El Salvador Violence: Deadly Attack on Party Activists

Gunmen opened fire on activists from El Salvador’s main opposition party, killing two people, a rare political attack that has shocked one of Latin America’s most violent countries, BBC reports.

The Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) supporters were returning from a campaign rally when their lorry came under fire by suspects in a car. The attack on the left-wing party came four weeks before legislative and municipal elections are due to be held. Three people have been arrested.

The attack happened in the centre of the capital, San Salvador, on Sunday afternoon local time in front of one of the offices of the FMLN party. Five other people were injured. Party activists had attended a rally launching the campaign for mayor of FMLN’s candidate Rogelio Canales.

El Salvador’s Attorney General, Raúl Melara, called the attack “serious”, saying: “The electoral battle cannot become a bloodbath”. In a reference to the country’s civil war, San Salvador’s mayor, Neto Muyshondt, also condemned the attack, calling it a “step back” in El Salvador’s history.

No group has taken responsibility for the shooting, which comes amid fierce campaigning for upcoming legislative and local elections in the small Central American nation.

Nidia Díaz, a FMLN lawmaker, said she saw the car with the attackers block the path of an open-backed lorry carrying party supporters.

“A man got out with a gun in his hand and started shooting,” she tweeted.

She blamed the attack on the “hate” fomented by the country’s populist president, Nayib Bukele, who days ago criticised 1992 peace accords between the army and the FMLN that put an end to a 12-year civil war that left tens of thousands dead.

Two of the detainees, including the alleged attacker, have undergone emergency surgery, the president said, suspected of having been shot by two FMLN activists who are also in custody. Photos from the scene showed the blood-stained truck under police guard.

“We have not seen something so dramatic in the 29 years since the peace accords,” FMLN secretary-general Oscar Ortiz said, accusing the president of a “campaign of hatred” against the party.

The shooting comes just weeks before parliamentary elections and Luis Almagro posted on Twitter: “We condemn the attack on party supporters of FMLN. We support quick action from the police. We request El Salvador investigates and prosecutes those responsible.”

Some 5.4 million Salvadorians will vote for ten political groups on February 28. President Bukele’s New Ideas (NI) party currently leads in the polls.

The Central American country’s attorney general, Raul Melara, held an emergency meeting with political party representatives on Monday. “This is serious, the electoral campaign must not turn into a bloodbath,” he tweeted ahead of the session.

Lawmaker Jorge Schafik, son of the co-founder of the former guerrilla organization FMLN, Schafik Handal, held the conservative president responsible for Sunday’s onslaught. He wrote on Twitter that the president had incited hatred and called Bukele a murderer, as well as accusing the 39-year-old of being corrupt.

The US, the UN and the EU all joined the chorus of condemnation of the attack.

“Everyone must condemn this act clearly, immediately & forcefully. El Salvador must not return to the violence of the past. I support a full investigation by Raul Melara,” US Democrat lawmaker Jim McGovern said on Twitter.

According to a 1993 United Nations Truth Commission report, 80,000 people were killed in the conflict, which lasted from 1979 until a peace deal was signed in 1992. The FMLN party was formed by left-wing rebels as part of the peace deal and quickly became an influential force. It won the 2014 presidential election and its candidate, Salvador Sánchez Ceren, served as president until 2019.

In the most recent presidential election, however, the FMLN’s candidate lost out to Nayib Bukele of the centre-right Gana party. Some FMLN politicians have accused President Bukele of inciting violence against their party and of “threatening anyone who doesn’t agree with him”. Mr Bukele tweeted that all those responsible for the attack would “pay for their acts”. Bukele on Twitter accused the party of politicising the shooting, saying three suspects were now in custody. Sunday’s shooter was “apparently” a security agent for officials assigned to the Ministry of Health, he added.