[News] University Front of Roque Dalton - National University of El Salvador
news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jun 4 13:46:21 EDT 2009
Interview: Members of University Front of Roque
Dalton from the National University of El Salvador
Written by Erica Thompson
Thursday, 04 June 2009
For the first time in almost 20 years, El
Salvador has reappeared in mainstream headline
news throughout the Americas for two main
reasons: recent electoral victories of the
leftist FMLN party and, conversely, Washingtons
growing domination of Central Americas security
apparatus through the Mérida Initiative and the
El Salvador-based International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA).  
Corporate medias two-dimensional depiction of
Salvadoran youth leads us to believe that most
are caught up in a vicious cycle of gang
violence; it has failed to convey the full
picture, which involves hundreds of youth moving
thousands more into political activism and
shepherding a new generation of leftist thinkers in El Salvador.
After organizing consistently in recent years to
denounce State repression and cost of living
increases imposed by the right wing government,
various youth sectors played an integral role in
the FMLNs presidential campaign and helped the
party secure significant electoral victories at
the polls in January and March of this year.
The Frente Universitario Roque Dalton (FURD) has
been in the forefront of student organizing in
San Salvador. In 2006, the organization endured
an intense fear campaign by the right wing ARENA
(National Republican Alliance) government in 2006
that ordered an attack and invasion of the
University by the National Civilian Police,
branded some FURD members terrorists, and
propagated false claims that students had been
stockpiling weapons at the school.
Formed in 2002, the FURD works with students,
campus workers, and professors to unify these
sectors under the common goal of University
reform. They envision a University that reflects,
critiques, and transforms Salvadoran society. A
compañera and I recently spoke with several
members of the FURD to get a better understanding
of the groups work within the National
University of El Salvador and its vision for the country.
Upside Down World: Tell us first about the purpose of the FURD.
Jackie: The FURD was founded as a means to
organize youth at the University to transform its
goals and purpose. We consider ourselves
autonomous youth, an autonomous organization.
What interests us, as an organization, is the
possibility that the University will return
people to the path of commitment - to a society
that really identifies the University as a place
where people are developing new critiques and
solutions. So our goal is to build an
organization that engages young people who
believe we can change society through our work within the University.
Oswaldo: The FURD is a space we use to analyze,
debate, share, propose and question. We question
the conditions we experience as young people.
Some students come to the University when theyre
17 years old and might study here until the age
of 29 or 30. Thats ten years of study, activism
and social development. We come to this space to
be able to know each other and to explore each
others experiences in society. Later we plan to
create projects that help other youth do the same.
Sonia: We all come from different places and
realities, different conditions. Its really
the FURD is a family. We debate, we
share and we laugh. Many here in the organization
are from different places and have varying
backgrounds that we can put into practice within
the organization. We have a holistic formation
because we take time to understand each other.
Each of us arrived with different motives but
when we came to know the organization, how it
worked and organized, we were able to unify
around similar ideas and a common means of struggle.
UDW: What are some of the critiques your
organization has of the Universitys method and
curriculum and what are some of the changes youre working to implement?
Sonia: Most urgently, the university needs a
change in structure and to develop more creative
programs. I will call it "The Purpose of the
University" for the moment. In fact, the
University should have three main goals on which
it rests all of its stock and its entire policy -
that students receive quality instruction, have
opportunities to do extensive research, and are
given support to do more outreach. In order to
actually achieve this, all of the Universitys
programs or areas of study have to be integrated
and encouraged to give life to the University as
a whole, if it is to serve society. That is the
role of the University, after all.
The University should be geared to meet these
goals and create programs that truly seek the
integration of various perspectives. The
University has to be fairly comprehensive in
terms of the careers it steers people toward.
Every student has something to contribute to
society. To the extent that we succeed in
describing what each program brings to the
University, we achieve a social mission and that
is that we begin to outline a model or proposal
for the University that can help it truly carry out its purpose.
Jackie: One factor that has been forgotten -
because the point is that young people come to
study here - is that the purpose of the
University it is not to merely create
professionals. If one does not truly get involved
at the University, they will not know or be able
to be involved in what is happening in society.
Colleges used to play a very important role in
societal events, not only inside the University
but outside too, nationally. Universities had a
role in solving problems people were experiencing at the time.
