El Salvador Votes on Sunday

Sunday, March 21, is the first day of Spring in the northern hemisphere...

And it is the first day of autumn in the southern hemisphere....

It is also the birthdate of Benito Juárez, Mexico's first and only indigenous president, who created a system of rights under law and separated Church from State....

It is also the 12th anniversary of the daily Por Esto!, Mexico's third largest newspaper, published by my victorious co-defendant Mario Renato Menéndez Rodríguez. (I will be reporting live from Mérida on Sunday, celebrating the Authentic Journalism renaissance with our fearless leader and author of the phrase "Authentic Journalism.")

March 21st is the day when the sun shines upon the ancient Maya pyramid at Chichén Itza, near Mérida, to form the shadows-and-light shape of a serpent...

This year, March 21st has another significance, too.

It could be, just maybe, just perhaps, the day that a former guerrilla comandante wins the election for president of El Salvador.

As Newsday reported three hours ago:

For the first time since the country's brutal 1980-92 civil war ended, the candidate of the former leftist rebels who battled the right-wing government has a chance of winning the presidency.

Menéndez (the journalist who the guerrilla commanders in El Salvador chose when they decided to reveal their true identities) and I will be reporting the results to you on Sunday night, live, as they come in.

Ah, yes... Narco News... always with a new surprise.

Wonder what will come tomorrow... and next week...

Stay tuned.


Otto Reich tries to interfere

According to CS Monitor:
"And some analysts say that the comments by US officials may be bolstering ARENA's message. Last Sunday, White House Special Assistant Otto Reich gave a phone-in press conference at ARENA headquarters. According to local newspapers, he said he was worried about the impact an FMLN win could have on the country's "economic, commercial, and migratory relations with the United States."
In February, Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega told voters to "consider what kind of a relationship they want a new administration to have with us." He met with all the candidates except Mr. Handal. Last week, 28 US Congress members sent a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell saying Mr. Noriega "crossed a boundary" and that his remarks were perceived as "interference in Salvadoran electoral affairs." This week two US congressmen blasted Reich's comments as inflammatory."

Maybe this strategy will backfire, as when the U.S. embassy tried to get Bolivians to vote for anybody but Evo Morales and MAS.  

On Salvadoran Elections

My first piece of journalism was a report for Pacifica on the 1999 presidential elections in el salvador... There's a great deal at stake in the elections. This year, in addition to a televised commercial declaring that a vote for the FMLN is a vote for forced deportation of salvadorans from the USA, is heightened violence against FMLN activists. Early last week, two FMLN activists were shot during the elections campaign, one has to have his penis reconstructed from the impact of the bullet. This is the kind of nonsense that normally happens between the PCN and ARENA, the warring right-wing factions. Also interesting is that while in 1999 and 2000, I participated as an elections observer, 14 independent elections observers were deported this year. If you want some background on the salvadoran situation, may I humbly recommend Resistance as Democracy, my 2000 documentary on grassroots resistance to globalization in El Salvador(details on my site). Schafik is a die hard of the FMLN left, and unlike in 1999, he provides a real alternative to ARENA. When I observed the elections, there was massive fraud, and there's no reason to think that won't happen this time. Vamos a ver.

El Salvador vote as seen from Yucatán

I'm here in Mérida with Mario Menéndez, who, of course, knows the 74-year-old Schafik Handal very well, and has known him for many decades. Says he's a very smart and able guy.

Mario's view is that a victory tonight by Schafik and the FMLN in El Salvador is possible, but has significant obstacles to overcome:

  1. The far-right is very well organized in Central America, of which it is often said, "is one country." The right won recently in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. (Panamá, being essentially a bank with a flag, is somewhat outside of this equation.)
  2. This history of El Salvadoran elections is rife with fraud. (Despite the fact that there are thousands of elections observers there today, 1,500 of them from other countries, keep in mind that the current government already expelled 14 of them as a warning to the others.)
We do agree that there is a last minute factor that could be helpful to the FMLN and Schafik: El Salvador currently has a small number of troops in Iraq, and everybody presumes that the Schafik government would pull them out right away. Given Spain's electoral shift, and the corresponding and pending withdrawl of Spaniard troops from Iraq, there is some talk that this could be a closing factor in the Salvadoran elections today: a way of saying "hey, we have our own battles to fight."

