Readership Response to Open Letter on El Salvador

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The Readership Response

In the intent of scholarly debate, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs is continuing the dialogue over U.S.-Salvadoran policy and the role of the FLMN in the upcoming election in that country. We invite further expressions by various points of view on this subject.
Larry Birns
Director of COHA

By Paolo Luers

John L. Hammond
[email protected]

San Salvador, December 12, 2008
Dear John Hammond:

Probably you don’t remember me, but we met in the eighties, I imagine in New York. Or was it in México, Managua, or San Salvador, on a fact finding mission of yours? You did fact finding back then, didn’t you?

Doesn’t matter. But we met. You being a left wing scholar supporting revolutionary causes in Latin America, me being a German writer turned Salvadoran guerrilla visiting the U.S. to seek support. I was Paolo Martin back then and worked out of the N.Y. based El Salvador Video Project.

Don’t worry, John, I also forgot about you. Until I found your name in the long list of American scholars subscribing an obscure document named ‘OPEN LETTER FROM U.S. ACADEMICS ON SALVADORAN ELECTIONS’ recently published by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.

I single you out because you are the only one out among the more than hundred academics signing that letter I happen de know or remember to know personally. That’s why I’m answering you and not Noam Chomsky who I would imagine receives too much fan post from Latin American revolutionaries to be able to read my letter of dissent.

Somebody has to tell you guys that the war we fought in El Salvador is over. We laid down our arms in 1992, and so did the death squads. We were not defeated, as you probably know. We were strong enough to negotiate the dissolution of death squads, security forces and counterinsurgency battalions before we laid down arms. We were not stupid or suicidal. There have been some political killings committed by both sides in the last 16 years, but very few and isolated. The last ones I know of were committed by a FMLN activist taking an M15 to an opposition rally and shoot two police officers, ironically both of them from families known to have supported the guerrillas during the war.

Somebody also has to tell you guys to be more careful before signing letters. All of you are scholars. Last time I checked, scholars are people who investigate, people who know how to keep critical distance from their sources. Just because organizations like CESPAD (Foundation for the Study of the Application of the Law) or the legal department of the Archbishopric of San Salvador say so, we don’t have a resurgence of right wing death squads in El Salvador. Why don’t you do what scholars are supposed to do and investigate before making and publishing politically biased misjudgments like you did in the Open Letter?

Of course we have a serious violence problem in El Salvador. We have gangs killing peaceful neighbors. We have gang members killing members of rival gangs. And we have vigilante groups and police officers killing gang members. Not to talk about narco induced violence. What we don’t have is a serious problem with political violence, because both right and left wing parties know that it would be political suicide to support or tolerate political violence.

Somebody has to tell you guys that the FMLN you knew and supported during he war doesn’t exist anymore. That was an alliance of all different kind of leftist movements, and that’s why it was so strong and couldn’t be defeated. That alliance doesn’t exist anymore, even though part of it managed to keep the name and the flag of that once glorious movement.

Today’s FMLN will probably tell you that who is writing you this letter and half of the ex guerrilla commanders and fighters have become traitors who have sold out to the right and to imperialism. As a scholar and as a progressive person you should be cautious with that kind of name calling. People have been executed by their comrades for less than that.

Even if your sources would never admit it, there is a left in El Salvador opposed to what today is called FMLN. As there is in Nicaragua a left opposed to Daniel Ortega and in Venezuela a left opposed to lieutenant colonel Hugo Chávez.

Just because the FMLN candidate says so, doesn’t make it true that there is an electoral fraud in the making in El Salvador. Maybe the FMLN is going to win the elections, maybe not. There are a lot of reasons for Salvadoran voters to end 19 years of ARENA government. There are also a lot of reasons for Salvadoran voters to keep the FMLN out of power. For the majority, this is a very difficult decision.

For the FMLN candidate, who is supposed to be a moderate, to travel the world saying that the only way to keep him from winning is by fraud, is a very dangerous and irresponsible thing to do. For American scholars and progressive intellectuals to repeat it without any kind of fact checking, is simply embarrassing.

