Friday, March 26, 2004

The U.S. and Double Standards

"I think that we can't get too bogged down on political campaign rhetoric. I mean, even in this country, sometimes politicians say things in campaigns that somehow they find unable to do later on -- I'm sure, you know, against their wishes. Let's face it, people change. Sometimes people have to change a position based on the circumstances that they encounter when they come to power."
--Otto Reich, in response to a question prior to the Brazilian elections as to whether Brazil's commitment to a hemisphere-wide trade agreement would be as strong regardless of who wins, July 12, 2002.

Brazil is a large and powerful country, with the world's fifth largest economy, so Reich treaded softly (at least in this particular statement) at the prospect of a Lula victory. El Salvador is a small, seemingly insignificant country compared to Brazil. But it's also the Latin American country which has been most consistently in the U.S. camp on just about any issue you can think of. Perhaps that's one reason that Otto Reich, who just one week before the elections in El Salvador felt it necessary to be quite a bit less diplomatic about a possible FMLN victory. Reich's statements didn't flow from some wellspring of principle. He said what he did in El Salvador because he could.

Marcela Sanchez comments in today's Washington Post that Bush administration officials and congressional allies "felt compelled to become shamelessly involved" in the Salvador elections in order to slow the leftward slide in the region. But that this will not work in countries like Uruguay, Panama and the Dominican Republic, where the left is more likely to win in part due to fear of "U.S.-touted economic models," and where the U.S. has less influence. "In the long run," writes Sanchez, "El Salvador would have been better served had the U.S. officials defended the merits of the plan and proclaimed Washington's full commitment to approve it -- a commitment many voters believe simply does not exist." Now there's a radical concept--engage in the positive promotion of U.S. policy, instead of denigrating anyone who chooses to differ.

Indeed, El Salvador already reflects the worst of U.S. negative political campaign culture--these days they also have to endure the lies and spin doctors of foreign actors. Believe me, ARENA and its friends were already doing a pretty good job, having thrown away the rule book (i.e., the Electoral Code) in order to win at any cost. Henry Campos, law professor at the UCA and former prosecutor in the Jesuit case, notes this fact in his column today in LPG, saying "some politicians seem to think that that law should be violated when it gets in the way," and goes on to enumerate a long list of violations to the Electoral Code that were committed during this campaign.

By the way, we don't have an election report from the OAS yet. Will it mention these campaign illegalities, and the failure of the TSE to address them (two cases resolved out of some 50 complaints that were filed)?

POSTSCRIPT: EDH shamelessly entitles Marcela Sanchez's column, "Easy Triumph for ARENA." The title she originally used for the Washington Post was "Interference in El Salvador Won't Work Elsewhere."

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