Sunday, March 28, 2004

Press watch: the electoral impact of remittances

Besides Marcela Sanchez's weekly Friday columns in the Washington Post, all Latin Americanists should pay attention to Andres Oppenheimer's Thursday and Sunday columns on Latin America in the Miami Herald. (Both are syndicated widely.)

Oppenheimer's column today focuses on remittances and the role they played in the Salvadoran elections, but he gives their potential importance for the rest of Latin America perhaps too much credit.

At the same time, he misreads the Salvadoran case somewhat. First, the polls did NOT show that the FMLN and ARENA were neck-and-neck just two weeks before the election. It was clear since last September that ARENA held a lead, which proved to be accurate. Second, it's simply inaccurate to compare any material aid the FMLN received from China (computers, t-shirts) to the kind of campaign that was waged by ARENA, the media and their official US allies.

Unlike Sanchez-- who last Friday noted that the Salvadoran case is likely to be unique-- he says that remittances are of such growing importance in so many Latin American countries that what we saw here "is only the beginning."

So, who's right? One way to start looking for an answer to that question is to figure out whether Mexico, Honduras and Ecuador-- the countries he mentions in which remittances are also important-- have the same kind of monopolistic media culture, where the major press has been in bed with the ruling party of the past 15 years. Second, in any of those countries, is there a strong opposition party whose rise to power might presage a dramatic change in relations with the U.S.?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but El Salvador does appear to be pretty unique under those circumstances.

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