Latino Politics & the Rainbow

Against the Current, No. 15, July/August 1988

interview with Angela Sanbrano

ANGELO SANBRANO IS the executive director of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES). At its September 1987 national convention, CISPES adopted a non-partisan policy toward the 1988 elections with the understanding that members were free to support candidates of their choice. Angela Sanbrano is a supporter of Latinos for Jackson. David Finkel, an editor of ATC and Central America solidarity activist, interviewed her in early May, prior to the Callifornia primary.

Against the Current: Can you start by describing Latinos for Jackson and the origins of this effort? And how wide is Jackson’s Latino support?

Angela Sanbrono: Latinos for Jackson came out of the 1984 presidential campaign and is based primarily in the major cities like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.

This time around, it’s dear that Jackson has done much better in getting support from the Latino community. In New York, for example, for the first time in the history of any campaign, all the elected Latino officials supported one candidate: Jackson. He has also gathered a lot of support from Latinos in Texas and Los Angeles. The reason is that he’s talking about the issues that affect the Latino community: education, jobs, health and immigration, but he’s also saying that we have to respond to those needs by reducing the military budget. That money can be used in concrete alternative ways that make sense to people.

This is reflected also in the support he gets from labor-from workers, I mean-especially those who have lost their jobs to plant closings, and from farmers who have lost their lands. He puts forward that it’s not workers from Latin America but the runaway corporations that are taking those jobs away.

He is able to articulate issues so that people can relate to them. I think for Latino people, that’s the key thing. Traditionally Latinos have been relatively apathetic, if you will, to the electoral system, because no one really addressed the issues. Latinos involved in politics understand what it means that there’s an alternative that makes sense. That has to happen because there’s a crisis in the Latino community that no one is addressing-except Jackson.

All the other candidates support the existing structure. They say we need to strengthen the social programs, but they don’t say how we’re going to do it.

Jackson has also been able to generate a lot of interest among many people-I would say this goes for the progressive community as well as Latinos-who had given up on the two-party system. He has created enthusiasm about joining the Democratic Party, and these people are now coming back to it after a number of years.

ATC: That’s an interesting point, since it’s also widely argued on the left that the Jackson campaign might lead to a break away from the Democratic Party. Which dynamic do you see: toward or away from the Party?

A.S.: I think that one of the most significant aspects of the Jackson campaign is that it challenges the two-party system, because the Democrats have to recognize the strength of the popular vote Jesse Jackson has brought into the presidential election.

If the Democrats don’t offer him what he has legitimately earned, people will question the willingness of the Democratic Party to respond to a significant sector that has given the Democrats the benefit of the doubt, or to respond to the interests of the majority of the people.

So I think that’s going to be an interesting issue at the convention. If the Party doesn’t respond to Jackson in a principled way, it will be interesting to see what happens with these new people and the progressive movement in this country; it would certainly set the basis for questioning the Democrats and the whole two-party system.

ATC: It now seems likely that Jackson will go to the convention strong, but not having as many delegates as Dukakis, so he couldn’t claim the right to the nomination in that sense. Assuming that scenario, what would you like to see him get for himself and his base?

A.S.: A significant influence on the platform of the Democratic Party so that it will include some of the positions he has taken, which are the basis for his strong support in the Latino community.

Also, he could influence the selection of people for key seats in the Cabinet. For example, in the area of foreign policy, he could have considerable influence in selecting the secretary of state. I don’t think it would be a bad thing either for him to be offered and accept the vice-presidential nomination.

But if he comes out with none of those things, people of color, women, gays and other locked-out people, will begin to wonder whether they can ever win that kind of position within the Democratic Party.

ATC: Doesn’t it appear that the rest of the Democratic Party is moving in exactly the opposite direction from Jackson, away from the concerns of all the sectors you’ve mentioned and toward the so-called moderate center, that is, the right?

A.S.: I think that’s true. The rest of the Democrats as Jackson has put it, are moving in the same direction as the Republicans, only a little slower.

Thus Jackson rejects the Cold War, the East-West argument as the basis for foreign policy. This means a re-assessment and fundamental change in the direction of foreign policy. If you reject that Cold War conception, you have to look at the world differently, and that would have an effect on the regional wars.

Another thing he talks about is the concept of self-determmation, that we have to respect the sovereignty of Third World countries. None of the other candidates addressed this issue, except recently Dukakis has begun to since he sees Jackson getting a strong response. But Jackson offers very different positions — for strong sanctions against South Africa, no contra aid, no military or war-related aid to El Salvador or Guatemala, and a strong human rights requirement for getting U.S. money.

That would logically mean having to look at Korea, Israel, the Philippines. It would be a great change.

ATC: Has he specifically discussed aid to Israel? There’s some feeling that he has retreated on some of these issues.

