Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Iraq: Make music, not war

Call me a sellout, but it seems that this is something worth doing. Creative Learning, the nonprofit arm of Creative Associates International, has requested a donation of musical instruments for the Baghdad Conservatory of Music and Ballet and other musical training outfits in Iraq. I say: Adelante!!! And I only hope that Iraqi musicians do not end up like the string quartet who went down with the Titanic....

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Quotes (and Photo) of the Day

La Prensa Gráfica-- "moderados" of the FMLN try to fight their way into a meeting; "ortodoxos" respond, shouting "¡Fuera, areneros, vendidos, fuera!" and spraying pepper gas

"In the end, it is not a question of who leads the FMLN --since it will be the bases who decide that and the electorate who votes again in 2006-- but rather its democratic institutionality and political stature. The FMLN continues to be kidnapped by its own mistrust, and the channeling of decisions via improvised departmental assemblies without any formal convocation or defined participants, which have had no clear mechanisms of discussion or voting, have done nothing more than aggravate that."
--Editorial this morning from El Faro

NOTE: The national council of the FMLN apparently took a vote yesterday not to move forward to September the internal elections originally scheduled for November. Oscar Ortiz and company had apparently already left the meeting, however, when they made this "unanimous" decision.

"This administration's reliance on smear tactics is unprecedented in modern U.S. politics —even compared with Nixon's. Even more disturbing is its readiness to abuse power — to use its control of the government to intimidate potential critics."
--Paul Krugman's column in today's NYTimes

"This administration is truly scary and, given the times we live in, frighteningly dangerous.... [it has] created the most secretive presidency of my lifetime … far worse than during Watergate."
--John Dean, from his new book, Worse than Watergate, quoted in Robert Scheer's op-ed in today's Los Angeles Times.

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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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Reconfiguring the left

The cover of Vértice today (above, portraying a shattered Schafik Handal) is better than the accompanying articles, which mainly focus on the internal dynamic within the FMLN, but the analysis offered by La Prensa Gráfica's Sunday magazine, entitled "Does the 'New Left' Exist?" is definitely worth a look.

LPG's analysis takes as a point of departure the response of several illustrious -- but non-FMLN -- leftists: Ruben Zamora, Hector Silva, Roberto Turcios, Dagoberto Gutiérrez, Facundo Guardado and Roberto Rubio. Interestingly, it is clear to Hector Silva that any left alternative to ARENA will not happen through the FMLN: he's tried it, and everyone else who's tried it will fail. But Joaquín Villalobos --not really an important political actor anymore, but often an astute analyst-- notes that it's only the FMLN that has a real base of activists, and that any future for the left thus depends on reform with the FMLN, such that future left alliances are more feasible.

The news today, however, was that Oscar Ortiz et al. appear not to have gained support this weekend in the departmental assemblies of the FMLN for moving up the internal elections from November to September (Ortiz had originally asked for June), or for the immediate resignation of the Political Commission. This could be due more to the Orthodox wing's control of the party structure than any real lack of support for Ortiz and reformists, which they seem to have in many quarters.

Meanwhile, Hector Silva and Ana Cristina Sol launched a "public convocation" to all interested forces to form a new "democratic left" movement. By doing so, he's implicitly recognized one of the weaknesses of his campaign--that of a fuzzy indefinition of the center, neither right nor left, "ni chicha ni limonada." The CDU and PDC are undergoing their own internal battles, and it's too soon to tell whether anything will come of this. Will Silva's resounding defeat in these elections affect his political future? Too soon to tell, but I wouldn't rule him out just yet.

A key question: what will the newer generation of the FMLN do several months from now if they appear to get nowhere in trying to reform the party?

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Quote of the Day

''America is not a lie; it is a disappointment. But it can be a disappointment only because it is also a hope,'' a hope expressed in Bob Dylan's words as ''freedom just around the corner.''

--The first quote is from none other than Samuel P. Huntington, but it rings true to this particular expatriate, who suffers frequent disappointments. Cited in a book review today by Gordon Wood, in the New York Times.

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Saturday, March 27, 2004

Fact-checking on Haiti arms

Following the recent departure of Aristide, it seems to have become something of a quasi-fact in certain progressive quarters that the U.S. supplied weapons to the rebels--that's right, those cash-starved, drug-trafficking thugs who still haven't been convinced to disarm. The best evidence so far was admittedly circumstantial, and provided by Aristide's lawyer, Ira Kurzban. To give just one example, here's the way the Toronto Star reported it:

"There's a lot of circumstantial evidence that the U.S.A. might have had a hand in it," Kuzban says.

He notes, for example, that the U.S. announced late last year that it was providing some 20,000 M16 rifles to the armed forces of the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.

He speculates that some of these weapons may have found their way to Haitian exiles based on the Dominican side of border, the very exiles who marched across the border last month to join a violent uprising in central Haiti.

Armed in many cases with M-16s, they quickly outgunned the country's ill-equipped police and soon controlled much of central and northern Haiti.

Within a couple of weeks, they were poised to invade the capital."

The logic of this sounds plausible, right? Well, except for one inconvenient fact: "The M-16s have yet to arrive," according to Rachel Stohl, senior analyst at the Center for Defense Information in Washington. Stohl does nevertheless warn against the potential diversion of these arms to Haiti, and says that "at the very least, the gun transfer to the Dominican Republic should be delayed, if not canceled entirely."

That's a reasonable idea, and based on solid information. As for Aristide's lawyer, I wonder what other assumptions he's gotten wrong?

NOTE: Here's a moderately hopeful story on Haiti by Jane Regan, who's writing regularly for Interpress Service. Hope in Haiti means a return to normalcy, which is not saying much...

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Quote of the Day

"If we were doing an ad the headline would be 'Goliath demands slingshots be confiscated.' It's very worrisome this idea that opposition voices would be silenced and stripped of the ability to talk about powerful men."

--This is not about the FMLN leadership's reaction to those in the party who call for early party elections, but it could be. It's from Wes Boyd, co-founder of moveon.org, commenting on Republican accusations that their ads and those of the Media Fund help Democrats evade campaign finance laws.

