Desocialisting El Salvador
An article in La Prensa Grafica of El Salvador (Voceros de Bukele denuncian bloqueo en la transicion) caught my attention the other day. The spokesmen of Salvadoran President-elect Nayib Bukele were complaining that their efforts to create a smooth transition prior to his inauguration were being stymied by party members of the leftist FMLN (Frente Farabundo Marti para la Liberacion Nacional). The outgoing administration of Salvador Sanchez Ceren is resisting Bukele’s New Ideas party’s request to have him take the oath of office in a public square and have countered with an offer to hold the ceremony in the “Blue Salon.” Further, they contend that the FMLN is trying to pack ministries and government unions with party adherents and relatives.
This comes on top of the scandal of ALBA Petroleos and its affiliates. For those of you that do not closely follow the goings on in Latin America, ALBA is the acronym for the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America, an alliance and trade partnership dreamed up by Hugo Chavez and funded by Venezuelan oil (which is one of the many reasons for the current sad condition of that poor country). The FMLN wanted El Salvador to be part of ALBA and ALBA Petroleos was one of the mechanisms that the FMLN hoped would take the country ever further to the left.
ALBA Petroleos got Venezuelan oil at discounted prices and sold it to local oil and gas distribution companies as well as their own ALBA gas stations at world prices, pocketing the difference. The money went to the FMLN and its causes but also was used to buy or create companies in other industries such as aviation, medicines and food distribution and use the Venezuelan subsidies to drive out the competition (along with lining the pockets of important party members).
Nayib Bukele used to be a member of the FMLN, but when he tried to advance in the party he was blocked by the old guard of former guerrillas who still wanted to control the party and the country. The FMLN was about to oust him for not licking the boots of the old guerrillas but he did the Salvadoran equivalent of “you can’t fire me, I quit” and formed his own party, New Ideas.
By this time your head is probably swimming with all the intricacies of Salvadoran politics (of which I have given you only a brief summary). And while, for the cognoscenti, the details are quite juicy, they are not key to the theme of this essay. There are two themes to this essay, 1) democratic socialists are only democratic until they gain power, and 2) socialists in power are just as venal and corrupt as any corporate CEO or politician in a capitalist society. The plight of El Salvador is a good example of both themes.
The FMLN never had a strong mandate nor a charismatic leader as did Hugo Chavez’s PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela) or Evo Morales’ Movement toward Socialism (MAS). The first FMLN president was Mauricio Funes who wasn’t even an efemenelista – he was a television news announcer. His successor was old-line guerilla Salvador Sanchez Ceren who had about as much charisma as a dead toad. But even though the FMLN controlled the presidency they never had a majority in the Legislative Assembly where the left-wing FMLN and right-wing ARENA parties each controlled about 40 per cent with the rest being minor parties. Plus the Salvadoran constitution requires a super majority for numerous actions (such as issuing debt instruments) such that the legislature could rarely take decisive action.
Without the strong initial mandate such as those of Chavez and Morales (and other left-wing regimes) the FMLN could not alter the constitution and make the other institutional changes that would guarantee their continuity in power as happened in Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and others. El Salvador may not have the checks and balances essential to US democracy but in their case legislative gridlock served just as well.
Blocked legislatively from extending their control over the country, the FMLN utilized the funds available through ALBA Petroleos to try and subvert society. The entity was supposed to be a “mixed” corporation serving both economic and societal purposes. However, this just meant that it was controlled by politicians and its operations were opaque (you can say what you will about American corporations but their objective is clear). They attempted to drive out or buy out competitors, not to create monopolistic profits, but to convert El Salvador into a politically driven economy.
Initially successful, ALBA Petroleos became bogged down by corruption and inefficiency. They have never been audited and operate as a black box with obscure ownership and no accounting of where the profits go. As Venezuela collapses, ALBA Petroleos’ source of funding diminishes and the company appears to be collapsing just like its sponsor.
And the unaudited black box ALBA Petroleos is rife with corruption and the company and its leaders sanctioned by the US Treasury Department for money laundering and other crimes along with its sponsor the Venezuelan PDVSA and its Nicaraguan sister company Albanisa. Albanisa’s corrupt proceeds are funneled directly to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega making the former communist the richest man in the country.
So when Bernie, Ocasio-Cortez and Elizabeth Warren tell you that American social democracy will be different don’t drink the Kool-Aid. Socialism combines government power with an inability to reform which is tailor made for power hungry evil doers. Mauricio Funes (hiding out in Nicaragua) is already being investigated for stealing $351 million from the government and I believe that the administration of Salvador Sanchez Ceren will be equally tainted. The FMLN failed to establish socialism in El Salvador because their oil-based sugar daddy is, itself, collapsing.
So El Salvador appears to have dodged the socialist bullet. And President-elect Bukele has has set forth all the right principles in his stated platform. But keep in mind that Bukele was previously FMLN and he joined with the party of former president Tony Saca (already in jail for pilfering public coffers of $246 million) in order to get on the ballot. El Salvador’s times of trial may not be over yet. We will just have to wait and see.
And while we’re at it:
Many Millennials believe that socialism is the perfect economic and political system. It may be a perfect system but not for imperfect human beings. Ant and bees seem to have a perfect form of socialism. Their colonies practice what is called eusociality where the workers are sterile and work to support the colony and its reproductive queen. Despite the anthropomorphic cartoons about such insects, these insects have no self-awareness, no personality and no desire but to serve the colony.
Human beings are much messier than bees or ants. We do have self-awareness, personality and our own, and often very different, desires. We are also not sterile (at least most of us). And that makes socialism a problem.
Socialism is not a particularly good economic or political system. The goal of a socialist system is not the production of goods or the freedom of the individual. Its primary goal is equality and so economic activity and freedom must be sacrificed to the goal of equality. The goal of communism (according to Marx) is not only the elimination of the exploitation of the worker but the elimination of property. But what is the motivation to work if you have nothing you can call your own. Not what you produce. Not your home. Not even the clothes on your back. Nothing. You work only for the colony – ooops, I mean the state and the other people living in the state. This is what they mean when they say, “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.”
But human beings aren’t made that way. Some people live to serve others, at least some of the time, but they also have their own needs. Most people are willing to help others but still want to have something for themselves and their families. Working under socialism isn’t like volunteering at the homeless shelter. It is endless drudgery.
And when you don’t want to work for the faceless masses and want to produce something with your own hands that you can have pride in the state will come and say, “no, you must produce what we say because it is all part of the five year plan.” If you resist the state will use its power to make you do the work it wants you to do. And if you further resist you will be sent to a re-education camp to convert you into the perfect “Communist Man” or something worse.
This is why socialist states have murdered so many millions of people. People that do not conform the demands of the state perform no social or economic function and therefore must be eliminated.
What’s so great about equality, anyway? Equality didn’t make your iPhone. Equality didn’t make your Tesla. Or a Picasso. Or a Van Gogh. Or the Sistine Chapel. Equality didn’t create the richest most prosperous society in the world. What’s so great about equality. Envying other people for their success is venal (it is one of the deadly sins). Envy destroys the envier rather than the envied.
The futile search for equality (and its partner in infamy – fairness) has destroyed much more than it has created. That is why socialism is doomed to fail – after much death and misery.