The international press and the Salvadoran government frequently referred to the FDR as the political wing of the FMLN, although others describe the relationship more as one of an “uncomfortable alliance” (Ribera 1996: 42). The FMLN and FDR indeed shared common goals such as the reform of the Salvadoran state and the dismantling of its ruthless security forces. They also proclaimed that they were “fighting for a democracy and a more just society” (Wade 2008: 45). The FMLN and FDR also coordinated sending their representatives throughout the world, “aggressively seeking out government ministers and legislators as well as talking to the media and citizens groups on a daily basis” (Montgomery 1995: 114).
In mid-1980, FDR leaders traveled Europe and Latin America to bring attention to the plight of the opposition in
El Salvador. The FDR was successful in gaining support from a small number of European countries and the Socialist International, as well as the right to establish political offices in (Montgomery 1982: 33-34; 1995: 111). Months later, however, several FDR leaders were kidnapped and assassinated by Salvadoran security forces, forcing the surviving leaders to flee into exile in November 1980. Following the extreme repression of the masses and leadership of the FDR, its more radical members joined the FMLN, leaving only moderates remaining (Ribera 1996: 41-42). In January 1981, the FMLN and the FDR formed a Political-Diplomatic Commission that succeeded in garnering international support, including recognition by Mexico Franceand as a “representative political force” in August of that year. Mexico
There was significant cooperation between the two organizations, yet there remained critical differences. Ideologically, the FDR was more social democratic than the FMLN, and did not entirely share the idea of a revolutionary society that was favored by many in the FMLN. Unlike the revolutionary FMLN, the FDR was characterized as “authentically moderate and truly centrist.” It was also open to dialogue with the civilian government at a much earlier stage than the FMLN. In 1987, FDR leaders Zamora and Ungo returned from exile to take advantage of the new political opening that had accompanied the election of Duarte to the presidency in 1984. Later that year, the MNR headed by Ungo and the Movimiento Popular Social Cristiano (MPSC) headed by Zamora joined with the Partido Demócrata Social (PSD) to form the Convergencia Democrática (CD) with hopes of competing in the 1988 legislative and municipal elections. While the limited time before the 1988 elections prevented them from participating, they were able to mount a campaign and candidacy for the following year’s presidential elections. However, the relationship between the FMLN and FDR grew increasingly tenuous as FDR leaders criticized the human rights abuses that were increasingly committed by the FMLN in the latter half of the 1980s. In the 1989 elections, the CD captured 3% and finished in fourth place with Guillermo Manuel Ungo as its presidential candidate. When the CD participated in the 1989 presidential elections, the FMLN did little to support its candidates. The 1989 election and the FDR’s criticism of the FMLN’s less discriminate use of violence led to the permanent break between the FDR and the FMLN that had formed roughly one decade earlier.
Though the “official” alliance had been broken, the two continued to cooperate on important issues. In the 1991 elections, the CD captured eight (out of eighty-four) seats with 12% of the nationwide vote. During the legislative term, the CD coordinated negotiations between the FMLN and the executive branch within the Legislative Assembly. The CD also worked with the FMLN to negotiate “the many hurdles in adjusting to civilian political life, in particular in dealing with complicated governmental and accords machinery.” Later, as the FMLN prepared for the 1994 elections, the FMLN chose Rubén Zamora of the CD as the presidential candidate of a leftist coalition. Zamora had experience in running for political office and was well known throughout the country. The FMLN hoped he would be a moderate face on their revolutionary program. In the end, Zamora helped the FMLN force a runoff election for the presidency before finishing in second place behind the Alianza Republicana Nacionalista’s (ARENA) candidate. However, while the CD and the FMLN agreed on a single slate for the presidency and vice presidency, each ran its own slate of candidates for the legislature and, for the most part, municipal office.
Overall, the FMLN’s relationship with the FDR helped bring international and domestic attention and much needed political and economic support to the cause of the armed movement. In addition, the CD helped the FMLN during peace negotiations and in directing legislative matters to prepare for the FMLN’s “arrival.” Finally, the CD provided useful experience and even the presidential candidate of the left at the time of the FMLN’s insertion into electoral politics. This relationship that the FMLN maintained with a political wing also provides support for the political party hypothesis. In addition to its own experiences, the FMLN used the CD’s prior electoral experience to make a relatively smooth transition to political party and to transform itself into a major political actor in El Salvador.