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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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Thursday, March 25, 2004

Reflecting on Romero, and the left

It's far too easy for me to focus on the egotistical politicking of Salvadoran elites --both left and right-- but I'm not always so directly exposed to the everyday lives of those who find comfort in one or another of these political positions. A friend, Kathy Ogle --who, incidentally, translated a wonderful book about Romero, called "Memories in Mosaic" -- observed some of the reactions of the faithful who celebrated the anniversary of Romero and offered these reflections:

"The Romero event yesterday morning was well attended so I assume the afternoon-evening march was as well. I was moved by seeing tears rolling down Evelia's face as she looked at a picture of Monsenor Romero in his little house at Divina Providencia and reflected that El Salvador didn't seem to be much closer to his dreams now than it was in 1980. "Yo realmente creia que este era el momento [I truly thought that this was the moment]," she said. She said she couldn't sleep the night before thinking of how they could have lost so badly. In spite of her early reflexive assertions of fraud as a cause, she also knows that a heck of a lot of people just plain voted ARENA. It's just hard to accept.

Another friend who was an FMLN representative at a polling station in Zacamil told me his first reaction was anger. He thought, "Este pueblo está jodido y merece lo que le venga." [People here are screwed up and deserve what's coming to them.] Then on further reflection he said he decided he was wrong to blame the people.

I'm sure people will be reeling for quite a while and I hope some of the level of reflection that happens in the intellectual and leadership circles also filters down/over to the grassroots. Likewise, I hope the crushing problems and the frustrations of the poor will continue to have a central place in reflections of leadership and analysts. I do feel hopeful that these will both happen."

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Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Remembering Msgr. Romero

"One of the signs of the present time is the idea of participation, the right that all persons have to participate in the construction of their own common good. For this reason, one of the most dangerous abuses of the present time is repression, the attitude that says, "Only we can govern, no one else, get rid of them."

Everyone can contribute much that is good, and in that way trust is achieved. The common good will not be attained by excluding people. We can't enrich the common good of our country by driving out those we don't care for. We have to try to bring out all that is good in each person and try to develop an atmosphere of trust, not with physical force, as though dealing with irrational beings, but with a moral force that draws out the good that is in everyone, especially in concerned young people.

Thus, with all contributing their own interior life, their own responsibility, their own way of being, all can build the beautiful structure of the common good, the good that we construct together and that creates conditions of kindness, of trust, of freedom, of peace.

Then we can, all of us together, build the republic -- the res publica, the public concern -- what belongs to all of us and what we all have the duty of building."

Oscar Arnulfo Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, July 10, 1977; assassinated March 24, 1980.

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Quote of the Day

"Schafik got far more than the 'hard' votes of the FMLN, and I think that those votes weren't for him but rather against ARENA. In this election, many people held their noses when they went to vote because they were doing something they didn't like. That happened on both sides. People held their noses when they voted for Tony Saca as well, because they didn't like ARENA, but they were afraid of Schafik or they didn't want to take any chances."
--from an interview with Bill Barnes (political scientist, lawyer and frequent Salvadoran election pollster), in today's La Prensa Gráfica

"It was as if Osama bin Laden, hidden in some high mountain redoubt, were engaging in long-range mind control of George Bush, chanting 'invade Iraq, you must invade Iraq.'"
--Richard A. Clarke, George W.'s former counterterrorism coordinator, in his new book, cited by Barton Gellman in today's Washington Post.

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Commenting on Dean Brackley's analysis

Here's a comment on Dean Brackley's post from last night, from Paolo Luers, who recently began writing an interesting weekly column in El Faro on matters related to the press. (This week's column takes to task the influential television news host, Mauricio Funes, for coming out with "exit polls" on Sunday favoring the FMLN that were rife with statistical errors. That move was a serious error by Funes, and caused quite a stir for several hours):

Very interesting pinpointing the difference between "awakening" and the shift of voters to ARENA out of fear. I think you have a point there.

But I have two serious doubts. 1) I wouldn´t call this long-term shift to the opposition an "awakening." Too deterministic. As if there is only one truth and it is only a question of time that people wake up to it…. But I agree, there is a long-term shift toward those who press for social reforms. Which is sort of unavoidable after 15 years of neo-liberal reforms….

2) You are also right about the factor of fear being the driving factor behind the short-term support for ARENA. But then fear is always one of the most important factors in elections. Fear for your work place, fear for the future of health care and your pension fund, etc., will be decisive in elections in Germany and El Salvador alike. If you run for president and don't offer answers to those fears, you loose. Here and anywhere. And if you offer answers which increase those fears, you loose big….

And then: Schafik Handal didn´t need all this big anti-communist campaign to scare people. He does that all by himself.

I agree with the conclusion: "So, I expect the left and center-left will continue to do well, and even advance". There is that possibility. There is that chance. There is that challenge. Challenge, because it´s certainly not going to be automatically so. Only if the left stops scaring people with irresponsible populist demands and starts offering real solutions to the problems that generate fears.

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FMLN: the struggle within begins

The papers are full of news about internal struggles, led by Oscar Ortiz (mayor of Santa Tecla), but apparently with some degree of support. He's calling for the immediate resignation of the political commission, its replacement with a transitory commission, and early elections for new leadership within three months. Julio Hernández, the FMLN magistrate on the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, apparently resigned in disgust last Monday, after it became clear that the Political Commission of the FMLN was not willing to accept any responsibility for their defeat.

Also for the first time, there is public discussion about the FMLN's primary elections last summer, in which Schafik defeated Ortiz by a small margin. There has been a secreto a voces for a long time that those elections were rigged, but now even Ortiz is hinting at it. The municipal coordinator of the FMLN for San Salvador, who was sanctioned last year by the FMLN for speaking out of turn (i.e., suggesting that a Handal candidacy might be succeed), is even blunter, alleging that fraud was perpetrated in the past two FMLN internal electoral processes.