You are right to be concerned about El Salvador – and you have the right to say so clear and loudly. Some of your arguments are valid, others are very irresponsible and misleading, especially what you say about political violence in El Salvador.

Some of you guys aren’t able or willing to see political violence when it’s hitting the people next to you, like in Nicaragua or Venezuela. How dare you not speaking out about politically motivated violence committed by the FSLN in Nicaragua – and at the same time repeat FMLN propaganda about death squads in El Salvador? How can you call yourself a scholar and a leftist being so blind to authoritarianism when it comes from the left?

Never will I forget the solidarity and the support we received from thousand of intellectuals in the US when we were fighting our war for democracy, social justice and self determination in El Salvador. That’s why I can’t help but dissent when I read intellectually and politically unsustainable open letters like the one you signed without knowing what you talking about. Dear John Hammond, in the name of the common cause we discussed one day more than 20 years ago, don’t do that to yourself. Don’t do that to the left.

Yours, Paolo Luers

El Salvador to your attention.
by Jose Rene Escolan

December 15 th, 2008
To: Mr. William C. Powers Jr.
The University of Texas at Austin

It is with deep sorrow and disappointment that I found the name of our University having undersigned an “Open Letter from U.S. Academics on Salvadoran Elections” This letter from the Council of Hemispheric Affairs, that has been circulated widely on the web regards the coming electoral processes in our country, El Salvador (attached).

And should it not matter that the name of The University of Texas at Austin has been used by individuals who do not necessarily reflect the official position of “academics” of our Alma Mater.

And yes, deep sorrow, because these opinions fuel fires of electoral violence on the left with unacceptable cries of “fraud” and “intervention”, when the results of these electoral processes might not go in the direction intended by those who still dream of a world of “peace and love, and equality”. A world that we also dream of, but that reality has taught us that human nature is different and that all communist experiments to change reality have eventually succumbed. How sad that Mr. Charles Hale and Mr. Arturo Arias, past presidents of the Latin American Studies Association of our University, signing the letter, are among these minds.

And yes, disappointing because it expresses an uninformed, unjustified, politically biased and ingenuous opinion of the realities of our countries and of the world we live in, brought up by leftist regimes that openly display democratic principles to get to power, but afterwards also openly leave them behind based on the “rights” of the poor to do what ever is necessary to overcome the “exploitation” of the rich… What a sad and outdated thinking that brings no contribution to the progress and betterment of our societies.

And yes, I DO understand the struggles of our societies and that is why I have been working and not just talking about them, and as past Under Secretary of Housing and Urban Development of our country, and current President of the National Housing Fund that works for the lowest bases of income, I know what I’m talking about, and with due respect would invite this two academic members of the Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies (LLILAS) to look for an informed and constructive opinion from a Longhorn Alumni, and other alumni as well, who live and bleed in El Salvador, before signing these harmful opinions that raise flags that will make things worst in our countries.

Dear Charles Hale and Arturo Arias, sure it is nice to dream of a better world when your pay check from an “academic” job is assured every month. Wish you were here with us, who have to sweat every month hunting for the salaries of those who work for us, spending long nights without sleep when business is not producing enough… Yes, I also wish I could do much better with my people, and kiss peace and love to all around me, but that is not how the world runs. To finish, Charles and Arturo, next time you go to an American Starbucks and pay three dollars for a cup of coffee, remember that ONLY 6 CENTS of that cup pays for salaries of those poor people that collect those grains for your own pleasure… Are we the “rich, educated and successful” the ones to blame for the poorness and inequalities of our world down here? And no, you are not the ones to tell us how to run our countries.

God bless you and bless us all.

Hook´em Horns.

Jose Rene Escolan
BA Architecture with High Honors, 1974.
The University of Texas at Austin

This letter, has been slightly edited by COHA for reasons of length and clarity