Communists Realize Power In El Salvador El Salvador's former leftist guerrillas have managed to achieve something at the ballot that they never could win at the end of a gun — power.

Communists Realize Power In El Salvador

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

This week, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN, won the presidential election in El Salvador. The former Marxist rebels who fought a guerilla war from 1980 to 1992 are the first leftist party to come to power in the country's history. The FMLN is a coalition of left-wing groups, but it's dominated by the Communist Party.

One of the biggest questions after the FMLN victory is how far to the left the president-elect, Mauricio Funes, will move El Salvador. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports.

(Soundbite of demonstration)

JASON BEAUBIEN: El Salvador at times appears to be stuck in the Cold War. As supporters of the FMLN celebrated their electoral victory, the streets of San Salvador filled with people in red T-shirts waving red FMLN flags. Meanwhile, the anthem for the ARENA Party, which has held power for the last 20 years, is about stomping out the Communists.

(Soundbite of music)

BEAUBIEN: The ARENA theme song declares that El Salvador will be the tomb where the Reds are wiped out. The Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front took up arms in 1980 against the government over the huge and seemingly intractable disparities in wealth in El Salvador. The Reagan administration jumped into the Cold War conflict, spending billions of dollars to fight the Marxist guerillas, while Cuba and other communist states backed the FMLN.

In the just-completed election campaign, ARENA continued to paint the political landscape in El Salvador as one that pits freedom against communism. One of their primary slogans was Libertad, si; Comunismo, no. Raymundo Calderon Moran(ph), the chair of the humanities department at the University of San Salvador, says the Communist Party has deep roots in the country.

Mr. RAYMUNDO CALDERON MORAN (University of San Salvador): (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: The Communist Party, he says, has always tried to influence Salvadoran society and politics.

Mr. CALDERON MORAN: (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: The majority of the urban unions, Calderon adds, were founded by the Communist Party. And thus, the Communists remain the most significant power brokers among the political left in El Salvador. The president-elect, Mauricio Funes, however, doesn't come from the communist wing of the FMLN, nor does he come from the ranks of the former guerillas. Calderon Moran says Mauricio Funes ran on the FMLN ticket in a marriage of convenience.

Mr. CALDERON MORAN: (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: The FMLN needs Mauricio, Calderon Moran says, just as Mauricio needs the FMLN.

Amidst the dyed-in-the-wool Marxists of the FMLN, Funes, who's a former journalist, is way off to the right, yet to ARENA he's considered way off to the left. During the campaign, Funes deliberately kept his distance from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and other left-wing leaders. Despite this, some conservatives in the U.S. warned that a win by the FMLN in this tiny country of 7 million people would be disastrous for the continent.

Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher called the FMLN a proterrorist, left-wing ally of Iran and al-Qaida, and threatened to cut off remittances from Salvadorans working the States if Funes won.

(Soundbite of kitchen)

BEAUBIEN: At a small cafeteria in San Salvador, pork chops, tomatoes and onions are sizzling on the grill. Twenty-three-year-old Yohan Danier Enriquez(ph) works as a busboy in the restaurant. He lost both his parents as a teenager, and his brother, who works in the kitchen of a casino in Las Vegas, has been supporting him ever since.

Mr. YOHAN DANIER ENRIQUEZ (Busboy): (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: Remittances sustain Salvadoran families, he says. People depend on them. There aren't many other sources of income for people here.

Danier Enriquez earns $150 a month working full time in this restaurant. His brother, working in Las Vegas, sends him another $400 a month, which allows him to pay for night school.

Mr. DANIER ENRIQUEZ: (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: He says the money from his brother pays his tuition, his utilities, his rent.

Cash sent home to El Salvador from migrants working almost exclusively in the U.S. rivals exports as the country's largest source of revenue. Danier Enriquez says he doesn't expect Funes to swing the country to the far left, but he says he does worry that the U.S. might try to block money flowing South.

Rohrabacher and several other congressional representatives have stated that such a cut of remittances is inevitable as a result of the FMLN victory. The State Department, however, has taken a different position and was even running ads in San Salvador ahead of the election, stating that the Obama administration would support whoever wins the contest.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News.

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