This cartoon from La Prensa Gráfica says it all:

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Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Further election thoughts from a friend

I received these insightful comments on the elections from Dean Brackley, S.J., who has lived in El Salvador since 1990 :

"It is clear that the during the last couple of years the urban population experienced a political awakening ("conscientization"), largely thanks to dollarization and the health crisis. That is reflected clearly in last year's elections (although the rural protest vote went to PCN, not to the left) and subsequent polls which so alarmed former Ambassador Rose Likens and her friends at the State Dept.

From my experience in the Bronx, here, and elsewhere, I think such awakenings are durable. What I sensed in recent months is that in urban areas people were losing their fear of discussing the possibility of voting for the left and were communicating about politics. (That is what I found, for example, in a poor community I work in close to major military installations, where FMLN flags began to appear as never before.)

That erosion of fear and political awakening was reflected in last year's election results, in the post-election polls and in this year's 50% increase in the vote for the FMLN. So, I think this vote increase is fairly durable, whereas the enormous increase in votes for ARENA probably includes many people who would have abstained if they had not been scared by the campaign propaganda: there'll be disturbances, maybe even more war; El Salvador will become another Cuba; remesas will be cut off and Salvadorans deported from the U.S. (Many employers pressured, cajoled and even threatened employees to keep them from voting for the left.)

Fear-filled conversations about these dire possibilities also spread through poor and working communities in the last two months. That helped produce votes but not an awakening. To that extent, these votes do not reflect lasting gains for ARENA. Although I think the fears can be revived in a future presidential election, I don't think they work for local (municipal and assembly) elections.

So, I expect the left and center-left will continue to do well, and even advance, at those levels in the future, unless ARENA's policies change notably. I believe this in part because I believe many people who were dragged out to vote by fear will withdraw into abstencionismo in future local elections.

Since these fears can be revived and since politics now passes through the media, the FMLN will not be able to win a presidential election alone in the foreseeable future, certainly not with a candidate like Schafik. And, if they'd won this time, they would have been mercilessly blamed for a disastrous economic situation and have little possibility for passing any legislation."

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Monday, March 22, 2004

Preguntas sin respuestas

There are many questions that need to be answered before we can fully understand these elections. Likewise, there are many questions about the future, about which we can only speculate at the moment. Here's a list of a few of them.

About the current election:
* Who were the new voters? Were they young people, who picked up their DUI because they needed it for other things, and then decided to vote?
* What happened to the votes from the center coalition--did they migrate left or right, or both?
* What were the most important factors that motivated all the new voters for ARENA? Fear of communism (and accompanying rumors)? Fear of remittances ending/fear of ending temporary residential status of Salvadorans in the US?
* How did the statements by various U.S. officials (State Dept. and congressmen) play out in the minds of voters?

About the future:
* What role will the past and the war play in future campaigns?
* Will Tony Saca prove to be as open to discussion and concertación (consensus-building) as he currently proclaims?
* How will the FMLN react to this loss? Will it reform its leadership, or will Handal hold on to power?
* What's the future of the center parties (PDC and CDU)?
* Under what circumstances would the wealthy elites in El Salvador accept a win by a "left" alternative? If a moderate left force runs in 2009, would that be enough, or would they be villified as well?

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Conservative Central America...

Manuel Orozco of Georgetown University responds to my previous post:

"...I do agree with all you say, what I would add to that is one issue. The election reflects an issue we are reluctant to recognize: Central Americans are fairly conservative people, ideologically and behaviorally, and their support to ARENA illustrates it. The victory wasn't simply about uncertainty, but also about a conservative ideology that permeates in people's minds. From a regional perspective, I do think another important factor to consider is that being conservative doesn't render them anti-democratic. Both the rejections of Handal and Rios-Montt are important considerations about a decision to do away with traditional caudillos. We will see the rejection of Hipolito Mejía in May as another example. I think this will also be an important test in the Nicaraguan elections, as well as to Panama's."

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Massive ARENA victory: some preliminary thoughts

With 96.59 percent of the numbers in, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) reports on their website the following information:

ARENA: 1,190,235 -- 57.73
FMLN: 734,469 -- 35.63
CDU-PDC: 80,592 -- 3.91
PCN: 56,289 -- 2.73

By 7:30 last night, an hour before the TSE gave its first set of election returns, Tony Saca claimed victory. Three hours later, Schafik Handal accepted his defeat, but refused to congratulate Saca, saying his victory was a triumph of "fear and blackmail." He then pledged to his supporters: "If they think they're going to try to govern the country with that kind of fear and blackmail, then the country will suffer, because here there's going to be a resistence without respite."

Out of an electoral register of more than 3.4 million voters, more than 2.1 million voted, compared to nearly 1.4 million last March. I'll post the exact figures later, but in real numbers, this means there was a 50 percent increase in the actual turnout, far more than had ever before voted.

This is an important element of yesterday's story -- the voter turnout is nothing less than amazing. Yesterday's turnout is about 62% of registered voters, but this doesn't begin to tell the whole story. ARENA more than doubled its number of voters from the 2003 election, while the FMLN grew some 50% (again, roughly speaking).

Relatively few anomalies have been reported thus far, which I think we would have heard about given the full-day coverage from three major television networks, with correspondents scattered throughout the country.

Of course, the government should feel very silly (to be polite) at this point regarding their paranoia about international observers coming to the country to interfere with the electoral process, which led them to create unprecedented difficulties arriving at the airport. From a quick glance at the online version of La Prensa Gráfica, I can find no reports of international observers getting into trouble.

In terms of percentage of eligible voters, participation had declined from 1994 high of 52.65% (why everyone here is using two digit decimal points, I don't know). That percentage is somewhat deflated, however, because the old electoral registry was never consistently updated to exclude those who'd died or moved to the U.S., for example.

The current electoral registry was based on the Single Identity Document (known as the DUI, Documento Unico de Identidad), just issued in the past couple of years, and which is produced under a more pro-active system in which those who died will be regularly deleted from their rolls. This proved to be quite efficient--the lists were displayed outside each voting place, and people could find not only their names, but their photos to figure out where to vote.

