[News] Salvadoran Election Climate

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Mar 12 12:32:18 EDT 2009


Salvadoran Election Climate: Evidence that 
“Washington’s Policies Have Been Buried on Wall Street?”

http://upsidedownworld.org/main/content/view/1760/1/
Written by Jesse Stewart and Meredith Defrancesco
Thursday, 12 March 2009

The dusty roads outside the town of Suchitoto in 
El Salvador are marked by omnipresent reminders 
of the coming elections: political propaganda 
painted on rocks and telephone polls, and 
homemade flags hanging from trees.  Yet in a 
'back to the future twist,' scattered throughout 
these small quiet towns are deployments of 
Salvadoran troops who have been patrolling the 
region over the last several months.  AK-47 
touting soldiers have become commonplace, says 
Pedro Miranda Rivera, president of the community 
association PROGRESO, ever since the Salvadoran 
Government accused these communities of harboring 
illegal armed groups the government implies are 
linked to the political opposition.  “This 
concerns us in Suchitoto,” says Miranda Rivera, 
“because since these accusations were made, there 
has been constant military movement in the 
region­they are doing this to create fear in the 
population.”  To date, the Salvadoran Government 
and Attorney General have produced no credible 
evidence to confirm the existence of these armed 
groups, and chief European Union elections 
observer Luis Yáñez Barnuevo has called the 
accusations a “typical electoral ruse” in 
interviews with major Salvadoran electronic media 
<http://www.elecciones2009.elfaro.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=100:luis-yanez-barnuevo-eso-de-los-grupos-armados-era-la-tipica-argucia-electoral&catid=10:elecciones-2009&Itemid=2>El 
Faro.  Nevertheless, the troops remain on patrol, 
a dark reminder of El Salvador’s past.

The Reagan era and the Cold War may be over for 
many, but this week in El Salvador an important 
legacy of that war still fights for hearts and 
minds.  Salvadorans go to the polls on Sunday to 
pick their next president, and the same major 
military forces that fought Reagan’s proxy war 
twenty years ago are still contenders. The 
flashpoint in this ongoing struggle over El 
Salvador’s future continues to be disparities and 
polarization enabled in large part by US 
intervention and prescribed economic 
policies.  Now, the former guerrilla and current 
opposition FMLN party is leading most polls over 
the right wing government ARENA party­the same 
party that fought the FMLN with US training and 
funding to the tune of a million dollars per day, 
and which has ruled the country ever since.  But 
beyond the symbolism and outdated rhetoric still 
used by some, this election appears to be about entirely different forces.

The Salvadoran people are suffering at from the 
waves of the international economic crisis, which 
is exacerbating an already volatile social 
situation.  Recent opinion polls by the 
<http://www.uca.edu.sv/publica/iudop/Web/2008/informe117.pdf>University 
of Central America in San Salvador confirm that 
the overwhelming majority of the population is 
primarily concerned with the economy, poverty, 
unemployment and crime during this election 
cycle.  “The economic policies applied by four 
consecutive ARENA governments have favored a 
small group of the economically powerful that 
control the ARENA party.  But this has had an 
adverse affect on the great majorities of our 
country,” says Pedro Juan Hernandez, a Salvadoran 
economist and the leader of the MPR-12 social 
movement, a coalition of grassroots civil-society 
organizations including unions, war veterans, and 
rural farmers. As a result, the country has 
experienced massive migration, and almost one 
third of the population now lives in the 
US.  According to experts at the Salvadoran 
organization 
<http://www.equipomaiz.org.sv/>Equipo Maiz, most 
of this exodus has occurred after the end of 
civil war in 1992, creating a flood of economic 
refugees, victims of neoliberal economic policies 
that were specially packaged for El Salvador by 
Washington under the guise of IMF and World Bank assistance.

