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The San Diego Union-Tribune

Shafik Handal; leader of El Salvador's leftist party; 75


January 30, 2006

Shafik Handal, leader of the Salvadoran left and an former guerrilla commander who fought U.S.-backed troops during the country's 12-year civil war, died Tuesday of a heart attack, doctors and his political party said. He was 75.

Mr. Handal lost consciousness in the airport of the capital, San Salvador, shortly upon his arrival after attending the inauguration of Bolivian President Evo Morales. He was flown by helicopter to a nearby hospital, where he died.

“Doctors tried to resuscitate him . . . but after 30 minutes he was declared dead,” Dr. Ramon Colato said at a news conference.

Mr. Handal was head of the Salvadoran Communist Party before it merged with four other leftist groups into the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN, in 1980.

Backed by Cuba and the Soviet Union, the FMLN waged a powerful insurgency against various conservative military and military-influenced administrations that were supported by U.S. Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Mr. Handal had led the communist faction of the coalition before it became a legal political party in 1992, after a peace treaty was reached. He was one of the signers of the accord.

Mr. Handal was friends with Bolivia's Morales, along with Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chavez and Cuba's Fidel Castro.

In 2004, Mr. Handal made an unsuccessful bid as the FMLN candidate for the Salvadoran presidency, presenting a reformist liberal platform.

Mr. Handal was born Oct. 13, 1930, to immigrant Palestinian parents from Bethlehem in the city of Usulutan, El Salvador. He became a communist student activist as a young man and went into exile in the 1950s during a string of Salvadoran military dictatorships. He became a leader of the Salvadoran Communist Party in 1972.

Mr. Handal and his wife, Tania de Handal, had four children.

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