Courtesy Reuters

El Salvador's Forgotten War

Washington paid no attention when the Salvadoran Communist Party split in 1969 in a bitter dispute over whether to lead an armed uprising. In El Salvador, a tiny country dominated by a vitriolically anticommunist army and oligarchy, the revolutionary aspirations of the Salvadoran Communist Party chairman, Salvador Cayetano Carpio, sounded like a hot-headed fantasy. But Carpio had reason to believe in the armed future he foresaw. Today, two decades later, his prescient dream of insurrection has come true.

It was no easy feat to spark a revolution in El Salvador. Carpio's own Communist Party was so cautious that it expelled him for militaristic "adventurism." Undaunted, Carpio reportedly traveled to North Vietnam to study how a Marxist-Leninist party could organize disgruntled students, peasants and workers into a punishing political-military movement capable of leading a revolution to defeat a corrupt local government and end the political dominance of the United States. El Salvador had long been home to a communist party and active workers' organizations, even though the army almost destroyed the party in 1932 when it massacred at least 10,000 people to crush a communist-led peasant insurrection against the landowning oligarchy. Carpio and a handful of followers found fertile ground for new revolutionary war. Six years ago, Carpio committed suicide after losing a characteristically bloody internal power struggle. But his revolutionary vision more than outlived him.

Today El Salvador is wracked by a crippling civil war pressed by the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), formed in 1980 and named for the leader of the Communist Party executed by the army in 1932. Four of the five Marxist rebel groups that make up the FMLN were organized either by communist dissidents or by independent young Marxists who refused to enter what they saw as an ossified party subservient to Moscow. Eventually even the reticent communists felt forced to join the new generation of rebels in the FMLN or risk being left behind forever.

The Salvadoran guerrillas are now the best-trained, best-organized and most committed Marxist-Leninist rebel movement

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