The Guardian 1 June, 2005

FMLN: visit of Zoila Quijada

Zoila Quijada is a member of legislative assembly of El Salvador representing the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) the main left opposition in the country with wide support among the people of the country and the clear alternative government. She is currently the Coordinator of the National Secretariat for Organisation of the FMLN and was a member of the Municipal Directorate of the Front from 1993-1999. She has served on numerous government commissions including the Health Commission, Environment Commission and the Commission for Human Rights and Justice. She was recently re-elected to the National Council of the Front the body that governs the FMLN between its National Conventions.

She recently visited Australia and took part in very well supported and productive functions in Brisbane, Canberra, Adelaide and Sydney. In Sydney she took time out of her busy schedule to speak to The Guardian.

Guardian: Firstly, a very obvious question; what has brought you to Australia, what is the purpose of your visit?

Zoila Quijada: There are two purposes. One is an organisational one to create the structure of the FMLN in this country seeing that it has a very large community of people from El Salvador. The second objective is to strengthen the bonds of solidarity between the people of El Salvador, of the FMLN with the Latin American community in Australia, to the strengthen the links with the parties of the left and the organisations working in Australia for solidarity with the people of El Salvador and the struggles of the people in Latin America.

G: Could you tell us what effect the revolution taking place in Venezuela is having on El Salvador?

ZQ: The political situation in Venezuela is a very important one at the Latin American level. In Venezuela they are undertaking a revolutionary project and for the FMLN it is a hope, an example for change in Latin America and a source of inspiration to press ahead with the struggle for the political, social and economic transformation of our country.

Venezuela is driving a model of social and economic development which puts the people at the centre of human development. It is pursuing policies which invert the previous distribution of economic resources and social welfare programs. This has been something very important for the development of this society. It takes place in the political context in Latin America of the failure of the governments of the neo-liberal Right in the region. It shows the capacity of governments of the revolutionary Left for the administration of resources and for the work of human development.

G: What can you tell us about the main political developments in El Salvador?

ZQ: What we have in El Salvador is the withdrawal of advances in terms of democratic rights gained in the 13 years since the signing of the Peace Accords. The institutions created with the signing of the Accords to begin this process of democraticisation have come into serious question about the role they are playing the current political culture.

Successive right-wing governments have compromised the Peace Accords and the agreement to make important advances. With ex-President Floris and current President Saca there has been a considerable reversal of the advances we had made in the previous ten years. For example, we had created a new national civil police. Now it is the main body violating human rights in the country. Many of its members are involved in crimes and in delinquent gangs.

The intelligence agencies undertake espionage for the leaders of our government and put at risk the security and the physical wellbeing of FMLN leaders and their families and those of other groups in the social movement.

The Human Rights Commission has received death threats against its members on various occasions. The leader of the FMLN, its historical leader Shafik Handal, has been the target of these activities and two assassination attempts over the last 12 months. On April 28 three deputies of our group from the legislature, including myself, were brutally attacked at an event to support an Ecuadorian doctor being expelled by the government.

Crime is part of the everyday experience in El Salvador. Ten El Salvadorians are assassinated by various means every day in different parts of the country.

G: Has this level of violence and threat affected the protest movement, the "White Marches", or have they been maintained?

ZQ: In El Salvador there is a very deep social and economic crisis. One way the government distracts public opinion is to promote delinquency and these types of crimes because the government is responsible for these crimes taking place every day. The means of mass communication are in the hands of the government and work for the government party by distracting public opinion and publicising the details of the discovery of the bodies of the victims every day. There is a great risk involved because with delinquency so common, it is possible to cover up a political assassination. In the last elections we had four comrades assassinated in various municipalities and their assassins were categorised as common killers.

In the same manner they have attempted to cover up the murder of an El Salvadorian US trade unionist Gilberto Soto who, after being an observer at the elections in our country, returned to our country to help organise the heavy transport sector. Eight days ago the Minister of State declared a deputy of ours an enemy of El Salvador. He declared our deputy Salvador Arias an "undesirable El Salvadorian", a man who days before had been beaten along with other comrades by the national civil police.

The threat to privatise the entire national health system is still present. They are threatening to privatise the distribution of drinking water. They are threatening to privatise the highways and public parks under plans of the Saca government. A major expression of discontent at this was the massive turnout for the demonstrations on May Day.

However, the protests against plans to privatise the drinking water go on in neighborhoods every day. There is mobilisation around demands for the regulation of prices of basic items of consumption like petrol taking place every day. The protests against government policy set down for June 1, the first anniversary of the current president, which will give a great impetus for massive demonstrations across the country.

G: In the protest movement, what role is played by the possibility of a Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA)? Is that prospect bringing more people into the protests?

ZQ: Last Thursday, while I was here in Australia, I was informed that various organisations of civil society had introduced an appeal into the legislative assembly that denounced the approval by the government of the free trade agreement. However, the front line of the struggle against the CAFTA has shifted to the US.

We had two parliamentary deputies including Salvador Arias, by chance in the US at the time, who took part in the debates developing lately around the free trade agreement in the Congress. At the same time we have mobilised the social organisations in an expression of Central American interests to put pressure on these US Senators not to approve this treaty.

G: Is there anything you would like to say to our readers, bearing in mind that our paper goes out to many trade union and community activists, about what we should be doing in solidarity?

ZQ: We would ask you to be with us in this process taking place in El Salvador; to be with us in this struggle alongside the FMLN. We are a revolutionary socialist party, the only one able to guarantee the success of the economic, social and political transformation of El Salvador.

We invite the left parties of Australia to accompany us as observers during the electoral campaign and at the elections to be held in April next year. We want them to join in the denunciation of the neo-liberal policies that have lead to 60 per cent of our people living in conditions of extreme poverty; to request the intervention of the United Nations to observe that this government is not proceeding with the democratic advances initiated with the signing of the Peace Accords.

To our communist comrades we ask them to strengthen the ties of brotherhood and solidarity that characterise revolutionaries and, of course, to support the activities that our committees are carrying out in the cities of this country. During my visit we have created four committees; one in Brisbane, Canberra, Adelaide and Sydney as well as a National Coordinating Committee. This Coordinating Committee has been provided with contacts to establish committees in Perth and Melbourne very soon.

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