most likely have an FMLN flag waving high on my house and i’d definitely be out helping the people who can’t read or write understand what’s going on when they go vote.

the death of schafik handal, however, might be a good thing (not for schafik of course, i’m not saying that his dying was good). what i mean is that he was really radically left and for some people that was too much. i talked to my family in molineros about that this weekend and ana told me that she didn’t like schafik handal - because of his part as a guerilla during the war - but did like most of the ideas of the FMLN. FMLN was the party who fought for the people and against ARENA and the military back during the civil war - but they were also a ¨guerilla¨ party, and this alienates some people from voting for them now. but after the peace accords were signed in 1992, the FMLN went from being a guerilla party to an official political one. so it’s quite possible that there are a lot more people like her that will be more willing to vote FMLN now because schafik isn’t the leader of the party. maybe it won´t be good. maybe the left-wing revolutionary party will die out. i really don´t know.

his death also came at a very awkward time. the mayoral elections are in march, and are HUGE here. they are held every three years and every three years, mayors for all the cities, pueblos, etc. are elected. the political campaigning here is crazy!!!! but it’s not annoying like in the states with the commercials and all that. here, they just paint everything. and i mean EVERYTHING. it’s so crazy. the FMLN is basically red/white. ARENA is red/white/blue. there is another party, the PDC, which uses green paint and it’s symbol is the jesus fish. there are more parties, and the history of these parties is really confusing. some blended into others, some fail to exist anymore, some are waiting for the right time to make an official debut. the way the government is divided up is equally confusing. i know this is a really lame explanation of the politics here, but i had wanted to write about this for a while, and then on wednesday schafik croaked. oh, and today, i accidentally “attended” his funeral. well, not exactly. i was coming back from molineros and had to go from terminal oriente to terminal occidente and it just so happened that my bus between these terminals passed through clusters and clusters of people decked out in their very best red/white/star t-shirts, waving flags, and anything else red, for the burial of schafik in the public cemetery in san salvador. i had no idea this would happen when i made plans to go to molineros...i made those plans last weekend, before schafik died. and the only reason i was returning today (sunday), instead of monday, is because i was going to the fiesta de las patronales in sonsonate. so there.

if you are at all interested in reading...or if you can´t read spanish, looking at prensa grafica (one of the two major newspapers here, and obviously the more left of the two) has a pretty good layout of photos and articles on their website.