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El Salvador: New FMLN president declares: `Change begins now!'

Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, June 3, 2009 -- On June 1, Mauricio Funes and Salvador Sanchez Cerén were sworn in as president and vice-president of El Salvador at the Feria Internacional Convention Center in San Salvador. It was a magical day for the Salvadoran people, social movement organisations, and the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), which Funes and Sanchez Cerén represent.

Counted among the 2000 invited guests were many international delegations and heads of state, including President Correa of Ecuador, President Lula of Brazil, Vice-President Lazo of Cuba, President Bachelet of Chile, President Lugo of Paraguay, President Uribe of Colombia and President Arias from Costa Rica. Representatives from the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, China, Taiwan, and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton among others joined them. Notably absent were presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia, who were unable to attend due to last-minute concerns regarding their security while in the country.

The Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) was also present with a delegation of members from Washington DC, Los Angeles, New York and Minneapolis. View pictures of the inauguration here and here.

In a powerful inaugural address, Funes promised that the change the people asked for with the election of the FMLN “begins now” and is in the hands of the people, not just the individual will of the president. He vowed to work with the social movements to “create a new national project” based on social inclusion and guided by the forces of hope and optimism. Several steps that he and cabinet members (see recent CISPES update), who were sworn in immediately following the ceremony, will take to confront the deep economic and social crisis in El Salvador include an employment program to build more tha 25,000 new houses, a central bank to guarantee credit to small-scale agricultural producers and the re-imagination of the Rural Community Solidarity Network to guarantee access to health, nutrition and free public education for the most vulnerable sectors of society.

The address was imbued with the themes of social justice, equality and of a “peaceful and democratic revolution”. He stated that El Salvador would no longer have a “government of the few, of the privileged” but one where all people would be “recognised for their talents and honesty, not for their connections or their last name”. He spoke of his teacher and mentor, Monsenor Oscar Arnulfo Romero, whose tomb he visited the morning of the inauguration and whose vision of a “preferential option for the poor” was a pillar in Funes’ discourse during the campaign.

Funes emphasised the importance of investing in the public sector and of transparent, democratic public administration, marking a clear break from the notorious corruption and policy of rampant privatisation of the right-wing ARENA government during the last 20 years. Funes explained that even though the economic crisis was neither the fault of the Salvadoran people or the FMLN party, but rather of the previous ARENA administrations, it is their responsibility to resolve it. He vowed to fight corruption within the government and within the police, stating that “the time of bankrolling and impunity is over”. He said frankly, “There are leaders and political parties who have had their chance and they have failed. Now it is our turn and our responsibility. It is time to show that we haven’t waited this long to govern just to frustrate the dreams of the Salvadoran people.”

The bold public exposure of corruption and cronyism of the right-wing government signals a major shift in El Salvador’s political climate, as does the homage to the Archbishop Romero, whose assassination was orchestrated by the founder of the ARENA party. It was a very emotional experience for many Salvadorans and long-time solidarity activists to see the leadership of the FMLN, many of whom, including vice-president Sanchez Cerén, were guerrilla commanders, being saluted by the Salvadoran military and taking the reins from the very government that killed more than 75,000 Salvadorans in its attempt to stop the FMLN from coming to power during the civil war.

Despite the decorum and formality of the inauguration ceremony, many in the crowd erupted into cheers of “Sí se pudo, Sí se pudo! (Yes we did!)” and “El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!” with their left fists in the air. Further revealing the guiding political and ideological principles of many FMLN activists, the loudest cheers were heard during the announcement of international delegations from Cuba, Venezuela, Vietnam and Palestine.

The excitement and energy of the FMLN’s base only increased at the people’s inauguration (see video and pictures at http://www.cispes.org), the FMLN’s public celebration at Cuscatlán Stadium that lasted into the night. Salvadorans who came from across the country arrived as early as 3 am to be part of what former FMLN leader Schafik Handal once promised would be “a date with history.”  More than 50,000 people formed a celebratory sea of red and white in the stadium, cheering and dancing to the music of historic revolutionary groups like Cutumay Camones and Los Guaraguao as they waited for the address of their new president.

Before Funes spoke, Latin American leaders including President Rafael Correa of Ecuador and President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua congratulated the Salvadoran people on their triumph and welcomed El Salvador into the consolidation of left-wing and progressive countries in Latin America, calling forth the vision of Simón Bolívar for the unity and integration of the Americas. Funes announced that earlier in the day he had formally re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba and would move toward regional integration in Central America. Funes also recognised the great sacrifice of many Salvadorans throughout decades of struggle.

A banner hanging in the stadium read: “Only the people can guarantee that the electoral victory will become popular power.” Militant organisation by the Salvadoran people, both during 30 years of struggle and during the past year of electoral campaigning, resulted in the first left-wing government in El Salvador, and will remain the most powerful force in what Funes called “the work of re-inventing the world”.

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