It must be close if Otto Reich is so worried that he called the rightwing Arenas party HQ the other day for what was essentially an endorsement press conference.

Anyway, we'll know later tonight, and I'll be reporting the results as fast as they come in here on The Narcosphere.

Meanwhile, three excellent analysis columns on Rebelion.org, for those of you who read Spanish, by Israel Sotillo:

About the ideological battle, about how close it is, and about those pesky foreign observers and the chances for fraud.

I'm off to breakfast with Mario and a thousand close personal friends from the Yucatán. Will check in later with more.

El salvador and the US

As far as Otto Reich's endorsement of ARENA, this is nothing new, I would be surprised if that endorsement wasn't accompanied by a great deal of aid from such objective groups as the National Endowment for Democracy and USAID. El Salvador has a special relationship with the US, the world's third largest US embassy was built in El Salvador, a sort of "Fuck you" to the popular movements there. It was also, coincidentally, according to some salvadoran friends of mine, built on indigenous burial grounds. The current embassy was built after a teenager blew the top off the old one with a shoulder-mounted weapon of some kind during the revolutionary war. Also coincidental are the party colors of ARENA, red, white and blue (which in some circles earns them the moniker, "the pepsi party").  Good old Anne Patterson was the previous ambassador to El Salvador, now she's running the show in Colombia. Another example of US support of ARENA is the "Torre de la Democracia" fiasco, a giant glass tower built in San Salvador, built by USAID targeted by the FMLN while it was being built (who builds a glass skyscraper in the middle of a civil war?), then given to Banco Cuscatlan, run by Alfredo Christiani of Death Squad and ARENA fame. Yes the love between the US and ARENA runs deep, and it don't matter if it's Reagan, Bush, Clinton, or Bush II in the White House.

A little primer on Salvadoran Politics

I thought it might be a good idea to give folks a general idea of the parties in El Salvador. The two largest political parties are ARENA, the Allianza Republicana Nacionalista de El Salvador, and the FMLN, the Frente Farabundo Martí para La Liberacíon Nacional. The FMLN is named after Farabundo Marti, a revolutionary who fought with Sandino and led an aborted revolution in El Salvador.

ARENA is the neoliberal party, generally associated with the wealthy landowners and oligarchs of El Salvador. Alfredo Christiani, a former president of El Salvador is the leader of ARENA. Up to the early part of the 1980's, El Salvador was controlled by a military Junta, now represented by the second largest right wing political party, the Partido de Conciliacion Nacional. While ARENA and PCN are both right wing parties, there is some conflict between the two as the PCN supports US objectives but has some concerns about the giving up of national sovereignty to the US.

ARENA has been giving away the farm, their privatizations have included the electric distribution system and the telephone system. ARENA has attempted to privatize the health care system almost every year since the early nineties, but has consistently backed down in the face of massive popular protest. One issue, of course, if the FTAA, CAFTA, and the PPP, or Plan Puebla Panama , all three supported by ARENA and opposed by the left factions of the FMLN.

The FMLN is divided into the renovadores, the socialistas revolucionarias, and the ortodoxos. Schafik comes from the Socialistas revolucionarias, and has run previously for the mayoral office in San Salvador. In 1999, the FMLN hired consultants from the United States who created a feel-good centrist campaign, to fit their centrist renovador candidate, Facundo Guardado. During the election campaigns, ARENA uses their anthem which includes the lyrics

"El Salvador sera la tomba, donda los rojos terminaran."
El Salvador will be the tomb where the reds will be terminated (loosely translated)

Often, a coffin with the word FMLN scrawled on the side is then lowered into the crowd, the significance should not be lost as ARENA was closely connected with the Salvadoran death squads of the 1980's dirty war. All of this with scantily clad cheerleaders singing along on stage.

Another issue at hand is that El Salvador is full of dirty secrets from the 1980's and beyond. During the 1980's, there was a secret hangar at the Ilopango Air Force Base, hangar 5, that was used by US intelligence for nefarious purposes, possibly including drug trafficking related to Iran contra. With the FMLN a strong force in the National Assembly and in control of the presidency, there's a good chance some of the US's dirty laundry could get aired. Be certain that the US will do all it can to ensure an ARENA victory.

Record Turnout Today in El Salvador

This is interesting...

Voter turnout in El Salvador's last presidential election, in 1999, was only 39 percent.

