Presidential Inauguration of Salvador Sanchez Ceren: From Conquest to Liberation

Eileen Purcell

 San Salvador, El Salvador - We were afraid it would pour rain! But Madre Tierra watched and waited as thousands gathered for the historic presidential inauguration of Salvador Sanchez Ceren and Vice President Oscar Ortiz! The first, a former school teacher, trade unionist, and peace negotiator. The second, a former student. Both former commandantes in the Salvadoran revolution!

Outgoing President Funes, the Salvadoran National Assembly, and the Supreme Court took their places in the front of the gathering. The Archbishop, the Nuncio, the generals, diplomats, dignitaries and the media sat just behind them. Civil Society filled in the rest of the grand pavilion: workers, educators, private enterprise, human rights advocates, and the Mothers of the Disappeared. Madre Guadalupe and her daughter, Tula, came. The locked out workers from the Lido Bakeries, wearing white t-shirt and red caps, were there! Thousands more gathered around televisions, radios, computers, ipads and phones.

Guatemalan indigenous human rights leader and Nobel Peace prize laureat Rigoberta Menchu sat proudly in her traditional indigenous dress . Deposed Honduran President Zalaya’s daughter was there. M*A*S*H star and human rights activist Mike Farrell stood tall. U.S Congressman and immigrant rights advocate Grijalva attended. Former Ambassador William Walker came. And the International Solidarity movement was there in force, including the SHARE Foundation’s 22 person delegation!

Even ARENA, the right wing party defeated by a razor thin margin, came, after debating whether or not to boycott the democratic ritual.

Right and Left poised for the peaceful transition of power.

The Escuela Militar’s honor guard lined the stairway, standing at attention in crisp uniforms emblazoned with EM for the Military School (as opposed to Escuadron de la Muerte – Death Squad). They lifted the razor sharp tips of their sparkling silver bayonets high, a new generation of military. Young men, all born after the Peace Accords ended the 12 year Civil War 22 years ago.

The national symphony played and tremendous applause greeted the thirteen heads of states - Presidents, Prime Ministers, Vice Presidents - who had come to bear witness and bless the historic ascension to power by two former commandantes of the FMLN.

Why historic? Because it is the first time in Latin American history that former revolutionaries have achieved power through the democratic process. The most thunderous acclamation was reserved for Evo Morales, the indigenous President of Bolivia and the Latin American Left.

The spirits were there too!

Revolutionary Aquino Sandino, revolutionary and teacher Melida Anaya Montes, human rights leader Marianella Garcia, teacher and leader Juan Chacon, Monsenor Oscar Romero, Padre Rutilio Grande, Jesuit University rector Ellacu, Celina and Alba, the Disappeared filled the auditorium! Roque Dalton, El Salvador’s national poet was present!

Figure 1 SHARE Foundation Executive Director Jose Artiga standing with cultural worker depicting the Spirit of Aquino Sandino and all who have died in the struggle for liberation at the Presidential Inauguration of Salvador Sanchez Ceren..

Shafik Handal – the great bear of a man who fought the war and gave his all to the peace was present! Jon Cortina – the beloved Jesuit who accompanied the people of Chalatenango during and after the war, searching for their children who were stolen from them in jail and given or sold to families other than their own – was present . Rufina Amaya, the sole survivor of the El Mazote Massacre who lived to tell the story over and over until she died a few years ago, was there, joined by her children and the nearly 1,000 victims slaughtered that day. The 600 men, women and children cut down by those same sparkling bayonets at Las Aradas and the Rio Sumpul were there! Maria Julia Hernandez , the human rights leader and founder of Tutela Legal was present! Sylvia’s Mauricio came! The ancients –The Pipil, Lenca., Mayan, the mud people – were there too!!!

For the long road “from Madness to Hope” was reaching a crossroads of unprecedented proportion!.*

Loss, suffering and grief gave way to hope and possibility, challenges notwithstanding! The trajectory from conquest to liberation  moved another notch forward on the timeline of history.

And mother earth waited!

Bearing witness to the unfolding conversation in the pavilion. A confrontation, a political debate, a give and take between old adversaries - right and left, rich and poor, north and south – in a global context full of risk and promise.