These policies have given rise to El Salvador’s 
strongest export--its millions of poor young 
people who have offered themselves up to US 
markets as cheap laborers, even while they 
improve the countries’ poverty indexes by 
conveniently disappearing.  Indeed, in large part 
the policies that have expelled the countries’ 
poorest have contributed to vaulting El Salvador 
to its’ ranking by the 
<http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/DATASTATISTICS/0,,contentMDK:20421402%7EpagePK:64133150%7EpiPK:64133175%7EtheSitePK:239419,00.html#Lower_middle_income>World 
Bank as a “lower middle-income country,” based on 
mean income calculations from GDP.  Mary O’Grady 
of the 
<http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123534864060444641.html?mod=rss_opinion_main>Wall 
Street Journal lauds it as one of the most “open 
and competitive” economies in Latin America.  Yet 
these accolades are deceptive and not indicators 
of wealth distribution and employment 
opportunities.  In fact, with only 50 percent of 
the Salvadoran population reporting jobs in the 
formal sector, according to a 2008 
<http://hdr.undp.org/en/reports/nationalreports/latinamericathecaribbean/elsalvador/name,3411,en.html>UN 
Development Program report, Salvadorans that 
don’t migrate or live on remittances are most 
often left selling whatever they can in the streets to feed their families.

Meanwhile, the 
<http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1109.html>US 
State Department reports Salvadoran homicide 
rates as amongst the highest per capita in the 
world.  Generations of children that grew up in 
the midst of war, in turn abandon their children 
in search of work in the north, and imported L.A. 
gang culture replaces them as surrogate 
families.  El Salvador is infamous for its 
violent gangs whose origins can be traced to 
major US cities home to Salvadoran 
immigrants.  Yet with the current crisis in the 
US, remittances to El Salvador fell by 8.4 
percent in the first month of this year compared 
with January of last year, according to data 
published by the 
<http://www.bcr.gob.sv/?x21=46>Salvadoran Central 
Reserve Bank.  As El Salvador’s largest GDP 
contributor at nearly 20 percent, remittances 
effectively ended what had been steady growth 
rates in August of 2008, and rates have not 
marked monthly growth since September.  Given 
this scenario, you might wonder how any incumbent could dream of reelection.

But that is where Reagan’s legacy becomes 
important.  El Salvador's ARENA party has held 
presidential power for the past 20 years, in part 
by relying on close alliances with US military 
and business interests.  Continuing with that 
legacy, El Salvador has kept troops in Iraq, 
served as a base for US police and anti-narcotics 
training schools unpopular elsewhere in Central 
America, and has executed US economic policy by 
the book, even dollarizing the economy.  These 
policies have been widely unpopular amongst the 
majority of the population in polls taken by the 
<http://www.elfaro.net/secciones/noticias/20050221/noticias5_20050221.asp>Technological 
University of El Salvador.  Despite this, ARENA 
has stuck to its anti-communist guns, and their 
party anthem still professes that “El Salvador 
will be the tomb where the reds will die.”

But equating the FMLN to radical communism isn’t 
as easy as it once was, despite the best efforts 
of the right.  The 
<http://www.brookings.edu/opinions/2009/0106_central_america_lowenthal.aspx>Brookings 
Institute characterizes current FMLN candidate 
Mauricio Funes, who is a former CNN reporter, as 
more in the mold of Michelle Bachelet of Chile, 
or Lula da Silva of Brazil, than Hugo Chavez. 
While they can’t deny Funes as a moderate, 
conservative North American analysts and 
columnists for the Brookings Institute, 
<http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,508864,00.html>Fox 
News, and the 
<http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123534864060444641.html?mod=rss_opinion_main>Wall 
Street Journal all prefer to focus on the extent 
of influence that hardliner elements within the 
FMLN party might have if Funes were elected, the 
same strategy used by ARENA and El Salvador’s 
right wing media.  Meanwhile, US influence is not 
yet a thing of the past.  On Tuesday El 
Salvador’s largest circulating daily, the 
<http://www.elsalvador.com/mwedh/nota/nota_completa.asp?idCat=6351&idArt=3426239>Diario 
de Hoy, published news of a letter signed by over 
40 Republicans in Congress, denouncing the FMLN 
and warning of their links to Venezuela and 
Cuba.  The letter expresses “grave concern that a 
victory by the FMLN could make links between El 
Salvador and the regimes of Venezuela, Iran and 
Cuba, and other states that promote terrorism, 
and also with other non-democratic regimes and terrorist organizations.”

