El Salvador: Election results add to tension as presidential race heats up


FMLN members celebrate victories on January 18.

 [For the latest information of the FMLN's election campaign, click HERE.]

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January 20, 2009 -- Amanda Peters was on the spot as an official observer, and as part of a delegation from CISPES (Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador). She spoke with community radio's Latin Radical as the first results started coming in, and gives her nervous prognosis for the presidential round coming up on March 15.

Original audio source

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By Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador

January 23, 2009 -- On January 18, voters in El Salvador went to the polls to elect 262 mayors, one for every municipality in the country, and 84 deputies to the national Legislative Assembly. At the end of a tense day of voting, filled with legal disputes and allegations of irregularities and fraud, the leftist FMLN (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front) celebrated victory, despite losing the capital city to the right-wing ARENA (Nationalist Republican Alliance) party.

The stage is now set for March 15, when Salvadorans will elect a new president, with the choice between Mauricio Funes of the FMLN, a former independent journalist, and ARENA’s Rodrigo Ávila, a former private security mogul and director of the national police force (PNC).         

As preliminary results of municipal and legislative races came in on January 18, the FMLN declared itself the strongest political force in the country, having won the largest bloc of deputies in the Legislative Assembly with 100,000 more votes nationally than ARENA. With official results yet to be announced, the FMLN appears to have won 43% of the national vote for deputies, making it the most popular party in El Salvador by 5-6 percentage points over ARENA.  Such an achievement puts the party on the path to winning the presidency and continues the it’s steady increase in legislative seats since 1994, when the FMLN first entered electoral politics having converted itself from guerrilla force via the 1992 Peace Accords.

When the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) announces its final tally, the FMLN will likely increase its number of legislative deputies by three, while ARENA has lost two seats. These results would give the FMLN 35 seats in the Assembly to ARENA’s 32.

On the other hand, ARENA claimed victory for its mayoral candidate, Norman Quijano, in the capital city of San Salvador, which had been governed as a strategically symbolic stronghold of the FMLN for the last twelve years. Even in defeat, FMLN incumbent Violeta Menjívar, received more votes than she had in 2006.  FMLN leaders believe that Quijano’s victory was due in part to the migration of thousands of voters into San Salvador, a claim backed up by the fact that Menjívar had a significant lead in opinion polls in the days leading up to the January 18 vote. 

Despite losing the race in San Salvador, the FMLN won mayors’ offices in most of the other large cities in the metropolitan area, including Mejicanos, Apopa, and San Marcos.  Overall, the FMLN increased the number of municipalities it will govern by more than 50% percent, to around 90 municipalities (some have yet to be decided), indicating broad support for the leftist party across the country, in both rural and urban areas. The FMLN also claimed victory in three of the next four largest cities in the country: Soyapango, Santa Tecla, and Santa Ana.  The latter is an especially significant victory, given that the incumbent mayor, Orlando Mena of the Christian Democrat Party (PDC), had governed the city for nine years.

The FMLN also won several smaller municipalities that it had not governed in recent years, including La Union, Izalco, Perquin and Zacatecaluca. The wins in La Union and Perquin signify an important growth in rural votes for the FMLN, an ongoing goal of the party since its inception.

Perquin and Izalco are also symbolically important for the party. Perquin, which the FMLN reclaimed after losing there to ARENA in 2006, has historically been an FMLN stronghold, and was a focal point of resistance during El Salvador’s 1980-1992 civil war. Izalco, on the other hand, is the site of an uprising that led to the infamous 1932 massacre of some 30,000 indigenous peasants who were aligned with FMLN namesake Farabundo Martí. The FMLN will govern Izalco for the first time beginning May 1, when newly elected mayors take office.

In the Legislative Assembly, El Salvador’s complicated residual voting system will likely give disproportionate representation to the right-wing National Conciliation Party (PCN) party.  Following ARENA and the FMLN, the PCN has retained its position as the third largest bloc in the Assembly with 11 seats, while the center-right PDC will have 5 seats.  The PCN will have 13% of the seats in the Assembly despite receiving only 8.5% of the legislative vote.  The center-left CD (Democratic Change) will have just one seat, while the FDR (Democratic Revolutionary Front), a center-left split-off from the FMLN, failed to win a single seat, which should, according to Salvadoran law, result in the dissolution of the party.

Inaccuracies in voter rolls lead open door for fraud

While national and international observers’ Election Day reports indicate consistent irregularities across voting centers, the pre-election context in El Salvador points to large scale fraud that was set in motion long before that day ever came. The most glaring examples of a skewed electoral system result from the actions of the Legislative Assembly and the Supreme Electoral Tribunal surrounding census data and the voter registry.

