by Omar Montilla
Translation by Diana Barahona
Funes puts his hopes in the IMF, the World Bank and Mexican oligarchs
El Salvador’s president-elect, Mauricio Funes, will participate in the joint general assembly of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. “I am going to express my opinion, present what the priorities [of the country] are, so that they can explain to us the state of the relationship with the government, what it is that they see,” Funes said in brief statements to journalists after meeting with business leaders of the country. He will also speak at a regional forum titled “Latin America and the Global Crisis.” Evidently pleased, he said, “So I will be the only Latin American president attending this forum, as a president-elect.” Has Funes asked himself why the rest of the presidents of Latin America won’t be at that meeting?
These statements by Mauricio Funes are not in the bit surprising since they are in line with his pre- and post-election behavior. It is not necessary to go into a lot of detail about the quality and attributes of the institutions from which Funes expects so much, which in the current world crisis are among the most discredited because of the haughty policy they adopted toward the poorest countries in the world. Is this candor or ignorance? Neither one nor the other. Before the elections in El Salvador, Funes was distraught over the fierce campaign of the right against the FMLN, where the recurring theme was precisely Hugo Chavez. In order to conjure away that campaign of discredit no better notion occurred to him than to court foreign capitalists: “Mauricio Funes, the FMLN candidate for president, returned to El Salvador this Thursday after concluding a tour through Mexico, where he met with Mexican businessmen, among them Carlos Slim and Ricardo Salinas Pliego [...] [T]he presidential hopeful of the party of the left pitched to investors the economic proposals that are part of his plan of government” (La Pagina, Feb. 19, 2008). In other words, in order to pacify the Salvadoran right he gave an accounting of his program to the rottenest Mexican oligarchy. It would be good to ask Funes if he won the election in spite of the shameless negative use of the figure of Chavez and the FMLN in the campaign, or in spite of having ingratiated himself to Slim and Salinas.
Funes worries about the remittances
According to Telesur’s Web site on March 18, 2009, that is to say, immediately after the election, “Thomas Shannon said that his country ‘will respect’ the sovereign decision of the government of President-elect Mauricio Funes if it decides to open diplomatic relations with Cuba. ‘Our focus at this time is on the bilateral relationship between the United States and El Salvador,’ Shannon said, [adding that] his country is interested in maintaining ‘that marriage’ that the two nations have, in the hope that El Salvador brings about the advance toward democracy with President-elect Mauricio Funes … [There] is a great future for El Salvador,’ said Shannon during the meeting with Funes, at the same time that he expressed his desire to work ‘closely’ with his administration.”
We can understand that Funes is worried about the enormous population of Salvadorans that the right expelled from their country to go to work in the most humiliating way in the United States. That’s fine. We can understand that he is worried about the reduction of the flow of remittances that Salvadorans send to their country, and one must not underestimate the importance of this source of revenue. But Funes knows that that reduction of the flow of dollars is due to the tremendous crisis that the United States is going through, which El Salvador has nothing to do with. To the contrary, it has been the millions of Salvadorans who have contributed with their hard and poorly paid work to the economic progress of that ungrateful country.
We must note that countries such as Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia have many more emigrants than El Salvador, and as far as I know they have never prostrated themselves before the IMF or the World Bank asking for handouts. Funes wants these voracious international institutions to explain to him “the state of the relationship with the government.” That will never happen and as a journalist he knows it. So why all the pirouettes with those pirates?
Funes also confirmed that before receiving the presidential sash on June 1, he has meetings planned with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, Spanish President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, German Chancellor Angel Merkel, the presidents of the Central American countries and Mexican President Felipe Calderon, among others.
Funes also puts his hopes in Felipe Calderon and distances himself from Chavez
He was particularly cloying with Felipe Calderon with whom he said he would discuss an “excellent experience in combating drug trafficking [and that] he also has excellent experience in poverty reduction programs that we are going to share and programs of cooperation, above all cultural.” Funes: Are you a fool or are you pretending to be one? How can Mexico help you with the problem of drug trafficking when it is a drug-producing country? How can Calderon help you with that problem if he is under the guns of numerous bands of criminals, whom his government protects and supports under absolute impunity? How is Calderon going to help you to reduce poverty in El Salvador when it is growing in his own country? The Mexican government has not even dared to maintain the so-called San Jose Agreement to supply petroleum and derivatives to Central America, while the Venezuelan government implemented PetroCaribe, in which even the government of Belize participates, and assisted the Salvadoran people through FMLN mayors against the government of that country. Is it possible that this experience will be repeated with the Funes government?