In fact, it was El Salvador’s US-styled 
anti-terrorism law that sparked national protest 
and international outcry nearly two years ago 
when 13 activists protesting water privatization 
in the colonial town of Suchitoto were charged 
with terrorism.  All charges were later dropped, 
but ill treatment by police and abuse of 
authority, as documented by 
<http://www.amnestyusa.org/document.php?lang=e&id=ENGUSA20070718001>Amnesty 
International, can be linked back to the current 
ARENA presidential candidate, and then chief of 
Salvadoran Police, Rodrigo Avila.  The 
US-educated Avila is hoping to become the latest 
heir to the ARENA presidency, yet his candidacy 
raises concern for leaders in Suchitoto such as 
Miranda, who say the population hasn’t forgotten 
what Avila did.  “Rodrigo Avila is the person 
that authorized the operation the police carried 
out in Suchitoto.  He authorized that they fire 
tear gas, he authorized the abuse of force, the 
torture of the people captured, when they 
threatened them that they would be thrown from 
the helicopter.”  The abuses Miranda describes 
have been documented extensively by the 
Salvadoran Government 
<http://www.pddh.gob.sv/docs/InformepreliminarSuchitoto23julio07.pdf>Human 
Rights Ombudsmen, and these sorts of practices 
hark back to dirty war practices throughout the 
region, when dissidents were tortured and killed 
by ARENA and their predecessors under US guidance 
and cooperation in the name of fighting “communists” and “terrorists.”

This polarization persists.  The recent media 
attention garnered by the Congressional letter is 
only the latest in a coordinated campaign, which 
has united hard-line conservatives from El 
Salvador, <http://fuerzasolidaria.org/>Venezuela, 
and the United States with the aim of undermining 
the FMLN.  Pedro Juan Hernandez says this has 
been a consistent trend:  “ARENA has tried to 
continue to use scare tactics, for example that 
[if the FMLN wins] remittances from Salvadorans 
will be reduced, or that there will even be 
deportations of Salvadorans.  There has been a 
strong smear campaign by ARENA in the latest 
weeks, trying to discredit the FMLN, to fiercely 
attack the FMLN candidates, trying to scare the 
population about the possibility of the FMLN gaining power.”

  Despite this alliance to maintain the status 
quo, Hernandez reports that an estimated 250,000 
people participated in a San Salvador rally on 
Saturday in an impressive show of force for a 
country whose population is only 5.7 million, 
according to the 
<http://www.censos.gob.sv/>latest 
census.  Hernandez believes these unprecedented 
numbers speak to the popular rejection of years 
of failed policies that were often US 
hand-me-downs.  “The economic policies that were 
born in Washington, have been buried on Wall 
Street,” he says, referring to the financial 
meltdown.  While he is careful to caution that 
this is by no means the end of capitalism, he 
sees the inevitability of reformulating policy 
models, including more government regulation of 
the financial sector.  Hernandez articulates the 
need for “new policies where diplomacy and 
respect of sovereignty prevail in relations,” and 
says “I hope that this happens for the good of 
the countries of Latin America, as well as the 
benefit of the people of the United States.”

While unequivocal in their calls for change, both 
Hernandez and Miranda are quick to condition 
their support of the FMLN.  Indeed, the 
Salvadoran social movement they represent has 
long functioned independently, and been outspoken 
in advocating solutions that don’t tow any party 
line.  Their principle platform has been the 
fight against poverty, reactivation of the 
agricultural sector for food security, the 
struggle against the privatization of water and 
mining exploitation, and a call for improved 
salaries as well as freedom of association for 
unions.  In laying out the demands of the broad 
sectors of society that his organization, the 
MPR-12, represents, Hernandez is cautious about 
an FMLN victory on Sunday, and qualifies his 
support by saying “this is in no way a blank 
check.”  He points out that the election is not a 
quick fix, and that it will be the Salvadoran 
people and social organizations that will 
continue to shoulder the burden of pushing their 
leaders toward much-needed policy reforms.

Jesse Stewart and Meredith Defrancesco are 
journalists with <http://www.weru.org/>WERU 
Community Radio in Maine, and have spent 
extensive time in El Salvador.  WERU is a member 
of <http://www.elsalvadorsolidarity.org/>US-El 
Salvador Sister Cities, a grassroots solidarity 
network partnering US cities with Salvadoran rural communities.




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