Salvadoreans put a brutal past behind them: Maite Rico of El Pais talks to Ruben Zamora, presidential candidate for the FMLN

Click to follow
AFTER 12 years of civil war in which at least 70,000 died, the people of El Salvador will hold their first post-war elections on Sunday. At stake are the presidency, the 84-seat national assembly, 262 local governments and 20 representatives to the Central American regional parliament.

The ruling right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (Arena) is expected to win most votes, ahead of a left-wing coalition of the Democratic Convergence party and the former guerrilla group, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), which laid down its arms in 1992. But if, as looks likely, no party wins more than 50 per cent of the total votes, a run-off between the two leading parties will be held a month later. Votes picked up then from smaller parties could tip the balance either way.

Running to replace the current President, Alfredo Cristiani of Arena, are that party's candidate, Armando Calderon Sol, a 45-year-old lawyer, and Ruben Zamora, 51, also a lawyer and leader of the FMLN's political wing in exile during the civil war years.

Mr Zamora spoke to El Pais in the capital, San Salvador, this week. The following are excerpts from the interview:

Q: How would you evaluate the campaign?

A: For the first time, there have been almost no incidents between the army and opposition parties. Unfortunately, Arena has been using a great deal of verbal aggression, especially in rural areas.

Q: Arena has accused you of bringing war to this country. Why have you not responded?

A: Because their intention is two- fold: to generate fear among the population and to provoke us. And in a campaign of confrontation, we lose everything - the peace process, which is very recent and has to be nurtured - and our very selves.

Q: You have met the businessmen. Are they afraid that you will win?

A: They are worried. But the meeting was cordial and I told them: 'Let's recognise one thing. We and you have not been in the same group and that creates worries. But if we don't understand each other, this country is sunk.' That's the big lesson of the war: no one can take this country ahead alone.

Q: If there is a second round of voting, you have announced a pact with the Christian Democratic Party (PDC). Do you really think that is feasible, given their traditional alliance with Arena?

A: From our point of view, there is no problem. In the PDC, there is a sector that will never vote for us. But I think they are the minority. The chances of an agreement with the party are very high. I have suggested a reciprocal deal: which ever passes to the second round will receive the support of the other.

Q: Armando Calderon appears to be 'harder' than Alfredo Cristiani. US documents have linked him with the so-called death squads. Do you not fear (he) could go back on fulfilment of the peace accords?

A: A return to the situation of the Eighties is as unlikely as us creating a statist socialist government. I think these elections will be defined by a vision of the peace process. There are two distinct visions: Arena went to the peace talks with one sole aim - to end the war. We went with two: to stop the war and put an end to its causes.

Amnesty International called on the El Salvador government yesterday to guarantee the safety of all taking part in the elections this weekend.