Today, according to this Reuters report in Spanish, turnout will exceed 60 percent.

Polls close at 8 p.m. Central Time (9 p.m. ET).

Here's a translation of the money point in the Reuters report:

(FMLN candidate Schafik) Handal said "we are certain of winning today and we will start celebrating at 8 p.m.," as he hung a floral wreath at the tomb of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, assassinated by a right-wing squadron in March of 1980.

(ARENA candidate Tony) Saca was leading in the polls by six points over Handal some days ago, but a poll published on Saturday revealed a tie.

If the vote is very close, it could cause a second round... the law demands an absolute majority to win in the first round.

(Hmmm. Wish we had that system in the United States!)

Anyway, stay tuned after 8 p.m. Central Time!

"50 percent voted by 12 noon"

...in El Salvador today according to this ANSA (Italian) news agency report.

In the boneheaded, propagandistic, headline writer department, the story was titled "50 Percent Abstention in Elections."

Yeah, with eight hours yet to go!

Correction on Poll Closing Hour

According to Europa Press, polls close in an hour - at 19:00 hours or 5 p.m.

My bad.

We have synchronized our watches to report to you accordingly.


That Europa report said 17:00 (still 5 p.m., folks), not 19:00... my typo.

Which is exactly NOW.

More election details

Over at La Prensa Grafica, an organ of the PCN, both Saca and Handal are declaring their victories in the first round, as usual. Of interest, the CDU, a centrist party that split from the FMLN, and whose candidates are often the last election's centrist FMLN candidates, has Hector Silva as their candidate. Hector Silva was the mayor of San Salvador for the FMLN, but didn't do a hell of alot, except oppose a plan to mechanize the garbage dumps which would have had terrible effects for the people that live there. His rather weak centrist platform could provide the spoiler that ARENA needs to break an FMLN victory. Of note, in 1996 in Nicaragua, according to NACLA, 50,000 ballots were found in the backyard of the head of the electoral commission. El Salvador is similar in that the ruling party has majority control over the TSE, or electoral commission. This leaves plenty of room for number fudging.

El Salvador: Tea Leaves from Reuters

There was, apparently, an exit poll taken by the government elections agency in El Salvador today. Nobody has published any results yet. Sometimes reporters see that stuff "off the record." And sometimes it is reflected in their reports at this hour. Through that lens, I find this Reuters report by Alistair Bell from San Salvador, tonight, interesting:

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (Reuters) - Ex-rebel commander Schafik Handal sought in elections on Sunday to become El Salvador's first leftist president and pull the country away from Washington after decades under strong U.S. influence.

As polls closed at 5 p.m. (6 p.m. EST), election officials said voter turnout was high at some 60 percent, a factor that could favor Handal. He had trailed candidate Tony Saca of the ruling Nationalist Republican Alliance, or Arena, in pre-election polls...

Handal, 73, threatens to withdraw a small Salvadoran military unit from Iraq and re-establish relations with Cuba if he defeats Saca, a former sportscaster with no experience in office...

"His policy is to support only the lower class and by force if necessary," Aura del Rivas, a doctor, said after casting her vote in a comfortable capital suburb.

Leftist activists chanting, "The people, united, will never be defeated," crowded around outgoing conservative President Francisco Flores as he voted in the capital...

"If we win, it means the sovereign Salvadoran people are giving us a mandate to carry out our program, and no one else in the world, no matter how powerful they are, can come and tell us what to do," he told journalists last week.

Well, we'll have more info soon enough.

Another Florida?

Perhaps I'm reading to much into this article on the Salvadoran US embassy's website , but

Jeb Bush, Governor of Florida, made a brief visit  to El Salvador on February  18, heading a delegation of 30 business leaders from Florida. During  his  visit, Governor Bush and his delegation met with President Francisco  Flores,  and Salvadoran members of the private sector.

