CISPES: Challenge of Solidarity

Against the Current, No. 11, November-December 1987

David Finkel

THE LABOR DAY weekend convention of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) was attended by 250 activists from over sixty CISPES chapters and affiliates. As the organizationally most developed of the existing Central America solidarity networks, CISPES plays a dual role in the U.S. anti-intervention movement.

First, CISPES uses its grassroots organization to build mass actions against U.S. intervention in Central America. It energetically threw itself into building the April 25 mobilization and the fall “Days of Decision” actions.

Second, CISPES maintains a focus on El Salvador, particularly in this period. It organizes support and material aid for the popular movement as well as active political solidarity with the political­military revolutionary alliance, the FMLN-FDR.

The 1987 convention resolutions on program and strategy established four key priorities, in ranking order:

• Providing increased direct support for the popular movement in El Salvador;

• Promoting an understanding in the United States of the goals of the FMLN­FDR and its legitimacy as the voice of the Salvadoran people’s struggle for peace and social justice;

• Building opposition to the U.S. war in El Salvador, putting U.S. intervention in the general regional context;

• Promoting an alternative vision and alternative policy statement to be used for challenging and rating candidates in the U.S. elections regarding their positions on Central America.

The convention also voted, as an additional priority, for CISPES to defend its own right to organize and express its views. This was a direct response to incidents in which CISPES and its membership was targeted by the right wing.

“The critical nature of the moment” was a phrase repeated often in convention discussions about the situation in El Salvador. With the new wave of popular organizing, CISPES views its most pressing responsibility as educating the U.S. population through material aid and people-to-people campaigns.

Key to this work is sending North, American delegations to El Salvador.

After all, the presence of North American citizens witnessing the demonstrations and conferences of the unions, peasant organizations and student groups is critically important at a time of new death-squad activity.

For the next period at least, congressional lobbying is to have less strategic and tactical importance. This became clear when a proposal by several leaders of Chicago CISPES gained only marginal support. They had proposed pressuring Congress to cut aid to the Salvadoran regime as a top CISPES priority, equal in importance to supporting the popular movement.

Most CISPES members appear to have concluded, following a major unsuccessful effort in 1986 to cut the $514 million appropriation for El Salvador for fiscal 1987, that congressional pressure is not a viable strategy under present conditions. (In 1988, the figure will rise to more than $700 million.)

Electorally oriented activity has a low priority. There was obvious general sympathy for Jesse Jackson among the delegates, but only about twenty percent voted for a motion from the New York CISPES steering committee arguing for an activist orientation in support of his campaign. CISPES chapters and leaders, as individuals, are free to support Jackson, but the convention voted not to extend an endorsement or devote any of its resources to such activity.

CISPES continues to view anti-intervention activity as strategically important. Like all anti-intervention activists, CISPES members feel passionately about the survival of Nicaragua. At the same time, CISPES as an organization has been increasingly disturbed by the lack of sufficient attention to developments in El Salvador even within the general anti­intervention movement.

The strategy adopted calls for “opposing the U.S. war in El Salvador in a regional context.” This formulation means that CISPES intends to sharply spotlight the specifics of U.S. intervention in El Salvador. In this way, CISPES hopes to deepen the consciousness of a wider sector of the movement to the significance of the Salvadoran struggle

The existence of a strong and strategically coherent organization building solidarity with the Salvadoran revolution is an important component in the overall struggle to stop U.S. intervention in Central America. Out of this concrete and active political solidarity a greater under- standing of the regional dynamics-and need for unity-will emerge.

This was symbolized in the dedication of the CISPES convention to Brian Willson, the Vietnam veteran run down by a weapons train at Concord Naval Base, and Jose Vladimir Centeno, a Salvadoran political prisoner gravely wounded by shrapnel when guards at Mariona prison hurled grenades into sleeping prisoners’ cells.

And it was reflected in greetings to CISPES delegates from the Nicaragua Network, as NN coordinator Debra Reuben remarked: “Solidarity is not what we do for other people; it is the way we reaffirm our own connection to all of humanity. Solidarity is our birthright.”

November-December 1987, ATC 11

Leave a comment

ATC welcomes online comments on stories that are posted on its website. Comments are intended to be a forum for open and respectful discussion.
Comments may be denied publication for the use of threatening, discriminatory, libelous or harassing language, ad hominem attacks, off-topic comments, or disclosure of information that is confidential by law or regulation.
Anonymous comments are not permitted. Your email address will not be published.
Required fields are marked *