Figure 2 Presidential Inauguration of Salvadoran President Sanchez-Ceren, June 1, 2014

El Salvador remains terribly polarized, wracked by poverty and violence, the legacy of war and the neoliberal project. But the people – el pueblo – are engaged, politically conversant, and determined to advance the delicate and messy process of democracy. The aspiration for social justice is palpable. The organization is deep. The collective voice demanding basic human rights and dignity strong.

When two ARENA assemblymen turned their backs to outgoing President Funes as he extended his hand to each member of the Executive Board of the Assembly the pavilion erupted with boos swiftly followed y a deafening chant of “Funes, Funes, Funes, Funes!”

When the conservative Opus Deis Archbishop Escobar Alas walked to the podium to render the opening invocation, a solitary voice range out, “Monsenor Romero!” rejoined by 5,000 voices exclaiming PRESENTE!” The people’s reminder to the prelate that though he took it upon himself to dismantle Tutela Legal (the single largest repository of files documenting human rights violations from the war) and to tear down or paint over murals and mosaics of Oscar Romero in the cathedral and churches, this beloved martyr lives on. Or as he, Romero, prophesized, “If they kill me, I will rise in the Salvadoran people.“

When the right wing dominated Supreme Court was introduced, the people booed.

When the blue sash was placed upon Sanchez Ceren the pavilion exploded in applause.

The new President acknowledged that the election of his government was made possible by “our heroes and martyrs … visionary people who gave their lives and dreamed of a country with democracy.” He renewed his campaign pledge to honor austerity, efficiency and transparency. He underscored the importance of a fully engaged citizenry not only in the political process but in the economy, culture, and social structures. He called for a politics and economy of inclusion! He emphasized the shared roots, history and challenges faced by the region and the importance of the Salvadoran diaspora, especially in the United States. He repeated his belief that “Solo unidos podemos a crecer!”(Only united can we grow!) and “Together we will break the cycle of poverty.” “We are one people, one country…El Salvador is for everyone.” He affirmed that just as we must preserve our historical memory, we must move forward together, overcoming fear and hate.

Figure 3 Swearing In of President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, June 1, 2014

Following his address and the closing prayer by an Evangelical pastor, school children streamed down the red carpet singing! Their sweet voices a clarion call for true peace based on love, power and justice. Each wore a white and blue uniform with a sky blue sash across their chest, a replica of the presidential sash usually reserved exclusively for the President! A powerful symbol that authentic power emanates from the people – and those who act on their behalf must do so to advance a society that supports all, especially the children!

Figure 4 Salvadoran school Children wearing a replica of the Presidential Sash, sing the closing song at the Presidential Inauguration, June 1, 2014

Later in the streets, thousands more gathered in the central plaza, singing and dancing. Red FMLN flags whipped in the wind. And still, mother earth waited! Young people, old people rejoiced together.

Figure 5 People celebrating the inauguration of President Sanchez Ceren

That night, our SHARE delegation gathered and reflected on what we had witnessed:

  • The power of the spirits whose presence softened our grief and filled our hearts with hope and strength!
  • The conversation: a people who has lived through a brutal war asserting the political will to engage the past, present and future and to continue the struggle!
  • Solidarity: the gift of standing with the people of El Salvador and her martyrs.
  • Faith and Hope: the enduring faith and hope that lives in these people no matter the suffering, the pain, the loss, the grief, rooted in the beloved community to which we are invited.
  • Accompaniment: the power of the beloved community across borders, generations, and time.

And then, the skies opened and a torrent of rain drenched the parched earth. Thunder roared his approval and Lightening lit up the sky with fireworks to mark the occasion. Like a Baptism, the people blessed the new government and pledged their support to create a new society , an inclusive economy and social justice.

The trees sang! The Ceibas – the sacred tree of the Maya - opened their arms to us!

And Jose Artiga, the leader of the SHARE Foundation and un hijo meritoso sent, us on our way to share the story, to multiply like the stars in the heavens as we build the solidarity, and to help write the next chapter !

*From Madness to Hope, The 12 Year War In El Salvador, A Report by the Truth Commission for El Salvador, United Nations, San Salvador & New York, 1992-1993.

Eileen Purcell served on the SHARE Board of Directors (1983-1992) and then as Executive Director ( 1986-1992). She currently works as a labor organizer with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1245. She was a member of the SHARE Presidential Inauguration of 2014.