Some  of the companies that accompanied Governor Bush in this commercial  mission to El Salvador were: FedEx, Baptist Health Systems, Citrix  Systems,  Seaboard Marine Ltd., and Gulf Power Company. The purpose of this  tour was  to strengthen the commercial ties with the Central American region.  Trade between Florida and Central America is presently $11 billion per year.

http://sansalvador.usembassy.gov/press%20releases/ pa02192004.htm

Gulf Power

I feel certain that the meeting at the embassy, since it included representatives from Gulf Power, related to the privatization of El Salvador's Energy generating capacity. The major supplier of coal for the Southern Company, the parent of Duke Power, according to the UMWA, is Drummond Coal, now infamous for their hiring of paramilitaries to murder union organizers in their mine at La Loma, Colombia. This connection, I think, deserves some investigation.

some info on Drummond http://www.umwa.org/journal/VOL112NO4/july3.shtml

Dueling "Exit Polls" in El Salvador

Now, THIS is interesting...

According to the daily El Mundo of San Salvador, exit polls tonight are all over the map:

* Channel 12 TV: "the FMLN is ahead in the voter preferences, with 49 percent... to 41 percent for ARENA... this would lead to a second round."

* Salvadoran Tele-Corporation (TCS News): This one has ARENA at 58 percent and FMLN at 35 percent.

BOTH can't be honest. That would mean a margin of error of 8.5 percent. One station or the other clearly made it up. So let's go to a third exit poll, the most independent, to see which is within the margin of error (normally 4 points) of that one...

 * Finally, the only non-commercial exit poll, by Francisco Gavidia University, which surveyed 261,000 voters, has it: FMLN 49.6 percent to ARENA 43.1 percent. (This one is additionally reported by Venezuela National Radio.)

Warring elections results

According to la prensa grafica, right now Tony Saca has proclaimed himself winner of the presidential elections. Presumably, he is making this proclamation based on ARENA's own exit polls since the TSE hasn't yet announced an official tally of the votes.
http://archive.laprensa.com.sv/especiales/2004/ele cciones/Detalle2004.asp#1

5th Exit Poll: FMLN 53%, ARENA 41%

Via the Mexican news agency Notimex:

...the Association of Participatory Radio Stations (ARPAS, in its Spanish initials) also gave the vitory to the Farabundo Martí Liberation front (FMLN, of the left) with 53% to 41% for the Republican Alliance (ARENA)...

Meanwhile, the government elections commission has not yet held its press conference scheduled for a half hour ago to give preliminary results and the results of its own exit poll.

Reuters: J'Accuse

Wire services should forbid "reports" without bylines, because it shields liars from accountability.

We have just reported five exit polls here on The Narcosphere on the elections in El Salvador. Three of those polls (one university, one radio association, and one Commercial TV station) say the leftwing FMLN won. Two polls (one commercial TV station, one university) say the rightwing ARENA won.

But Reuters just reported:

Television exit polls showed Saca (ARENA) ahead of Handal (FMLN)...

Note the use of "exit polls," plural, and it is clear: REUTERS IS MAKING IT UP!

It is not true and, by definition, cannot possibly be true.

In any authentic news organization, a correction would be published immediately, heads would roll, careers would end.

But anonymous reports on Reuters (like AP) instead get repeated by a thousand newspapers before the truth can put its pants on.

Somebody at Reuters deserves a punch in the nose, and especially the manager that let that one past the goalie.

Same Reuters report updated w. byline


Reuters has now "tweaked" that story that I made the accusation against, above.

It now has a byline: Alistair Bell.

Other than that, no corrections, still the same tired lie about TV exit "polls" (plural), with some text added from previous reports this afternoon before the polls closed.

Really, more fistfights should break out between reporters over dishonest reports, like in the olden days. And I'm not even a "tough guy." I'd gladly punch someone twice my size over this one, and take whatever he has in return.

I mean, there is no institutional recourse available. What "polls" (plural)?

No hard numbers, yet simulation underway

According to this AP report, without a single precinct of hard data counted, and with conflicting "exit polls" running 3-2 against him, rightwing candidate Tony Saca in El Salvador has already received "congratulatory calls" for his "victory" from rightwing neighboring presidents Oscar Berger of Guatemala and Enrique Bolaños of Nicaragua.

Keep up the good work, Al!

Just wanted to let you know someone was watching. This is how elections, and how they are reported, should be monitored.

Thanks, and...

Thanks, Trevor.

(And thanks to you and the other Civil Society letter writers for making my job this week much more pleasant by making this year's J-School a reality.)

I am physically exhausted to the point of dropping. Woke up in one megalopolis yesterday, flew to Merida, Yucatan, rose early this morning for Mario Menendez and Por Esto!'s annual breakfast (a great event, that I need time to write about), and at dawn I'm shipping out from here for a few days of "down time" (we have no "weekends" in this newsroom) in my favorite jungle rainforest, where I still remember how to sleep.