A.S.: He supports, for example, recognition of the Palestinians. He hasn’t said he would cut aid to Israel, but he says he would encourage negotiations between Israel and Palestine for an independent Palestinian state. He has indicated that U.S. policy could include an option of cut-off if Israel didn’t want to move toward negotiations. The present situation is just not acceptable.

In some cases I think he’s been quoted out of context. In one situation he was asked whether he would talk with Arafat and it was claimed that he said no. But a letter he wrote clarified that position; and the statement he had made was taken out of context.

But in many instances he’s been forced to move his position to a more moderate one than he himself would have, because he doesn’t want to alienate a significant sector of the Democratic Party. He’s trying to gain support from labor, which isn’t the most progressive sector-the AFL-CIO, I mean. So his own positions are more progressive than he can put out. He’s forced to make concessions. But given where the other candidates are, he has much better positions.

ATC: What are the details of his policy toward Central America, especially El Salvador? I’m sure you follow this closely, but it’s not well publicized in the media.

A.S.: An article in the May 1 Washington Post talked about some of his policies. It’s clear he would cut off all U.S. assistance to the contras in Nicaragua; he would open negotiations with the Nicaraguan government. He has specifically said that he would cut off war-related aid to the governments of El Salvador and Guatemala.

In the regional context I believe he would begin to move toward negotiating solutions to conflicts. He hasn’t said specifically that he would recognize the FMLN-FDR, the military-political opposition in El Salvador, but I think he hasn’t been directly asked that question. But it follows from his position that belligerent forces should be recognized.

ATC: Given Jackson’s strength, what do you look for in the next few months befor the Democratic convention?

A.S.: We need to watch for red-baiting campaigns. This has already happened in an article in the Washington Post that talked about Jack Odell as one of Jackson’s foreign policy advisors, and how Robert Kennedy at one time called Martin Luther King and asked him to fire Odell because of his connections to the Communist Party and the U.S. Peace Council.

Some of his opponents will try to de-legitimate and red-bait Jackson or any organization that is working on the campaign.

ATC: What kind of ongoing Rainbow or other kind of lasting structure would you like to see coming out of the pro-Jackson movement?

A.S.: Right now, everyone is involved in the Jackson campaign. At the Rainbow convention, in fact, the decision of the Latinos was that we would put all our energy into the campaign-the primary objective was to elect Jackson. So it was very difficult to both build the Rainbow and at the same time, focus on what you need to do to meet the goal of getting Jackson elected to the presidency, or at least get the nomination.

The idea therefore was that people would be recruited into working for Latinos for Jackson as a campaign structure. But in the process, people would be encouraged to join the Rainbow after the election, so they would begin to think ahead, toward the next election.

A lot of that, however, depends on what happens at the Democratic Convention and the other things we’ve talked about It also depends on what direction the Rainbow takes after the campaign. But I think a lot of people will move back into the Rainbow and work to build it. It’s a process that takes time. As Latinos, we are just beginning to work in this way with Blacks, whites, Asians and the women’s movement.

In short, right now I don’t see much work in the Rainbow until after the convention.

ATC: Speaking as a leading activist in the Central America solidarity movement, do you see the solidarity and anti-intervention movements maintaining their independent work and mobilizing capacity during the election; or do you think their energy may be drained into the campaign?

A.S.: No, I think that most activists of the Central America solidarity and anti-intervention movement are making sure that our struggles and organizations do not suffer during the election. This is very important, because there is always a danger of the electoral work taking away too much of the resources, and then coming out of the electoral period weakened-as in 1984.

We cannot afford that, because whoever wins the election, unless policy is fundamentally changed, it doesn’t matter. While I think that Jesse Jackson’s election would make changes, how fundamental they’d be would be determined by the resistance that the Democratic leadership would give to Jackson.

I think we’ve learned from 1984 that we must guarantee a stronger movement, because that’s what’s going to put pressure on Congress and the administration. Many activists now are doing campaign work, but not neglecting the anti-intervention and solidarity work.

In the last few months we’ve done very well. While people are actively working for Jackson, we in the solidarity movement are also working on raising material aid [for the popular grassroots organizations in El Salvador]. We’ve met all our goals in raising material aid, and have continued to respond strongly to human rights violations-not as strongly as we need to, but we have succeeded in saving some lives and winning the release of some captured people [arrested by Salvadoran security forces].

Early in May, for example, the response to the bombing of the UNTS (Salvadoran trade union) office in San Salvador included actions in San Francisco, where seven people were arrested at the consulate and where the Salvadoran consul threatened to resign. In New York eighteen people were arrested and we had a good turnout Here in Washington we had fifty people. And this came right after the April 29-30 actions of the Pledge of Resistance.

It’s a balancing act, but we must be sure not to come out weakened. Whoever is in power, the government is going to respond to a strong movement So as Jackson says, “Keep your eyes on the prize”-but for us, the prize is ending the U.S. war in Central America.

July-August 1988, ATC 15

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