At each voting table, workers also were able to compare the name and photo on their laminated DUI with their computer printout, which also generated photos of each voter.

Assuming the results hold --on Tuesday the TSE begins a final official tally that usually takes several days -- both the CDU and PDC will lose their political party status, as will the PCN. Parties have to get 3% of the overall vote to stay alive, but in the case of a two-party coalition, they need 6%. The demise of the historic PDC, founded in 1960 (why LPG says 1946 is a mystery) along with the CDU may pave the way for the formation of a new center-left party to battle the FMLN for the political space on the left, a notion that many coalition leaders have been discussing in recent weeks. First, it was thought, they would each get their houses in order, then work toward the better definition of an alternative. However, these results put them in a significantly weaker position.

It seems clear that because only the presidency was at stake yesterday, the polarized nature of this society --one which was thought to have been healed from the war-- was underscored. This campaign was highly charged with images of war and the past -- thanks largely to ARENA's campaign, which capitalized on the left's inoportune postulation of such a historic Communist figure as Handal. In the mid 1970s, Foucault inverted Clausewitz's formulation, noting that "politics is war by other means," and this aptly describes the way ARENA approached this campaign. (Note that the Central American who popularized this inversion of Clausewitz was Guatemalan General Gramajo, who died last week along with his son after being attacked by bees.) The image of a clean-shaven professional communicator, just under 40 years old, with no real ties to the past vs. the bearded septuagenarian and historic leader of the Communist party was easily exploited as a choice between the future and the past.

I think Schafik's analysis is essentially accurate -- Salvadorans continue to be frustrated with the economy and lack of opportunities, but it was fear of the unknown that was the key factor yesterday. In El Salvador, great power is invested in the presidency, so people saw this as a fairly black and white choice. Nevertheless, you will not have a situation like this --in which voters go to the polls only to vote for a president-- in another ten years. In two years, 2006, there will be legislative and municipal elections. If last year is any indication, voters will once again prefer to spread their votes out among a number of parties, and maintain the kind of pluralism in the Assembly that currently exists. That is, unless Tony Saca is actually able to deliver on some of his promises and people start seeing some real improvements.

In 2009, the elections will include contests at all levels -- municipal, legislative and presidential. A lot could happen between now and then, and I won't even begin to speculate. But should the left get its act together --which means renewing its leadership, bringing in new faces unassociated with the war, broaden its base and democratizing the party and, most importantly, coming up with an economic project that does not scare the living daylights out of the private sector -- they could be well-placed to beat the party that will have governed El Salvador for the past 20 years.

After all, ARENA can't rule forever, can it?

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Preliminary results

Party Number of votes Percentage (%)

ARENA 529,403 59.85
FMLN 291,834 32.99
CDU-PDC 32,508 3.68
PCN 30,821 3.48

with 42.73 percent of the numbers in (preliminary results)

see Supreme Electoral Tribunal website for latest results.

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Sunday, March 21, 2004

Rapid count tallies

UCA, Channel 12, Channel 2-4-6 all did rapid counts. Initial results are all pretty much the same. These are estimates, and not official:

ARENA: 57%
FMLN: 36%
PCN: 2%

I have a feeling this is unlikely to change, given the similarity of everyone's exit polls. Tony Saca has just declared victory.

Will post TSE preliminary numbers when available.

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Waiting for the results!

I was awakened too early for my tastes this morning, at around 6:30 am, by the sound of helicopters overhead. I didn't get up to see what they were, but I know there are both press and police choppers that will be used today--three television channels are running coverage until midnight, and some 17,000 police are out to provide for security. Because residential voting, which would have allowed citizens to vote much more closely to their residences, was not enacted this year, there are still some number of people who have to travel to their hometown to vote--thus police presence on the major highways, for example, leading to the eastern part of the country.

The principal parties, the television stations, and other public opinion institutes are doing their own exit polls, quick counts, etc., so we might start getting some pronouncements about the results as early as 7 pm, two hours after the polls close. I'm determined not to stay glued to the television until later in the afternoon.

Early reports show that there is the kind of massive turnout that had been expected, with many people voting early. Why? Because no one wants to stay outside in the mid-day sun. But early voters can also....go shopping! Many stores have offered to discounts to people who show up with their finger dipped in ink (the tried and true method of making sure that people only vote once!) The supermarkets were also unusually crowded last night. The pupusa business may take a hit tonight as people stay home to watch the results--usually on Sunday nights pupuserías do their best business.

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Saturday, March 20, 2004

Orwellian immigration logic

Consider the logical consequences of these assertions, made by Republican congressmen Dana Rohrbacher, Dan Burton, and Thomas Tancredo as well as the ARENA party:

Assertion: If the FMLN wins, the U.S. will have to re-examine its relationship with the new Salvadoran government--TPS could be revoked, remittances will thus decline, and the country will go downhill fast.

Assertion: If the FMLN wins, a communist system will be set up in El Salvador--it will become another Cuba.

Fact: The U.S. gives far greater benefits to immigrants from communist countries like Cuba than they have ever given to El Salvador, even during the worst days of the war.

Lesson learned: If you're a Salvadoran and want to migrate north (and half of all Salvadorans consistently tell pollsters they'd jump at the chance), it's smarter to vote for the FMLN than ARENA.

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Friday, March 19, 2004


"For the moment, Spain's incoming prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, didn't make matters easier when he hinted in a radio interview Wednesday that he was rooting for John Kerry to defeat Bush. Americans, no less than the Spanish, prefer to make their own electoral decisions. But with so many supporters of the Bush administration trashing Zapatero voters as appeasers, the new prime minister's preferences are not surprising."