Now the University creates professionals who go
out and do nothing more but work. We need to
reawaken the commitment we have to others - not
only to ourselves. Many people have forgotten
that we have to be interested in this country in
its entirety, not just dependent upon the system
for our own needs. Then we only live
superficially and never create a more objective
look into what is happening and consider, as a
young person, what we can truly give to society.
Mauricio: Its true, what this compañera is
saying. When youth enter the University, they
dont understand the importance of solidarity and
social integration; theyre only looking for a
title. So its difficult to organize at the
University and thats why we only receive one
percent of the national budget. This is a very
important factor that hinders the development of
the University. The reality is the market absorbs
people and since private universities have a much
larger budget and are more modernized, we are at
a market disadvantage in competing with them.
UDW: What do you think of the medias portrayal of Salvadoran youth?
Sonia: Its really unfortunate. The media
sensationalizes youth with tattoos and tries to
convince people that the majority of youth live
violent lives or belong to the gangs. I recently
heard about an 18 year-old who went to jail for
killing someone. What is interesting is that this
particular person was a rich kid, an artist. Much
of the violent crime in El Salvador is committed
by upper-class youth but the media doesnt
explore this tendency. Many believe that poor people are to blame.
Jackie: There is no positive media representation
of our communities, the barrios, the
neighborhoods we come from. When they do come to
our communities, they look down upon them. They
claim that our communities are saturated in
violence, danger and drugs. There is very little
space in the media and the public for youth
participation. All of this power is concentrated
in the hands of the Right. When there is a little
space it is because of our own efforts and demands.
Oswaldo: As politically conscious youth, we have
a lot of distractions. Were bombarded with
issues and are also victimized, criminalized and
faced with the threat of violence. There is a lot
of insecurity that threatens us outside of the
University. We can easily be killed. We carry a
lot of fear when were in the street or on the
bus because youth are the main victims of crime
in El Salvador. At the same time we are thought
of as criminals. Random young people without
fault are often blamed for the deaths of
compañer at s, friends and gang members. This is a
very complicated society and rarely does the media shed light on our situation.
UDW: Prior to the elections, El Salvador hosted
two summits exploring the condition of youth both
nationally and regionally. What did you think of
the issues and discussions that were raised?
Jackie: The Youth Summit was solely focused on
students from private colleges and the themes
discussed were far too general. They didnt talk
about the lived reality of the majority of
Salvadoran youth. At no moment did we see a
student from a public institution say, These are
the problems I face. Many students at the
National University have to work AND study and
support our families. Sometimes we dont eat
because we dont have money. We would like to
know why the youth have not been entrusted to be
the directive force of the summits and to put our own issues forward.
Sonia: The regional summit of Latin American
states is always a more formal affair. It is
something that has long been established by Heads
of State to act as a screen for true debate.
There is only one theme the general state of
Latin American youth and we never expect these
discussions to go anywhere. In the University, we
organized what was called an Alternative Summit
in which we discussed several themes that
involved youth and extended this into discussion
about how we can support society in terms of labor, education and culture.
For all of these themes, we tried to generate
debate so that we could create a solid proposal
that would be in the interest of all youth who
live different realities: there are rural youth
who depend on small farming communities, there
are privileged youth who have their lives already
figured out, and there are urban youth who have
to struggle to survive. There should be thorough
research on all of these sectors so that we can
come to an agreement based on the proposals of each.
Mauricio: The organizers of these State-sponsored
summits refuse to invite youth from the National
University or from social movement organizations;
they wont do it because then they would have to
hear our stories and have a critical debate with
us on our issues. Instead, the organizers talk
with youth who might not have a real political
and social consciousness, youth who dont know
the rural reality; nor do they live in San Martin
or other dangerous neighborhoods in urban areas.
Sonia: The summit profiled youth who already have
all their lives planned, whose studies are
guaranteed, and who will live off of large
inheritances. The problem is that they put these
faces out to the world to show that the youth of
El Salvador are doing well. But if they really
came and started to explore our communities, they
would see that many people arent able to access
more advanced education programs. If someone has
only a basic education, they will probably not
work in the formal sector. A youth who only has
studied through ninth grade has little
opportunity; you have to be lawyer, a doctor or a
professor to even be considered for a much smaller position.
So this is the problem: we see ourselves
represented by people who really dont know the
situations of youth in El Salvador. Personally, I
would like to see the State guarantee good
conditions for youth to generate professions. But
if they just parade out these
capitalist-conforming youth, no one will see the
need to create something in which we really have
a space in the culture, in education, in labor. Its just a smokescreen.