Chavez overture met with insult
The day after Funes won the election, Chavez saluted the “unarguable and forceful victory of the courageous journalist, Mauricio Funes, and of the … FMLN. This victory consolidates the historical current that has risen up in all of Latin America and the Caribbean in this first decade of the twentieth century and opens the doors to other brother nations in the challenges they have ahead of them.” Funes’s response didn’t take long. On March 30 it was reported that “Salvadoran President-elect Mauricio Funes made his debut in the international arena with praise for “the changes” in the United States and the warning that “he will not allow the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, to stick ‘one finger’ into the political process in El Salvador [as] he participated with outgoing President Antonio Saca in a meeting of Central American leaders with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.”
As far as anybody knows, and it is known, Chavez has never intervened; he has only helped, and for that behavior he has been censured from inside and outside of Venezuela by the usual enemies, who are no longer concentrated in one territory but are the same everywhere. While Funes vehemently insults Chavez, whom he doesn’t even know, he allows himself to praise some “changes” that have not materialized. Can it be that he was happy about having predicted that Obama was going to “free” some restrictions so that Cubans could travel to their country, while he kept them in place against U.S. citizens?
Uribe explains his “democratic values” to Funes
In the Colombian magazine Semana, we read the following: “Uribe met with Mauricio Funes, president-elect of El Salvador, to whom he expressed his interest in continuing to strengthen political, economic and cultural relations with the Central American country. The encounter, which took place in Puerto España, lasted 30 minutes, during which time President Uribe explained to Funes the democratic values that the Colombian government practices. Funes ‘congratulated Uribe for the work he has done’” (April 18, 2009).
Let us break it down so we don’t choke: Uribe explains to Funes the “democratic values” of his government. What would those be? Possibly they are the human rights violations, which have been so widespread that even the U.S. Senate (with a Democratic majority) refused to pass the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia, mainly because of the murder of thousands of labor leaders, carried out with the vain illusion of silencing the protests of the Colombian people. It is possible that Uribe has convinced Funes that the thousands of murders of innocent victims, the so-called “false positives,” are part of the “democratic values” of his government.
We agree that it is necessary to promote commercial exchange with any country. Business is buying and selling. But what they spoke of least, because evidently they didn’t have anything to say, was precisely commercial exchange. That is why Funes only limited himself to “congratulate him” for the work done, which not even Semana, owned by the Santos family, dared to elaborate on.
Am I classical or romantic? I don’t know
Question and answer from the Spanish poet, Antonio Machado, who would end up explaining, “I would like to leave my verse like the captain leaves his sword:/ famous for the virile hand that brandished it,/ not for the learned trade of the blacksmith honored.” But Funes has a particular appetite for etiquette. He is anxious to be considered a “moderate” in order to distinguish himself from “radicals” like Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales or Daniel Ortega. Don’t even mention Fidel or Raul Castro. Why the eagerness? The answer came on March 21: “Brazilian leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will be the model for the government of … Mauricio Funes. ‘For me President Lula and his government constitute a model of democratic practice of a leftist government that can send signals of confidence to foreign investors and also to national investors’ [and] he said that when he took office as president next June he would immediately seek bilateral accords between his government and that of Lula.
One can infer, then, that the success of Funes’s government will depend on “foreign investors.” If that’s the way it is, he had better be prepared for some tough times. El Salvador is not the best territory for maquiladoras, a stage that frankly has been surpassed on this continent, which can be verified by merely looking next door at Guatemala. It is necessary to remember Uruguayan patriot Jose Gervasio Artigas, who advised us to depend on our strengths, not on what others may or may not do, not on what may or may not happen to others, and who would have driven the point home with this, his expression: “A country for all or a country for none.”