--E.J. Dionne, Jr., Washington Post, March 19, 2004

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Politicized religiosity

There's much not to like about the campaigning of both parties in recent weeks, but a paid ad taken out on Tuesday in La Prensa Gráfica (sorry, no link available) by the "Comunidades Cristianas Fe y Vida" really got my dander up. Entitled "Parable: The Star of Hope," this half-page ad seeks to draw a parallel between the star of Bethlehem and the star of hope represented by the FMLN. I quote:

"God has promised change and new life with hope, just as he did in Bethlehem with the birth of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, in the same way he has done today in El Salvador by naming our brothers, friends and also children of God, Schafik Handal and Guillermo Mata Benet, who will govern and will guide the Salvadoran people.

The star of hope is before us, just as the star of Bethlehem was before the wise men of the East; let's follow the star to victory by marking it on the 21st of March."

Is disgusting too polite a word to describe this?

From what I hear (I wasn't there), similar words used by Baptist and Lutheran authorities at last Saturday's closing rally for the FMLN, when they "annointed" Schafik and Mata in front of the thousands of party faithful gathered in the main plaza in downtown San Salvador. LPG didn't quite cover this, but they did make a similar reference to this ceremony in their reporting.

By way of comparison, a few traditional churches and individuals (for example, Elim, World Vision, and Jorge Martínez Meléndez, who was a vice-minister of interior for a while in the Cristiani administration and then tried to launch an evangelical based political party), took out a nearly full-page ad on Wednesday that noted, in part:

"It is important to recognize that the Absolute is God, and not authorize such a quality to any party, ideology or political party, and therefore we should maintain a critical attitude towards all human power."

Maybe it's the latent Southern Baptist in me (a reference to my childhood, when pluralistic thinking and tolerance were still permitted in the denomination), but I go with the thoughts of the latter.

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LPG gets it right, but...

Today La Prensa Gráfica reported the statements by Republican congressman Thomas Tancredo that appeared in yesterday's EDH, and both papers noted new statements by Dana Rohrabacher and Dan Burton that said an FMLN victory would have consequences for the relationship with the U.S., including the issue of Temporary Protected Status currently provided to some 250,000 Salvadorans living in the U.S.

LPG gets it right in the sense that they accurately note that Tancredo is head of Immigration Reform Caucus, and is the politician least likely to authorize migration benefits. Both articles cite the widely respected Salvadoran Ambassador to the U.S. René León as saying, essentially, you gotta take these guys seriously.

Buried at the end of a series of quotes in the LPG piece (EDH does not even do this), however, is the statement by Xavier Becerra, a democratic congressman from California, who says that whoever wins will always have good relations with the U.S. On March 15, Becerra and Raúl Grijalva (democratic representative from Arizona) issued a statement which read as follows:

“As we look ahead to this Sunday’s presidential election, we wish to reiterate that the official position of the United States government is to respect the democratic process and to work to build a constructive relationship with whichever political party the people of El Salvador choose. The U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador has met with all of the candidates and has stated publicly that it is not ‘[our] decision who the Salvadoran people elect, but we are going to try to work closely with whoever they select.’

“It is of paramount importance to address the false rumors currently circulating stating that U.S. policy toward El Salvador would change depending on which political party assumes the presidency.

“It is irresponsible and untrue for anyone to suggest that Salvadorans in the United States would be at greater risk of deportation or that they would no longer be able to send remittances to El Salvador. What concerns the United States is the integrity of the democratic process, rather than which political party the people of El Salvador choose. That is how it should be, and as democratically elected representatives of the United States, we will work vigorously to ensure that the ambassador’s words are put into practice. Thus, the people of a democratic El Salvador should rest assured that they are free to vote their conscience without fear of reprisals from the United States government.

“We have already expressed our concerns over maintaining U.S. neutrality with regard to the elections in a letter to Secretary of State Powell. It is distressing that after this letter was sent, White House Special Assistant Otto Reich made comments that seem intended to influence the elections during a press conference at the headquarters of one of the Salvadoran political parties. We again call on Secretary Powell to affirm the official United States position with regard to the elections as stated by the ambassador and disavow the inflammatory statements made by Mr. Reich.”

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A slight correction

Note that I often tinker with my posts after the fact, replacing commas here, fiddling with words there, since I assume that I'm the only one who looks at this on a daily basis and would like to tidy up my posts for my own personal posterity.

However, in a recent case, I may have slightly overplayed my rant when I suggested earlier that EDH misrepresented the "migration committee" headed by Rep. Tancredo, so a correction is warranted. The paper noted that "el comité que preside avala o rechaza cualquier ley migratoria antes de presentarse al pleno legislativo." I translated that to mean that "the committee (sic) he presides approves or rejects" migration laws.... In fact, the Spanish infinitive verb "avalar" actually is more correctly translated as "to endorse."

So perhaps, technically, EDH didn't get it wrong. But given this revised translation, then just about anyone qualifies as being able to "endorse or reject" migration bills (or any other ones, for that matter) that pass through Congress.

The bottom line is that one of the major points of the piece is to say that Tancredo is "influential," that his committee is "powerful", and therefore Salvadorans should listen to what he says--all of which gives an entirely misleading portrayal of his influence.

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Thursday, March 18, 2004

"Unremitting" distortions

This from Catherine Elton in today's Houston Chronicle, describing how the issue of remittances--money sent by Salvadorans in the U.S. to family members in El Salvador, and which comprises 16 percent of the gross domestic product--has been manipulated by the governing party:

"...the ruling party's candidate, Tony Saca -- who polls show is favored to win -- has made a campaign issue of payments from Salvadorans working abroad. Using his party's close relations with the Bush administration, Saca has played on the fears of a nation whose economy is dependent on what are popularly called remittances.

'The message is designed to make people afraid, and it is clearly not true,' says Geoff Thale of the Washington Office on Latin America, a private lobby group. 'The legal status of Salvadorans in the U.S. is tied up with complicated domestic issues and isn't dependent on who is in government in El Salvador.'

...According to [Economist Roberto] Rubio, ARENA began stressing the remittance issue at the beginning of the year, when most polls showed Handal and Saca in a neck-and-neck race.

Rubio and pollsters like Miguel Cruz, director of the public opinion institute at the University of Central America in San Salvador, believe the message is working, especially among undecided voters and those who planned to vote for the first time for the FMLN.