So, hey, y'all are gonna have the keys to the car for a few days. Just take over, okay? Lemme finish a few tasks and I'll be back shortly to test some wireless equipment to connect from a place where there are still no telephones. Hope that works!

U.S. Ambassador Intrudes on Vote Counting

This from La Prensa Grafica of El Salvador:

7:35 p.m.

U.S. Ambassador Visits Vote Counting HQ

(LPG) United States Ambassador Hugh Douglas Barclay came to the Raddison hotel, where ballots are being counted.

...and, well... 7:35 p.m. corresponds with the hour that the the simulation began.

As I just said to Menéndez, this is like Mexico 1988.

(Thanks to Salvadoran journalist Jorge Parada for the link.)

El Salvador Official Results Tip Rightward

First official results, according to AP (in Spanish):

With 36 percent of votes counted, Tony Saca of the rightward ARENA party has, they say, 60 percent of the vote and Shafik Handal of the leftward FMLN has 33 percent of the vote.

I'll reserve comment until hard data emerges.

There isn't an OAS or UN or even Jimmy Carter ...

en la casa Salvorena?

well now I'll have to say more...

since I mistyped Salvadorena, which brings up a point I've asked about diacritics in message boxes. Dan can answer this? Somewhere on the site for technical questions or we could string messages to his post on the rating system? Which reminds me about the user preferences co-publishers should take a moment to set.

The latest Hamas leader's assasination makes me nervous. We really need some psychologists involved in the war on terrorism. Where are the peaceloving elements of religious leadership. Arms terrorize people. The Arms Industry should be the real evil. Regulate, eliminate, grow some crops or manufacture more TVs, isn't that what people would really want? We don't realize how many of our armed forces are trained in nation building skills. Remember Japan and Germany.

It's Official

ARENA won the election hands down, Schafik has conceded defeat. Not unexpected, although it is rare for ARENA to win in the first round.

http://www.laprensagrafica.com/especiales/2004/ele cciones/Detalle2004.asp


in answer to a question I brought up earlier, it would be nice to hear from la voz de los observadores.


"Los comicios, que cerrarán a las 17:00 hora local (2300 GMT), son vigilados por unos 1.500 observadores de 35 países, entre ellos 40 enviados por la organización de los Estados Americanos (OEA).

El presidente Francisco Flores depositó su voto en una escuela al sur de la capital mientras simpatizantes del FMLN gritaban consignas de izquierda.

Flores dijo estar "impresionado" porque "nunca en mi experiencia política había visto tanta gente queriendo ir a votar."

El jefe de la Policía Nacional Civil (PNC), Ricardo Meneses, dijo que los 17.000 agentes desplegados en los 262 municipios del país garantizaban la seguridad de las elecciones y a media jornada no se reportaban incidentes de importancia."

Money from workers in US key to economy, election

Workers sending money home is the largest source of foreign investment in Latin America, the Guardian reported today, citing the Inter-American Development Bank.

The article specifically mentioned El Salvador:

In El Salvador almost $2bn was sent home last year by workers living in the US, outstripping the country's exports.  The subject was a pivotal issue in this month's presidential election after US officials said that should the left win, they would consider blocking the transfer of money to El Salvador and expel Salvadoreans working in the US.  The pro-US Arena party candidate won the election.

A March 22 AP article by John Rice suggested the publicity ARENA gave this:

Saca's campaign has repeatedly suggested that if Handal [the FMLN candidate] is elected the United States might restrict family remittances from Salvadorans working there or begin a mass expulsion of them.  Handal has called that allegation ridiculous.

But the U.S. government, of course, was there to back up ARENA's version (from the same article):

U.S. officials so clearly favored Saca that Otto Reich, the White House special envoy for the Western Hemisphere, gave a group telephone interview last week to local reporters gathered at Saca's party headquarters.  Local newspapers quoted him as saying a Handal victory would be "a radical change."

A lot of questions still remain for me:

  1. How effective was ARENA's propaganda that remittances would be blocked or Salvadoreans abroad sent home?

  2. What was the estimated level of fraud in this election– who, exactly, counted the votes?

  3. How weak-willed is the FMLN (conceding first-round loss despite conflicting poll data), how poorly organized and lacking a positive platform for people to vote for?