On March 23 Funes ratified his closeness to the “moderate left” and the “analysts” believe that he will have the dilemma of following Chavez or Lula: “Funes’s first trip … was to Brazil to meet with Lula … Funes will soon have to face a dilemma in his style of government: follow the model of the moderate left in the style of Lula in Brazil, or the radical left in the style of Hugo Chavez … Funes has said that his model will be the Brazilian one and not the Venezuelan one.” The “analyst” is Moises Naim, who was a minister under Carlos Andres Perez, member of that economic team that plunged Venezuela into the most serious economic crisis of the twentieth century. The Spanish newspaper El Pais publishes this analysis, titled “The axis of Lula and the axis of Hugo,” where it says that the crossroads that Funes will face “now boils down to this alternative [align himself with Chavez or Lula]. His party is to the left of him and will pressure him to lean towards the Axis of Hugo.” To this day Funes has not said anything about these views, possibly because he shares them.
But in this terrain Funes is, as in football, playing forward of the game, because nobody has brought up this alternative to him. Quite the opposite; it has been the object of attention, of deliberation, of interest and of comprehension on the part of many. The newspaper La Prensa Grafica published this headline on April 16: “Funes receives invitation to meet with Chavez,” and the article said Funes “revealed today that he has received an invitation from Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez to hold a meeting before taking office on June 1. ‘There is talk of a meeting that has not yet been arranged.’” In order to immunize himself and avoid comments that could damage his hypersensitive skin, he clarified, “The meeting was requested by him, I have not requested it. He has to be the one explaining to the press what topics he is interested in discussing with me.”
At the same time, Funes did explain that the meeting he has planned with Lula would serve to “review the possibility” that the National Social Development Bank of Brazil could finance “some” social project in El Salvador. Nobody seems to understand, not even Salvadorans, the reason for this evasiveness of Funes with Chavez, as seen when Salvadoran legislative deputy Roberto Lorenzana said that as a party “we cannot but be respectful of the diplomatic initiatives of each country” and that the only thing they know about them is that Funes has kept a distance from policies coming from Caracas.
Nobody has asked Funes to align himself with Chavez, who never mentioned it during the electoral campaign, in spite of the fact that he was mentioned as often as the candidate himself. The Salvadoran daily La Prensa said on March 17 that “On his first day as president-elect of El Salvador, Mauricio Funes reaffirmed his commitment to ‘not align himself under the leadership of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, to build a government of national unity and not allow the … FMLN to interfere in affairs of state beyond what the law allows.”
In an interview given to CNN in Spanish, the corporation he worked for as a correspondent from 1991 to 2007 (16 years!), Funes insisted over and over that he had no obligation to follow Chavez: “The Salvadoran left has its own identity and will respond to its own circumstances. It has to respond to the demand, the aspiration and the desire for change that the Salvadoran people have expressed to it. It has no reason to align itself with the process of the Bolivarian revolution that Chavez leads; that process responds to Venezuela. The elections were in El Salvador, not in Venezuela.” That is correct, but is that the real reason for so many protests of innocence to the gringos?
On March 21, the Web site El Salvador.com points out that “In the FMLN no leader wants to give his opinion about the statements of President-elect Mauricio Funes, in which he claims that his “model” is Brazilian leader Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva and not … Chavez. The mayor of Apopa, Luz Estrella Rodriguez, second-in-command in the party, declined yesterday to give an opinion. Her argument was that they haven’t discussed that subject in the FMLN.”
… and so what am I?
The right-wing Spanish daily, ABC, under the headline, “Funes insists on demarcating himself from Chavez” published the following commentary: “My discourse is not that of the traditional left, because I don’t represent it. I do not come from there. El Salvador cannot become a socialist nation because it is not even capitalist; it is almost a feudal society. We have to build. And afterwards, a long time afterwards, we can begin to imagine a socialist country.” The same newspaper notes, “Mauricio Funes, the president-elect of the small Central American nation, insists on demarcating himself from the club founded by the Venezuelan Hugo Chavez, which has more and more members on this continent, which poverty and the failure of neoliberal policies progressively tilted leftward.”
But Funes returned to the subject: “My government has to respond to its own identity. It has no reason to align itself with the Bolivarian revolution.”
