Reflections on the FMLN's First National Congress


Guest Author: 

Laura Jean Embree-Lowry


This past weekend, I had the privilege to address thousands of delegates gathered for the FMLN’s first National Congress in El Salvador. I was a little nervous on my way up to the stage, but it dissipated as I looked out at the crowd – I was among family.

When I told them, “CISPES was founded to accompany the revolutionary struggle of the Salvadoran people and to fight – from our trenches in the US – to end US government intervention in El Salvador,” the crowd broke into cheers and applause.

It was a powerful reminder of how long the US government has cast a shadow over the hopes and dreams of the Salvadoran people and how much it means for them to know they have allies here in the US – people they might never even meet – working alongside them.

Bringing CISPES’ message of solidarity to the Congress was not only an honor, but a learning experience, and one that gives me hope for the future of self-determination and liberation in the Americas. It was an opportunity to witness participatory democracy in action.

Just over a year into the administration of Salvador Sánchez Cerén, the first member of the FMLN to be elected president in the history of El Salvador, the party decided it was time for deep self-reflection and a re-foundation of its revolutionary principles.

In the words of beloved FMLN leader Schafik Hándal, “We entered the political system to change it, not to be changed by it." Winning the presidency was never the ultimate goal; it was an instrument. And now the party was putting its principles of participatory democracy into action to define the next step.

Over that past several months, FMLN party members participated in over 2,000 consultations to discuss a series of proposals on the future of their party and its strategy to achieve economic and social transformation.
From rural villages to urban centers, from union halls to classrooms, people made edits, comments, additions, subtractions. Then they did it all over again with the revised proposals!

Angel Monge, a young man who participated in consultations in the province of Chalatenango, told me the process itself was transformative. Members of his community discussed what things like democracy, revolution and socialism really meant to them, and what they should look like in El Salvador. And they left the consultation process feeling empowered upon seeing their contributions included in the revised documents.

Finally, this past weekend, over 1,500 people gathered to report back, community by community, on the major conclusions and feedback from their local consultations.

The proposals are still being finalized, but one thing was clear. The major obstacle El Salvador faces today is the economic system that has wrought so much devastation, violence and separation: neoliberalism.

And while the FMLN – together with organized unions, farmers, environmental defenders and international allies – has been able to put the brakes on free trade and privatization’s ransacking of the commons, there’s a long way to go to turn it around and build a just and sustainable economy based on socialist principles.

What gave me hope was not the clarity of this analysis but seeing how this struggle can and must be waged – from below.

In El Salvador, tens of thousands of people came together in this process to chart out their future.

That’s the kind of participatory democracy we need in order take on the global 1% and El Salvador is showing us once again that it can be done!

When I made my way down from the stage, dozens of people rushed over to hug me and tell me about their own memories of the CISPES activists that have accompanied their struggle for the past 35 years. They asked me to thank all of the people who have been committed CISPES activists and supporters over the years and asked me to pass on one key message: Keep it up!

Check out our pictures from the FMLN’s First National Congress here.

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