  4. Whatever the specific reasons for the representatives of the rich remaining in power, does it all ultimately mean that massive violence against the left can keep a country pliable to US for a long time afterward (for instance Chile, the only Latin American country I'm aware of that has troops in Haiti)?

why concede before the votes are counted?

The most complete election results I can find on-line (for a week-old election!) report less than half the votes as counted, yet Tony Saca of the Nationalist Republican Alliance, or ARENA, is always said to have won easily, while Schafik Handal of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN, acknowledges defeat.

For instance, from an AP story by John Rice:

"With about 48 per cent of ballots counted [...] Handal [..] acknowledged defeat."

I'm putting myself firmly in the slow class by lingering over this event, but what gives?  Did the (always so-described) 73-year-old Handal (and the news media) know what would be tolerated, and the results just decided and left, after that 7:35 p.m. visit to vote-counting headquarters by US ambassador Barclay?  Was it that the areas where Handal had the best hope were fully counted, so it's "known" he couldn't have improved?

I just don't see any possible good reason for conceding before the ballots are counted.  May the wiser please comment.

Keep digging, Ben, we're listening

Obsessing over a decidedly whiffy story like this is not what I would call slow-class.  Letting the story drop because it's a third-world backwater and who f-ing cares, now that's slow-class.

politicians always concede before votes counted

Final, official results:
the El Salvador presidential race brought out a record number of voters who gave Tony Saca (ARENA) a resounding 57.74 percent of their votes, over 36.65 percent for the FMLN candidate, Schafik Handal.  The Democratic Convergence-Christian Democratic Party's coalition (CDU-PDC) candidate, Hector Silva, received only 3.87 percent of the votes, while the right-wing National Conciliation Party (PCN) candidate, Rafael Machuca, received only 2.72 percent.  The turnout was more than 2 million voters, or 66 percent, surpassing the previous record of 53 percent in the 1994 general elections which followed the end of the country's brutal civil war.

(From the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA.org) press release 'Crucial Elections in El Salvador Won by the Right with a Little Bit of Help from Reich and Noriega'.)

I got a little hysterical in my last post, 'why concede before the votes are counted?'.  When politicians know what the results will be, they almost always concede before the official results, at least in the US.

Several good points were made in an e-mail response to that post from someone I first took to be a co-publisher but now I think may be the AP reporter I cited, John Rice, though I could well be wrong.  I haven't gotten permission to quote the e-mail, which also pointed me to the COHA press release, but the points were so intelligent and reasoned that here are some paraphrases:

  • The FMLN probably had its own exit polls, so while it first expressed outrage at Saca victory claims it soon stopped as its own reports came in.

  • Conceding quickly could well be seen as an act of integrity that might be remembered in future elections.  Schafik Handal is not someone who would falsely accept defeat, particularly not for ARENA or the U.S.

  • Confusion over exit polls was due in part to changing voting trends during the day and possibly unrepresentative samples of ballot boxes.  FMLN voters turned out largely at midday, according to the Catholic (Jesuit) Central American University (UCA) polling people.  Ironically, local television and radio reported what turned out to be samples that gave incorrectly positive results for the FMLN even though most of the press had been remarkably hostile to the FMLN during the campaign.

  • The reported "official" count was, as in many countries, actually an unofficial survey of returns as reported by officials which stopped at midnight, still incomplete.  The legal, official counting began the next day, and if this had varied significantly from the earlier indications, there would have been enormous controversy.

  • Thus, the dispute is over the fairness of the campaign rather than over the actual process of voting.

On the fairness of that campaign, the COHA analysis condemns U.S. involvement:

As the campaign heated up, White House advisor Otto Reich went to work reaffirming the administration's totally unsubstantiated allegations of supposed ties between the FMLN and terrorist organizations. Reich, as quoted in El Salvador's daily El Diario de Hoy, linked the FMLN to the terrorist Basque separatist group ETA. The hard-line Cuban exile's totally invented scenario alleges that FMLN supporters openly celebrated the 9-11 attacks. Reich, who narrowly escaped from being indicted for malfeasance in office due to his illegal actions during the Iran-Contra era (when he headed the Reagan administration's propaganda arm through the Office of Public Diplomacy) breezily claimed that he saw television images of the FMLN burning American flags and calling for more airplane attacks. Reich went on to observe that, "Obviously [the FMLN] has not changed their manner of thinking since they were in the war." Reich, according to El Diario, reiterated administration threats that an FMLN triumph could have severe trade, economic and immigration repercussions between the two countries.

