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Salvadoreans: still hope for democracy

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''I don't believe it's too late to find a political solution to the conflict here,'' says Julio Adolfo Rey Prendes, the gravelly voiced secretary-general of El Salvador's Christian Democratic Party.

''No one can finally say what it is they are fighting for,'' he says. ''No one knows the future, and because of this we have hope.''

Mr. Prendes, like many of those close to Christian Democratic presidential candidate Jose Napoleon Duarte, wants many of the people who turned their backs on the political system here and joined the insurgent movement to come back into the Salvadorean government.

Many of the leaders of the Democratic Revolutionary Front, the political arm of the guerrilla movement, were once proteges of Prendes and Duarte.

The Christian Democrats rarely condemn their colleagues for joining the insurgent forces and often recall them with warmth, even with admiration. Prendes himself was forced underground to operate what he calls ''the Party of the Catacombs'' from 1977 to 1979. Duarte spent eight years in exile after participating in an abortive 1972 coup.

''Guillermo Ungo,'' Prendes says, referring to the president of the Democratic Revolutionary Front, ''is a man who believes very deeply in democracy. One hopes if we can build a legitimate democratic government, Ungo and those around him can come back into the country to participate.''

Prendes speculates that Ungo and some others in the Democratic Revolutionary Front are being ''used'' by the five guerrilla commanders who make up the leadership of the Faribundo Marti National Liberation Front. (The revolutionary front is the political arm and the FMLN the military arm of the Salvadorean rebel movement.)

''The FMLN is made of Marxists who need the veneer of democracy to legitimize their attempts to grab power,'' he says. ''If they win a military victory, Guillermo Ungo will be lucky to get a visa back into the country.''

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