In September of 2008, the Assembly issued the official convocation of the 2009 election period ahead of schedule, days before data from the 2007 census was officially released by the government. As a result, the number of legislative seats apportioned to each of El Salvador’s 14 departments through the 2009 election is based on 1998 census data, which grossly underestimates the current population of San Salvador and other major cities, thus granting disproportional representation to the more conservative rural areas, which have largely lost population through emigration.

In addition to the faulty configuration of deputies, the voter registry is another outstanding deficiency in the electoral process. Numerous reports of out-of-date voter rolls reveal that, across the country, deceased, incarcerated and relocated persons remain registered to vote.

In spite of constitutional and electoral regulations to the contrary, not all of the political parties have had equal access to the current registry of naturalized citizens, upon which voter rolls are based. By controlling access to the citizen registry, the ARENA party prevents comparison of this registry to the voter rolls, and the resolution of inconsistencies between the two. The right-wing dominated TSE failed to attend to this problem in advance of the 2009 elections, despite a prominent 2008 recommendation by the Organization of American States that this obstruction to electoral integrity be resolved.

Issues surrounding the voter registry left the January elections extremely vulnerable to fraud committed by parties bringing in people from Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua to vote, as well as transporting voters from other municipalities to areas with more hotly contested races. Incidences of deceased and relocated persons on the voter registry allowed for others to vote using those identities and counterfeit identification cards (DUIs - Unique Identification Documents). Reports of this nature were rampant leading up to and during Election Day.

FMLN representatives reported that six buses of foreigners were detained in the department of La Unión, and another 3 buses in the department of Usulután. Meanwhile, the National Civilian Police reported a bus of Nicaraguans in the municipality of San Miguel. Observers also heard reports of large groups of people being housed in government buildings in San Salvador, the most sought-after municipality for ARENA, the night before the election.

Despite these alarming incidents, there is hope that localized efforts by party activists will be effective in defending the legitimacy of the vote across El Salvador in March. In San Isidro Cabañas, during the week before the municipal election, members of the FMLN, PCN, PDC, and CD parties filed a complaint with the TSE stating that the incumbent ARENA mayoral candidate was distributing voter cards to Honduran citizens that were found in the voter registry. On the day of the election, party representatives on the Municipal Electoral Committee (JEM), overriding the opposition of ARENA’s representative, agreed to shut down the vote at midday due to the influx of foreign voters. Thanks to the active local response, the people of San Isidro Cabañas will have another opportunity for a fair election in a special revote on January 25.

Although the FMLN has pushed for solutions to voter registry-related fraud – including public access to the citizen registry, the use of ultraviolet lights at voting tables to verify DUIs, and “residential voting,” in which citizens would vote at smaller polling places in their own neighborhoods, thus decreasing the likelihood of non-residents voting – these recommendations have either gone unaddressed or been dismissed by the TSE.

Faced with a March presidential election that will again be based on inaccurate voter rolls, the FMLN is counting on grassroots organizing and the appeal of its candidate Funes to transcend the defamatory, fear-based campaign that ARENA, with the complicity of the mainstream press, has been running for months.

With Rodrigo Ávila trailing Mauricio Funes by 17 points in some recent polling, ARENA seems resigned to the fact that it cannot win in the ‘first round’ presidential election on March 15. Its strategy, instead, is to force a run-off election by preventing the FMLN from winning the absolute majority (50% plus one vote) that it will need to gain the presidency. In a second round run-off, only the two parties with the most votes would compete, giving ARENA the advantage of attracting votes from supporters of the smaller right-wing parties. Although the movement of voters from one municipality to another don’t affect the results of a nation-wide presidential election, the right-wing is expected to again bring foreigners to the polls in order to prevent a majority FMLN vote in the first round.

In order to prevent voter fraud and maintain confidence in its campaign, the FMLN will rely on the power of its activists to get out the vote and defend a fair election. In the months leading up to the January elections, the FMLN’s limited resources, which consist primarily of the energy of its activist base, were split between campaigning on a local and departmental level, while also maintaining the momentum of the presidential contest.  Meanwhile, ARENA’s virtually unlimited monetary resources and media exposure contributed to Quijano’s victory in San Salvador. With less than two months remaining before the presidential elections, FMLN activists are now able to focus all of their attention on one concerted effort towards a presidential victory.  

Although ARENA and the right-wing of El Salvador have a symbolic victory in San Salvador and more material resources in their pocket, the widespread and numerous FMLN wins in the January 18 elections prove that, on the national level, a plurality of voters continue to see the FMLN as a hopeful alternative to 20 years of ARENA-led government. Party leadership is counting on grassroots participation to curtail voter fraud and deliver a presidential victory in March, while the party has promised not only to address El Salvador’s economic and social disparities, but also to resolve concerns about the electoral system, thus ensuring fairness and transparency in future elections.

