El Salvador’s Right Wing Fumbles Attempt To Rally Public Against Government
As part of an ongoing destabilization strategy, El Salvador’s right-wing opposition kicked off September with renewed efforts to turn public opinion against the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) administration headed by President Salvador Sánchez Cerén. In a cynical attempt to capitalize on the powerful anti-corruption movement that toppled the presidency of Otto Pérez Molina in neighboring Guatemala, individuals tied the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party convened a purportedly apolitical mobilization against corruption in an upscale San Salvador neighborhood. The sparsely attended September 5th rally faltered conspicuously, attracting a crowd of several hundred in a country accustomed to street mobilizations of hundreds of thousands.
While promoters had advertised an apolitical rally against corruption, the organizers and participants were far from nonpartisan. One of the rally’s organizers was René Rendón, the former director of the ARENA party for the department of San Salvador. The crowd was comprised of prominent ARENA members and supporters, like the party’s 2014 campaign advisor J. J. Rendón and former ARENA legislator Mario Valiente, as well as representatives of El Salvador’s big business elite, including the presidents of the ultra-conservative National Association of Private Enterprise (ANEP) and Salvadoran Chamber of Commerce, along with Ricardo Simán of the Simán family, one of the notorious fourteen oligarchic families that historically monopolized El Salvador’s wealth. José Portillo, one of the rally organizers, tellingly closed his speech with the ARENA party slogan: “Presentes por la patria,” or “Present for the homeland!”
The theatric intervention of a group of University of El Salvador students highlighted the blatant hypocrisy of an anti-corruption march organized by members of ARENA, a party renowned for rampant corruption during its four consecutive terms in office (1989-2009). The students donned masks of former ARENA presidents and held up banners displaying the quantity of public funds stolen by their administrations. Student Daniel Portillo explained, “We think it’s unfair that the acts of corruption committed over 20 years [of ARENA governance] are forgotten.” When rally participants attacked the students, Portillo moved to the ground, where he lay passively as protesters tore up his banner and assaulted him verbally and physically. Police intervened to remove the students for their own safety: “the police wanted to take care of us,” assured Portillo.
El Salvador’s organized social movement made a strong show of force in the face of the Right’s hiccupping attempt at popular mobilization. Prior to the right-wing rally, the Salvadoran Social and Union Front marched to the same plaza with banners condemning ARENA’s hypocrisy, filling the streets with red-clad unionists and halting traffic. In the afternoon, social movement groups comprising the Social Alliance for Governability and Justice held a counter-rally at the iconic Salvador Del Mundo monument, comparing former ARENA president Francisco Flores, who is currently being prosecuted for the theft of some $15 million in public funds, to the recently ousted Guatemalan president. “We have always shown our faces, and we don’t call people into the streets anonymously. Every day there are more and more of us in favor of governability, peace and justice,” said Margarita Posada of the National Healthcare Forum.