Unfortunately for Funes, in spite of all of his protests they still don’t believe him. To his fright, the same daily ABC states, “More than a few see in Funes a straw man behind which is hiding the hard core of a guerrilla … that achieved through the ballot box what it didn’t with arms. A revolutionary movement that, according to predictions of its rivals during the electoral campaign, will lose no time in copying its Sandinista neighbor, which in barely two years has turned Nicaragua into the private farm of Daniel Ortega. And for that they remind people that many city halls ruled by the FMLN have been receiving direct aid from Caracas for years.”
The vice president-elect of El Salvador, a bit disappointed, and I don’t dare guess the reason, indicates that “Everything will not be carried out in full as the FMLN thinks.” Further on he says, “The next government will not be of the FMLN, but one that will give room to other thoughts,” and clarifies that he will not arrive at the vice presidency to be the guardian of the faith of the FMLN in the Funes government. The same journalist, somewhat surprised, says that Mr. Sanchez Ceren “may disappoint in this interview [both] followers and detractors.” The surprising thing is that he can cede so much territory to the adversary when he says, “My position is not going to be that of a defender of the ideology.” If that is true, what is it that he is going to defend?
El Nuevo Diario of Nicaragua reports that in Puerto España Funes supported the idea of “proposing to the U.S. government that it contribute to the strengthening of regional banks, particularly the Interamerican Development Bank and the Central American Bank of Economic Integration,” and that “he expressed his confidence that the democratic transition that he and President Saca are carrying out in El Salvador constitutes the best calling card in the consolidation of democracy in the country. Funes shared the opinion of Saca that the economic crisis may cause a setback to development in El Salvador.” Definitively in ideological questions, Funes is, as the popular saying goes, “as confused as a chicken without a head.” How can he expect Obama, who is up to his ears with his banks, most of them in bankruptcy or on the verge, to “strengthen” the Central American banks? The last straw is asking for “aid” for the IDB, where absolutely nothing is done without the consent of the boss.
On its part, the daily La Prensa Grafica says, “Funes requests aid for regional banks at summit,” insisting again on the theme, with which the way the president elect is going is made clear, even though doesn’t seem to understand what is happening in the world, where the banking institutions that docilely serve capital and the capitalists are collapsing.
Epilogue in adagio, ma non troppo
The first “unsolicited” interview of Barack Obama in Trinidad was with Chavez, which caused an international sensation because of the “warmth of the encounter,” and about which the international press still comments in all aspects. Obama had no embarassment about meeting with Chavez. Funes on his part explained that “because of scheduling problems” it was not possible to set up a meeting in Puerto España with Chavez. Whatever happened? Can it be that Chavez finally tired of so much inconsistency? What we do know is what La Prensa Grafica says: “[Funes’s] broad schedule leaves Chavez out of encounters [because Funes] is not sure that he will be able to comply with some additional invitations that have arrived at his office. One of them is that of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.” The curious note is what the article says farther down: “Funes had planned a bilateral [meeting] with Chavez at the V Americas Summit, which was held in Trinidad and Tobago, but it was cancelled. ‘Because of scheduling reasons, he [Chavez] ended up cancelling it,’ he explained.”
The Salvadoran daily El Mundo refers to “The five greatest challenges of Funes,” which would be: 1. Crisis management; 2. The government for the crisis; 3. Relations with the FMLN; 4. The crisis in public finances and 5. Relations with the other parties. Independently of the posture that Mauricio Funes may maintain regarding Hugo Chavez, the important thing would be, it is hoped, that he rise to the occasion to confront what is coming, which will not be at all good, because during four long months the outgoing president, Antonio Saca, has had more than enough time to “scrape the pot clean.” Funes should not believe his own words when he said that “the democratic transition that he and President Saca are carrying out in El Salvador constitutes the best calling card in the consolidation of democracy in the country.”
It is good to remember in these moments Shafik Handal, whose shadow blanketed Mauricio Funes: “We do not come like lost sheep returning to the pen, but like vigorous reformers and fighters for changes;” and never forget either the exemplary words of Bolivar: “Let us no longer be the mockery of these miserable ones who are only superior in wickedness, such that they do not surpass us in valor; if they seem big to us it is because we are on our knees.”