El Salvador rebel leader dies, aged 75

 

Shafik Handal, leader of the Salvadoran left and former-guerrilla commander who fought US-backed troops during the country's 12-year civil war, has died aged 75.

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

Shafik Handal, leader of the Salvadoran left and former-guerrilla commander.
Shafik Handal, leader of the Salvadoran left and former-guerrilla commander.

"Doctors tried to resuscitate him ... but after 30 minutes he was declared dead," Dr. Ramon Colato told a news conference.

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 US presidents Reagan and George W Bush.

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.

"The death of our colleague and brother Shafik Handal is a lamentable and terrible loss," said FMLN coordinator Medardo Gonzalez.

The former guerrilla commander was friends with Bolivia's Morales, along with Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chavez and Cuba's Fidel Castro.

Handal was born to immigrant Palestinian parents from Bethlehem in the city of Usulutan, El Salvador, on Oct. 13, 1930. 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.

Handal and his wife Tania de Handal had four children.

AP