Geovani Galeas and Berne Ayala at first appear to be two engaging men totally outside the journalism and political sectors.
Nevertheless, Messrs.Galeas and Ayala are clearly committed to a project which, among other results, bids fair to be a decisive factor in El Salvador’s elections, due in January and March. They discussed their daunting project with me recently in the country’s capital, San Salvador, over mojitos, rum and plates of finger food.
First, their backgrounds. From 1978 to 1993, Geovani Galeas, alias “Juancito,” was a dedicated, militant radical socialist guerrilla in the ERP (People’s Revolutionary Army), predecessor to the FMLN (Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front). Ernesto Ayala, known to this day by his guerrilla alias “Berne,” was a committed (and seriously wounded) communist guerrilla from 1982 to the end of the civil war in 1992.
Now, as ardent supporters of the democratic process, they have launched a hard-hitting, informative online newspaper, www.centroamerica21.com, fast becoming a must read among politically involved people in the region.
Their special project is nothing less than exposing what they term a genocide committed during El Salvador’s terrible civil war years - what Geovani terms the bloodiest, most numerous cruelty of the long conflict. Messrs. Galeas and Ayala are fully engaged in detailing assassinations by the FMLN of 1,200-1,500 persons between 1986 and 1990. For the better part of a year, they have spoken with family survivors, met with assassins and exhumed graves holding 20 or 30 or more skeletal remains.
“One of the favorite interrogation techniques was to bludgeon presumed enemy spies with wooden clubs,” Mr. Galeas recounted. “They first assaulted their arms and legs, brutally breaking them in futile attempts to get them to talk - futile because they had nothing to confess. Eventually, they realized there was nothing forthcoming and they turned their clubs on the victims’ skulls, beating them until they succumbed.”
These were not ordinary murders; they were committed by guerrillas against other guerrillas on the orders of the commanding general in the San Vicente region, known in the FMLN as El Frente Para Central (The Auxiliary Central Front). What’s more, virtually all the murders were based on unproven hearsay allegations that the victims were Salvadoran military agents trying to undermine the terrorist cause.
Salvadoran military did in fact infiltrate undercover agents into the FMLN, but Geovani Galeas contends all those murdered were eliminated without benefit of a trial and with virtually no substantial evidence.
The commanding general who approved every assassination, with the alias “Leonel Gonzalez,” was none other than Salvador Sanchez Ceren, vice presidential candidate of the FMLN in the country’s March presidential elections. Sanchez Ceren has long been a top FMLN leader and is considered one of the most orthodox hard leftists in the organization, together with party secretary-general Melando Gonzalez, whose terrorist moniker was “Milton.”
“For the first time in all these years,” Mr. Galeas told me, “innocent family members have been able to tell their tragic stories, all of which prove the uncaring nature of the FMLN leadership. But their experiences did not necessarily turn them into ARENA supporters. Although they despise the cruelty of the FMLN leaders and their fighters, most have not ceased believing in leftist causes.”
Veteran local journalist Lafitte Fernandez is one of several with whom I spoke who believe the heretofore unknown role of Sanchez Ceren will be a major issue, once the story becomes widely known. “Sanchez has been practically out of sight, ever since he was nominated,” Mr. Fernandez observed. “They want the presidential candidate, Mauricio Funes, to be the FMLN face, this time, unlike previous elections when the top of the ticket was always a senior terrorist officer.”
FMLN standard bearer Mr. Funes, a well-known former television journalist, has so far masked his strong leftist leanings and insisted on Mr. Sanchez, his running mate, remaining in the shadows. Messrs. Galeas and Ayala - as well as independent observers - believe the revelations of Salvador Sanchez Ceren’s involvement in the slaughter of fellow guerrillas will underscore for Salvadoran voters the ongoing radical orientation of the FMLN.
Former FMLN guerrilla leader Juan Ramon Medrano, for 20 years a feared terrorist known as “Comandante Balta,” told me he had checked with several former FMLN associates, all of whom corroborated the Galeas-Ayala story: “I was not in the immediate vicinity, but everyone including my brother-in-law who was a guerrilla doctor in the area, have confirmed it.”
If, as appears to be the case, Mr. Galeas and Ayala have done their homework thoroughly and if their story gets sufficiently solid coverage, it could create a sea change in the already close legislative/municipal and presidential races, respectively in January and March.
Just four months ago the FMLN’s Funes-Sanchez Ceren ticket appeared to be on the way to a landslide victory, with a 22 percent lead over the ruling ARENA party’s presidential candidate, Rodrigo Avila. But a combination of events has shrunk FMLN’s lead in the March national race to just four points and to less than two points in the January mayoral elections, according to the respected poll sponsored by leading newspaper La Prensa Graphica.
Seasoned analysts with whom I have spoken - who were also aware of the so-termed genocide involving Sanchez Ceren - believe it can be the tipping point that gives victory to ARENA in both the January legislative and municipal, and the March presidential elections. Coupled with a recent poll showing 86 percent of Salvadoran voters are opposed to a government allied by Hugo Chavez, El Salvador could avert being the next red domino in the Venezuelan dictator’s effort to campaign to create a “Bolivarian” socialist Latin America.
John R. Thomson is a geopolitical analyst focusing on developing countries.