More audacious were the comments made in February 2004, by Roger Noriega who warned that the FMLN had emphasized its differences around the issue of Salvadoran participation in the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), and that "Salvadorans should imagine what [El Salvador's] relationship would be like with us" if the FMLN was to win.

COHA also mentioned other issues in the campaign.  Polls say ARENA's cracking down on gang violence with a repressive judicial law was supported by 80% of the country.  Handal was perhaps the least popular candidate FMLN could have picked.  And the 300 troops in Iraq probably didn't become a major election issue.

But how could people support the party of the landed oligarchy and death squads?  (COHA wrote about FMLN and ARENA:  "At the end of 1980, five guerrilla groups joined together to form the FMLN and commenced waging a concerted battle in the streets and countryside of El Salvador to overthrow the then right-wing military government and its equally conservative Christian Democratic successors.  By the time this brutal conflict ended in 1992, over 80,000 Salvadorans—mainly innocent civilians—had been killed or disappeared, the vast majority at the hands of the ARENA-led military and related death squads.")  The easy answer is that political decisions are made about the future, not the past.  (I sometimes have arguments about democracy with members of the Communist Progressive Labor Party in which I maintain that people should be allowed to make stupid choices but that, even in a pale imitation of democracy, people make the best choice available surprisingly often.)

In the case of El Salvador, most people support the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), indicating just how important they think it is to have close economic ties to the US.  At the same time, most join the FMLN in opposing privatization.  But El Salvador, unlike Argentina, has not yet been burnt by neoliberal (aka 'free trade', better called capital rights) economic policies.  The country has had an amicable relationship with the IMF, according to my reading of the latest IMF report.  Real GDP growth was 3.4 percent in 1999, 2.2 in 2000, 1.7 in 2001, 2.1 in 2002, and 2.2% growth (projected) in 2003.

The simple fact is that the US could carry through on many of its threats to destroy the economy, and people know it.  In 2002 El Salvador received $122,530,000 from the United States government's USAID's EL Salvador program.  The largest part of that, earthquake recovery, was scheduled through September 2004.  And, of course, $2 billion a year comes to people in El Salvador from relatives working in the United States.

And so, people came out in droves to protect their economic relationship with the U.S., whatever they might think of U.S. actions and involvement in politics otherwise.  (We need a post that does a side-by-side consideration of the differences in electoral effects of US official's pronouncements in Bolivia as opposed to El Salvador!)

It is absolutely against the interests of the people of Brazil or Venezuela for their governments to follow IMF and US economic instructions, policies that would prevent these relatively large countries from putting in the support and protections necessary to develop industry.  That's not nearly so clear for the tiny, highly U.S.-dependent El Salvador right now.

The question I now find most important in El Salvador is will the democratic structures that kept ARENA in power this March 21 work to put in power representatives of the poor half of the country (48% live in poverty, CIA Factbook 1999 est.) should CAFTA, some other US-imposed policy, or a worsening global capitalist crisis serve to plunge the country into an economic ravine?  Or are the paramilitaries waiting in the wings?  The state of the armed forces, police, and any paramilitary groups is the next El Salvador research assignment.

Continuing democracy in El Salvador: one bad sign

President-elect Tony Saca’s stated plans for combating gang violence include “creating joint task forces involving police officers and military personnel.”  (I just hope another proposed policy of his, “to uphold the nation’s general amnesty law [..] lifting [..] any prospect that war criminals will have to face trial,” isn’t for the purpose of finding leaders for these task forces.  {Quotations from the same above-cited Council On Hemispheric Affairs (COHA.org) analysis of the March 21 elections.}

I think any military involvement in civilian criminal law enforcement is a bad sign for the survival of democracy in El Salvador should the people vote against elite interests.  I hope others find more positive signs.

Keep 'em coming

I love reading your comments, Ben. They always bring new information to the table, link to the source, and of course, seeing all the work that you and some other copublishers did while I was off-screen to keep the ball in play here was very uplifting.

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About Al Giordano


Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.