Some analysts believe the ruling party's campaign was buoyed by recent statements from high-level U.S. officials...."

This morning I talked to someone who makes an extremely modest living keeping an eye on cars parked on the street in a residential neighborhood. Throughout most of the 1980s he'd been in the elite Arce Battalion, one of several quick-strike forces trained by the U.S. during the war. I asked him which party he was planning to vote for this Sunday. For the first time ever, he said, the FMLN. Why? Because the current government is full of corruptos.

But, then again, he doesn't receive a dime from remittances.

AFTERNOTE: Tom Long wrote me after posting this, with the following comment, well-taken:

"For the quibble-file record, the "elite" battalions were not really quick-strike in practice, but were generally pretty slow-moving columns of several hundred soldiers. A battalion operation was almost always known about in advance. They relied on superior numbers and firepower, not so much on surprise. Their main job seemed to be to draw fire and engage, and then call in air strikes and/or artillery fire on the enemy once located. They weren't really so elite, either, as they were manned mostly by normal recruits, same as the brigades. My own favorite "elite" battalion was the Bracamonte, which was of course re-dubbed for all eternity as "Brincamonte," when the officer in charge abandoned his post and the troops ended up high-tailing it into Honduras, creating a minor diplomatic incident, and pretty much destroying morale and effectiveness forever. After that, every time the Brincamonte went into Chalatenango it was a bloodbath that would make a strong man weep to see. Once a guerrilla nun in Las Flores told me: "Pobrecitos, los del Bracamonte. Aqui no se les respeta." The mojo of the bad-luck battalion or company is apparently real among armies: once you get that reputation, it tends to just spiral downward from there. For my part, I always knew that a Bracamonte operation was a good time to be in the zone, from a reporter and photographer's very selfish perspective. Lots of good material. As for quick-strike, that was mostly effected by Lurps and/or heli-transport troops after the enemy had been previously located by electronic surveillance or other intelligence. And the latter was counter-acted when the rebel commanders decided to change to guerrilla tactics, from the early years' strategy of conventional batallion-strength insurgent forces. As for the army's different units, it was generally accepted that the best-trained fighters overall were in the air force: the paratroopers and the long-range re-con patrols."

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Quote of the Day

"Now that he hasn't found any weapons, Mr. Bush says the war was worth it so Iraqis could experience democracy. But when our allies engage in democracy, some Republicans mock them as lily-livered."

--Maureen Dowd, referring to Republicans' criticism of the Spanish election results, in her column in today's New York Times

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More twisted news from El Diario de Hoy

While an inside-the-fold story in La Prensa Gráfica yesterday said that the U.S. would respect the election results (citing unnamed Embassy officials), El Diario de Hoy's front page headline today screams out: "Congress threatens remittances: President of the congressional migration committee links the Frente to terrorists, wants to control [money] transfers." Okay, we all know the FMLN adores Castro and Chavez, although no one seriously believes that that means El Salvador will become the next outpost for Al Quaeda were the FMLN to win the presidency. (I realize that we have come to expect no less from El Diario de Hoy, and those of us who wake up every morning with this rag have grown accustomed to its political hysterics, but allow me this rant.)

But, wait a minute, there's a "Migration Committee" in the U.S. Congress? Actually, it's called the Immigration Reform Caucus--which has no legislative authority--a group mostly made up of Republicans and headed by Rep. Thomas Tancredo, a third-term Republican congressman from Colorado, who was interviewed for this major news story. As far as I can tell, they haven't actually succeeded in passing any legislation, or at least do not claim credit for such on their website. But according to one immigrant rights activist, “the caucus seeks to eventually make Republicans who are moderate on immigration as rare as those who are moderate on guns, taxes and abortion.”

More importantly, either out of ignorance or willful intent, the EDH story erroneously notes that "the committee (sic) he presides approves or rejects any migration law before it is presented to the full House." Wrong. A caucus is just a group of people who get together to promote a particular issue or cause, known officially as a congressional member organization.

In other words, a congressional caucus is a club.

If you go to the House of Representatives website you can't even find a direct link to any of the dozens of caucuses that exist, because they have no statutory authority. If you use the website search engine, however, you'll find over 130 caucuses. Did you know, for example, that there's also a caucus for airport noise, bikes, cement, correctional officers, horses, scouting, soccer, wine, machine tools, reading, wind hazard reduction--and then there are separate caucuses for the friends of Denmark, friends of Norway and friends of Spain.

Okay, so they got a few inconvenient facts wrong. But then who is this guy Tancredo, anyway? A google search pulled up some interesting details. First of all, it appears that Tancredo is the poster boy for the most extreme wing of the anti-immigration crowd. In leading the opposition to President Bush's January immigration reform proposal, he is frequently eulogized by enlightened people who run websites like deportaliens.com (who also think he should be President of the United States).

And according to Pat Buchanan's The American Conservative magazine, "as a freshman in the U.S. House of Representatives, to which he was elected in 1999, he signed on as a sponsor to the Mass Immigration Reduction Act, a measure that would have cut annual legal immigration totals in half." In addition, the magazine reports:

"Throughout his career in Colorado, which included service in the state legislature, he has never run from controversy. He gained early attention as a member of what was called the “House crazies,” a group of Republicans who endorsed what were called “radical” ideas. … every year, for a number of years, he sponsored legislation designed to cut off funding for bilingual education."

But let's allow him to define his own views, as he does in this editorial taken from his own website:

"Now consider the fact that massive immigration, combined with our own self-destructive policies of radical multiculturalism, have helped to balkanize America to the point where upwards of eight million people living here are so undecided about their loyalties that they claim dual citizenships. Of course, many millions more simply live here, but fail to relinquish their previous political attachments.

The solution: We must immediately gain control of our borders. This can be done with the use of technology ranging from unmanned aerial vehicles and electronic sensors to cameras and radar. This must be backed-up with human resources—including military support. I have said time and time again that the defense of the nation begins with the defense of the borders."

This is the great expert on national security and steadfast friend of Salvadorans living in the U.S.?