[For ongoing reporting on El Salvador’s March 15 presidential election, visit www.cispes.org/09electionsblog.]

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Mon, 01/26/2009 - 08:40


from the January edition of Zmagazine

International observers have denounced recent activities of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) as designed to overthrow democratically elected presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. A similar strategy is underway to undermine the electoral process in El Salvador by striking fear and confusion into voters before legislative and presidential elections in 2009.

Since November 2007, El Salvador's leftist party, the FMLN (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front), has been consistently polling at a 12-14 point advantage for upcoming legislative, municipal, and presidential elections—ahead of the right-wing ARENA (National Republican Alliance) party's presidential candidate and former national civilian police director, Rodrigo Avila, who has peaked at around 38 percent by conservative estimates. 

Because an FMLN victory could deal a profound loss to Washington and Wall Street by countering attempts to increase the corporate privatization of land and public services, business media and government officials have stepped up attempts to defeat them in the press and behind the scenes.

In a recent address to the American Enterprise Institute, Salvadoran Foreign Minister Marisol Argueta implored the U.S. government to intervene in the elections on ARENA's behalf. In addition, international press reports have propagated ridiculous claims of a mounting "terrorist conspiracy" between the FMLN, the FARC in Colombia, and Hugo Chavez. Wall Street Journal editor Mary Anastasía O'Grady has complained that if the FMLN wins, foreign investors will suffer. Indeed, several countries that participated in the 18th IBERO-American Summit in October agreed that corporate privatization has failed the majority of people in Latin America. Presidents in Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Guatemala are proposing increased regulation and oversight of corporate expansion. An FMLN victory in El Salvador promises further movement in this direction.

FMLN candidate Mauricio Funes has said that an FMLN administration would work to oppose biofuel production and the current profit structure for mining projects in favor of spurring agricultural development. "We have to improve agricultural production. Over the past 19 years of ARENA government, the infrastructure for food production has been neglected and dismantled. It is essential and a priority to allot land use for food production and the harvesting of vegetables and staple grains. This is what the people need. We cannot allow ourselves the luxury of allotting areas of land for biofuel production because we are not going to work to feed machines; we have to work to feed human beings."

In its attempt to confuse and ultimately sabotage the FMLN's campaign, right-wing Venezuelan-based pro-U.S. media organization Fuerza Solidaria has released a set of television ads and door-to-door leaflets that assail potential voters with the usual dose of misinformation and scare tactics that accompany every electoral campaign in El Salvador. Designed to suppress votes for the FMLN, one of the ads portrays Funes and the FMLN party as an out-of-touch, antiquated relic rather than a political manifestation of the Salvadoran peoples' historic, and ongoing, broad-based resistance to foreign exploitation. Simplistic "flow chart" arrows on the ad imply that an FMLN-led government would sacrifice remittance money from the U.S. to be a puppet for Chavez's "anti-American expansion project." The intended message is clear and has been the preferred threat of the immigrant-bashing Bush administration to Salvadorans on both sides of the border: those who support the FMLN are against the U.S. If the FMLN wins the election, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will begin massively deporting Salvadorans and the U.S. will cut off remittances.

SAID, NED, and Fuerza Solidaria—with the help of corporate-owned media and the U.S. government—have been a major motor behind anti-democratic political strategies in Venezuela and Bolivia since 2001. In April 2002, the United States utilized the NED to channel funds to private organizations that were running covert propaganda campaigns in support of a failed coup in Venezuela, which detained President Chavez and recognized the short-lived, pro-U.S. government. According to the New York Times, the NED "funneled more than $877,000 into Venezuelan opposition groups in the weeks and months before the unsuccessful coup attempt."

In the wake of the failed coup, the NED channeled another $53,400 to help create a U.S. backed organization called Sumate, a group designed to unite, strengthen, and mobilize opposition to the popularly elected Chavez government, and which supported Sumate's efforts to disseminate disinformation. In 2004 the group published fake exit polls that claimed Chavez lost the referendum recall vote. While their strategies have mostly failed, the actions of Sumate and NED have effectively cast doubt on the legitimacy and democratic goals of the Chavez government, weakening its image internationally.