Jackie: Few youth organizations exist and there
is far too little support for those groups to
expand their bases. Furthermore, young
Salvadorans, overall, have had very few
opportunities to develop a political analysis.
What often happens is that older generations in
society, including people on the Left, want to
support youth but they also want to impose their
ideas on our thinking, processes and agendas.
UDW: What are some of the challenges you think
the Funes Administration will face in their first term?
Jackie: These elections are historic because they
present a scenario of probable change. As a
social organization we are promoters of this
change. The party, in a certain manner, has been
converted into an instrument of the needs the population.
Social organizations are a very important element
in El Salvadors transition. We are going to be
the promoters of this change the FMLN is
advocating and we will also be the ones to
sustain the change, not those who are at the top
of the party or within the party, the
functionaries or future functionaries. Power
originates in the people, in the social
organizations - not a blind people, rather a
conscious people. Conscious people will channel the transformation.
One challenge that the new government faces is to
truly turn over power to the people so that the
people can defend what they have achieved. The
FMLN must help people to understand how the
consequences weve faced have been generated by
political, economic, and repressive means.
Through an education where people are truly
empowered, the lights wont come from above;
rather the lights from below will rise upwards.
This is a big challenge for the FMLN. Hopefully
they will be able to visualize this.
Sonia: I believe that what the compañer at s have
said really corresponds to the people of each
nation. The people really do have power but we
know how the situation is - that governments
dont give the people the opportunity to lead.
This is one of the challenges that we anticipate
in the case of Mauricio Funes.
The real challenge before the FMLN is to know the
people - to know the real needs - because only
from there can they start to transform society.
If the government doesnt know the people, it
will be really difficult to generate these
conditions, which is what has happened with the
different governments weve had.
We can see that the militant members of the FMLN
have more consciousness because they were part of
the armed conflict and have been through each
part of this long, difficult transition. More
people, little by little, are developing this level of consciousness.
Jackie: Its a project. We needed a good project
and now the FMLN has presented us with one. We
need to be conscious that we can generate change.
UDW: What are the first, most critical issues the
FMLN government should focus on?
Jackie: I think the FMLN should have a few areas
of focus right now. The first proposal the party
highlighted is this idea of returning to
self-sustainability by creating investment in
agriculture and giving us the ability to produce
from the land
for El Salvador to become an
agricultural country. Another idea is to
completely reform education in a way that will
give the new generation of youth the potential to
think differently. This is what I understand to
be the basis of our work for the next couple of
years - to generate sustainability by means of
internal production and to reform the education system.
Sonia: If we have a good, holistic education
system and are self-sustaining, we can generate
work because we will be a producing country once
again. A good educational system, on its own,
will generate much more employment. For example,
we could have more painters, actors, and
ballerinas and open more of these kinds of
opportunities. Our culture would grow again. We
could generate employment by creating art centers
and other places for painters to show and sell
their work; of course we will make social art too.
Not only do we need these new opportunities for
our own culture to emerge but under these
conditions, we will have to avoid other
countries cultures, well, transnational cultures
from coming in. We are going to draw up our own
plans for education and the regeneration of
agriculture - corn, beans, rice, sugar, coffee, all of this.
If we recuperate these agricultural activities,
we will find ways to live sustainably. We are a
country that lives from grains and should not be
exporting them to other countries. Its really a
shame. The platform of the FMLN proposed the
stimulation of the agricultural sector. We can
visualize it but, as we said, it cant be guaranteed without their support.
Finally, we will see what happens in the United
States and what Obamas approach to El Salvador
will be. Will it just be a continuation of the
pattern of U.S. dominance and exploitation?
 Mérida Initiative (or Plan Mexico)
 International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) and FBI in El Salvador
This is Part Five in a series of interviews with
members of the Salvadoran Social movement titled
"What We Want: Voices from the Salvadoran Left."
Erica Thompson is a media correspondent for
CISPES, the Committee in Solidarity with the
People of El Salvador. She can be reached at
<mailto:erica.thompson76 at gmail.com>erica.thompson76 at gmail.com.
To organize with CISPES to stop U.S. intervention
in El Salvador or find more information:
Thank you Amanda Blake and Alexis Stoumbelis for
many hours of work in transcribing this important interview with the FURD.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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