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Wednesday, March 17, 2004

The morning papers

Today is the last day in which any kind of campaigning is permitted, so the papers are rife with full-page ads from different parties and organizations. La Prensa Gráfica's coverage goes along way toward assuaging concerns about any possible fraud, as its main headline notes that the TSE (Supreme Electoral Tribunal) has corrected most of its computer difficulties. An interview with FMLN magistrate Julio Hernández is also reassuring, as he notes that any technical problems will only affect the preliminary vote count in the immediate aftermath of the elections. The final vote count, which may take a week or more, is based on a review of the reports from each ballot box, will be totally reliable.

El Diario de Hoy, on the other hand, leads with the Inter-American Press Association's critique of FMLN candidate Handal's verbal confrontation with the press. (He especially has a problem with EDH and the television company TCS, which has three TV channels, and has referred to journalists from some of these outlets as "corrupt" and "trash.") EDH reports in only a perfunctory fashion about progress in correcting the TSE's technical problems related to the preliminary vote count.

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Presidential candidates--a cartoonist's perspective

From today's La Prensa Gráfica
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Tuesday, March 16, 2004

"María's Story"--2004

The online news magazine El Faro is publishing lengthy weekly discussions with individuals of moderate renown in El Salvador. Under the title, Pláticas en MARTE (a reference to the new Museum of Modern Art), these interviews consistently bring out the poignant human side of social and political actors here, something that isn't always so visible in other formats.

This week they talk to María "Chichilco," who became known to many people abroad through the documentary "Maria's Story," which portrayed her mid-level leadership role in the Chalatenango guerrilla front prior to and including the 1989 offensive. Marìa is also quoted at the end of the story on El Salvador in the recent issue of The Progressive. But that piece fails to capture María's disillusionment with the FMLN. Here are a couple of relevant, and revealing, excerpts:

...Now that you're outside the party, how do you feel about the FMLN as a political party?
That it's not contributing much to democratization in the country...because, as the Frente, we should have been a growing, inclusive political force.... We were much clearer about this then than now. During the war we fought for a population that was suffering. It didn't matter to us whether this person lived somewhere in another part of the country or whether we didn't know each other, whether that person wasn't one of our members. But now the party--as an institution influenced by other political institutions, by other parties--is cloistering itself off into its little fiefdom, and is losing that inclusive, democratic vision....

...And do you no longer think about going into politics?
Yes, I do politics every day.

Party politics, I mean.
The way political parties are right now, maybe not. Probably only if there were a party that offered me a sense of hope, perhaps then, but not just for an elected position. I would participate in a party, yes, because a political party is an instrument of struggle. But when it stops being an instrument of struggle for the people, and it becomes an instrument of struggle for a small group, then I don't care for it anymore. And, unfortunately, that's the way political parties are in this country.

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American leadership, or exceptionalism?

"In the last six or seven months, I've been in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Europe. I've met with leaders in all of those regions, and they have overwhelmingly — not unanimously but overwhelmingly — said that they hope that there's a change in leadership." Richard C. Holbrooke, President Bill Clinton's delegate to the United Nations

Holbrooke (who knows what he’s talking about) came to Kerry’s defense today, as President Bush asked the Democratic presidential candidate to put up or shut up about a charge made earlier this week. Obviously, Bush did not want to cite the latest poll done by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, which noted that "majorities in Germany, Turkey and France – and half of the British and Russians – believe the conflict in Iraq undermined the war on terrorism."

But would the Bush Administration really be happy if key U.S. allies started publicly hinting about the need for a change of the guard in the good ol’ USA? In other words, does the Bush Administration really want the rest of the world to act the way it does—taking partisan political positions on electoral options in different countries, whenever and wherever it deems appropriate?

Let’s take El Salvador, for example. Just this Sunday, for example, State Department Special Envoy for Central America Otto Reich was quoted in local papers (a conference call, set up in ARENA party headquarters) as saying: “We are concerned about the impact that an FMLN victory would have on the commercial, economic, and migration-related relations that the United States has with El Salvador.”

And then Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega, in a February visit to El Salvador, told the press, "I think it is fair to note that the FMLN campaign has emphasized its differences with [the U.S.] concerning CAFTA [the U.S.-Central American Free Trade Agreement] and other subjects. And we know the history of this political movement, and for this reason it is fair that the Salvadoran people consider what type of relations a new government could have with us."

Although he was speaking to a very different subject (and from a different ideological perspective), I nevertheless liked the final lines of George Will's column today: "Monday morning's headlines suggested a loss of U.S. mastery of events. But, then, belief that events can be mastered is the root of most political misfortunes."

There is much yet to say about this issue--stay tuned.

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Iraq, a National Guardsman, and "Nicaragua, Nicaraguita"

Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejía of the Florida National Guard turned himself into military authorities yesterday, the first Iraq war/occupation deserter to do so publicly, and claimed conscientious objector status. If you read the Washington Post this morning, you'll get nary an idea of exactly what led to this decision. The New York Times story was a little better on this front (and also noted the fact that he's the son of the famous Nicaraguan--and onetime revolutionary--songwriter, Carlos Mejía Godoy), but greater details about Mejía's experiences (as well as the larger issue of AWOL soldiers) can be found in yesterday's Chicago Tribune.

Second contingent of Salvadoran troops (380 strong) leave for Iraq in early February, La Prensa Gráfica

Also today, the Latin delegation of the "coalition of the willing" appears to be on the rocks, as Honduras announced that it would not renew its commitment to deploy troops in Iraq, once the tour of duty of the present contingent of 370 soldiers is up in August. Nicaragua pulled its troops out in February, citing lack of funds. Guatemala's newly elected President Berger also has said they don't have funds to send troops. You can expect El Salvador to stay the course, however--come mid-year, they may have the Ultra Plus Brigade, currently led by Spain, practically all to itself.

