[News] University Front of Roque Dalton - National University of El Salvador

Anti-Imperialist News 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, Washington’s 
growing domination of Central America’s security 
apparatus through the Mérida Initiative and the 
El Salvador-based International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA). [1] [2]

Corporate media’s 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 FMLN’s 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 group’s 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 they’re 
17 years old and might study here until the age 
of 29 or 30. That’s ten years of study, activism 
and social development. We come to this space to 
be able to know each other and to explore each 
other’s 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. It’s 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 University’s method and 
curriculum and what are some of the changes you’re 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 University’s 
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: It’s true, what this compañera is 
saying. When youth enter the University, they 
don’t understand the importance of solidarity and 
social integration; they’re only looking for a 
title. So it’s difficult to organize at the 
University and that’s 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 media’s portrayal of Salvadoran youth?

Sonia: It’s 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 doesn’t 
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. We’re 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 we’re 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 didn’t 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 don’t eat 
because we don’t 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 won’t 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 don’t 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 aren’t 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 don’t 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. It’s 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 Salvador’s 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 we’ve faced have been generated by 
political, economic, and repressive means. 
Through an education where people are truly 
empowered, the lights won’t 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 
don’t 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 doesn’t know the people, it 
will be really difficult to generate these 
conditions, which is what has happened with the 
different governments we’ve 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: It’s 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. It’s really a 
shame. The platform of the FMLN proposed the 
stimulation of the agricultural sector. We can 
visualize it but, as we said, it can’t be guaranteed without their support.

Finally, we will see what happens in the United 
States and what Obama’s approach to El Salvador 
will be. Will it just be a continuation of the 
pattern of U.S. dominance and exploitation?

[1] Mérida Initiative (or Plan Mexico)

[2] 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.

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