In Bolivia, investigative journalists Jeremy Bigwood and Benjamin Dangl's inquiries through the Freedom of Information Act and one-on-one interviews showed that the former U.S. embassy there—through USAID and NED—had maintained close relationships with right-wing opposition groups to "promote democracy" by undermining President Morales as well. Through these connections and a USAID Political Party Reform Project, the U.S. has supported forces that could "serve as a counterweight" to Morales's MAS (Movement Toward Socialism) party. In response, Morales recently kicked the U.S. ambassador out of Bolivia. USAID and Fuerza Solidaria were also exposed for their attempts to influence Bolivia's referendum in August 2008.

n November 2007, another NED recipient, the International Republican Institute (IRI), presented Salvadoran President Tony Saca of the ARENA party with the "Freedom Award" for promoting U.S. values in El Salvador such as "linking economic growth with democratic governance and vigorously defending freedom at home and abroad." Never mind the re-emergence of death squads, unsuccessful attempts to convict protestors and vendors as "terrorists," and an unprecedented post-war increase in Salvadoran migration to, and deportations from, the U.S. during his term. This exercise in elite back-patting not only unveils the biases of the IRI, which is chaired by Republican Senator John McCain, but also underscores the U.S. government's explicit endorsement of the right-wing ARENA party, another act of intervention and electoral manipulation.

In January 2008 U.S.-based CISPES (Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador) received a familiar warning from the Department of Justice accusing the group of "acting as a foreign agent" of the FMLN party, presumably as backlash for its political connections with the leftist social movement in El Salvador. An identical letter 14 years ago signaled the beginning of a massive three-year FBI infiltration project aimed at destroying the organization. When asked to name CISPES's "conspiratorial allies" past and present, Executive Director Burke Stansbury responded: "People and popular movements organized to challenge U.S. sponsored political, economic, and electoral violence are the ones that get our attention and our commitments. Our government has designed and rewarded the brutal repression of countless uprisings in El Salvador, and is still very active in this way." Is the FMLN a CISPES ally? "Absolutely. We have always maintained political solidarity with the FMLN and will continue to do so. What is more, we are committed in every way to challenging U.S. attempts to deny El Salvador its basic rights as a sovereign country. Elections are only the tip of the iceberg."

In June the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador, Charles Glazer, told a CISPES delegation that the U.S. government's days of interfering in El Salvador's elections are over. He said that although they did intervene in the 2004 presidential election, they would not do so again in 2009. His aide then explained that the delegation "wouldn't have to worry about fraud this time because the NDI and IRI will be training [Salvadorans] how to conduct a quick count." One has to wonder what the embassy's definition of intervention is.

To make the U.S. government and ARENA party alliance even more transparent, Ambassador Glazer appeared publicly in early November with the outgoing Salvadoran president at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, DC. President Saca was on the campaign trail again—with Salvadoran taxpayer money—to raise the profile of ARENA with the ironically titled "Peace and Prosperity" conference. Glazer was at his side, ready to field questions and concerns.

There is no doubt that major changes underfoot in the Latin American region have put Washington on edge. Country after country is electing governments who represent the majority of people instead of the financial interests of a few. El Salvador's left appears destined for both an historic victory at the polls and a new phase of struggle against U.S. dominance, as USAID and NED have become the faltering empire's new "diplomatic weapons" of choice.


Erica Thompson works with CISPES in San Salvador.

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Sun, 02/08/2009 - 11:56


CISPES update

February 5, 2008

The Christian Democrat Party (PDC) and National Conciliation Party (PCN) have dropped out of El Salvador's March 15 presidential election, leaving the two major parties-the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) and the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN)-as the only parties competing for the presidency.

PDC candidate Carlos Rivas Zamora announced his withdrawal on Tuesday, February 3, citing lack of funds and a lack of confidence in the electoral system.

On the afternoon of February 4, the national leadership of the PCN followed suit, announcing it was withdrawing support for its presidential candidate, Tomas Chévez. Chévez maintains he will continue his candidacy even without the backing of PCN leadership, which has prompted some in the leadership to consider expelling him from the party.

Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) magistrate Walter Araujo stated that an independent Chévez candidacy would be a violation of Salvadoran electoral law, which requires all candidates to be representatives of political parties.

The announcements from both parties come after current President Tony Saca, of the ARENA party, called for a "democratic alliance" between ARENA, the PDC, and the PCN leading up to the March election. FMLN presidential candidate Mauricio Funes has criticized the PDC and PCN for withdrawing from the presidential race, accusing ARENA of having "under-the-table" negotiations with the smaller parties for control of key government departments in the case of an ARENA victory. The PCN-which runs the Treasury Court under Saca's administration-and the PDC deny these allegations.

While on the national level the leadership of ARENA, the PDC, and the PCN typically collaborate and build alliances, this does not always hold true at the local level. Currently, both Funes and ARENA candidate Rodrigo Ávila are meeting with mayors and local leaders around the country to build alliances, and some PDC mayors have already endorsed one candidate or the other. In the most recent poll by La Prensa Grafica, published on February 1, Funes held a 10-point lead over Avila.

Check out CISPES's complete analysis of the January elections: http://americas.irc-online.org/am/5831