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Monday, March 15, 2004

Update on visiting El Salvador

From the CIS:

We want to let you know all the observers have been able to enter El Salvador. Thanks to the Electoral Tribunal, the Procurator in Defense of Human Rights, and the U.S. Embassy to get the observers in on Friday night. When observers continued to be detained on Saturday, the U.S. Ambassador spoke directly to President Flores to get the ban overturned.

The U.S. Consular spent Saturday night at the airport with some 67 people who had been detained. U.S. Ambassador Barclay actually came to the airport on Sunday morning to help get people through.

It is worrisome that the Government for the first time since the end of the war attempted to stop international observation from happening. International observation is recognized by the UN and
the OAS as well as other important international insistutions as a method of promoting transparent elections.

And not just observers, as previously noted. Here's a story in the Toledo Blade about a mission group that couldn't get in.

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Sunday, March 14, 2004

Polarization or politicization in the campaign?

Today's Houston Chronicle ran the first pre-election story I´ve seen in the U.S. press so far, by Catherine Elton. It´s a quite good overview, but I was struck by this quote by Manuel Orozco of Georgetown and the Inter-American Dialogue:

"The tensions in El Salvador from the war never went away, but the country has been able to keep the polarization down. But the hard-core sectors of the right and the left parties have hijacked the campaign and brought back the legacy of the Cold War."

Have the parties been "hijacked" by their hard-core sectors, or are the campaigns fairly representative of each party´s dominant forces?

ARENA has run a very smart, slick and expensive campaign, which by the beginning of the year started making clear allusions to what they were not: "I have clean hands, I have not engaged in kidnapping," says Tony Saca in a clear reference to Schafik Handal. In addition, ARENA has had the advantage of a totally supportive local press, as well as Salvadoran "PACs" like Fundación Libertad (which runs TV ads) and Mujeres por la Libertad (which has taken out full page ads in the papers every day for the past couple of weeks.) One of the television ads, for example, portray a teary exchange between Salvadorans in the U.S. and at home, upset because if the FMLN wins they´ll have to return to El Salvador and there will be no more remittances. The newspaper ads take an old picture of Schafik in full military gear, with a young (say, 10 year-old) kid saluting him, with the caption: "Good morning dear teacher! With the FMLN, kindergarten will be free! Is this the education you want for your children?" In a very unusual interview with El Faro last week, even former President Calderon Sol criticized the polarizing campaign rhetoric of ARENA, and especially President Flores, who recently linked the gangs to the FMLN.

For its part, the FMLN has been forced on the defensive for most of the past year, trying to finesse some of their blunter statements in support of Cuban repression, against privatization, and against "el imperialismo yanqui." Sure they attack ARENA as the party of the rich, but mostly they have focused on what policies they will implement--education, health, re-introducing the colon (which they now stress they will do responsibly), raising the minimum wage, increasing income taxes on the wealthy, etc. In recent days, though, they've passed out flyers trying to convince people that, no, the maquila industry (El Salvador's fastest growing) will not close up shop if Schafik wins, and television ads featuring a Maryland State Senator (and Salvador-American) asserting the ridiculousness of the charge that an FMLN victory might mean a change in immigration policies.

And I'd thought that, generally speaking, the FMLN had managed to present a somewhat different Schafik than the one he's historically been known to be--irascible, intolerant, and condescending. However, I just went back to the interview which he gave to El Faro just a month ago, on February 4th. It´s a disturbing portrait of a political figure who attacks the integrity of a reporter who simply wants to ask some tough questions. It also demonstrates a fairly confrontational approach toward the private sector, making it easier to understand just why they are frightened by his candidacy.

So is this polarized debate just an aberration? I know that David Escobar Galindo thinks so, but consider this fact that was noted in today´s LPG: President Flores has exercised his veto power 54 times, an all-time record. Even Duarte only vetoed 20 legislative bills, and 18 of those were during his last year of power (88-89) when the Christian Democrats had lost control of the Legislative Assembly to ARENA and the PCN. What does this mean? As the subtitle of the LPG article suggests: "'Consensus-building' and 'culture of peace' are two concepts that, from the looks of it, are not in the democratic dictionary of the principal social and political forces in the country."

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Problems at migration

I just received this email, which suggests that government migration authorities seem to be indiscriminately blocking the entry of foreigners:

We have a group from Arizona State University currently being held by the Salvadoran authorities. They arrived at 7:00 pm (last night) and were met by the immigration authorities who denied them entry. We have been unable to communicate with them, but we do know they are being held inside of the airport.

ASU has no political agenda and no plan to observe or attend the elections. Their trip is being facilitated by the Newman Center Catholic Community. The delegation of students is led by Father Fred Lucci OP.

The purpose of their trip is to share seven days with the youth of Guarjila. Their schedule includes prayer, the daily celebration of the Eucharist, hiking, hockey (yes, hockey...guarjila is a hockey town) and softball (afterall it is pre-season).

The week is also part pilgimage with visits to the holy places of El Salvador; Romero...the grave of the Maryknoll martyrs...the Jesuit University...etc...

They will also be teaching English in our school and will participate in a cultural night which will feature our rock band and "wild" dancing with the indigenous youth. They are scheduled to fly out early on the morning of the elections.

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Government refuses entry of election observers

La Prensa Gráfica reports that the migration officials refused entry to 67 election observers for the CIS at the airport Saturday, saying that 1) the CIS was not a legally registered entity in El Salvador and 2) that these people were not duly registered before the TSE. A separate column noted that the CIS has been waiting on their legal registration for five years from the interior ministry (gobernación). The article does not note whether the CIS refutes the charge that they are not registered as observers, but the article in El Diario de Hoy does say that CIS issued a communique asserting that they had fulfilled all of the requirements of the TSE--which was not available for comment.

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Saturday, March 13, 2004

"Vamos a la Primera!"

This is ARENA's latest slogan (out for a while now), urging a massive turnout on election day so that Tony Saca can win in the first round. Clearly ARENA feels like a first-round win, even by a hair, is more of a victory than having to go into a second-round. There have been two presidential elections since the peace accords, in 1994 and 1999. In the first, ARENA and the FMLN went to a second round, while in 1999 ARENA won handily on the first round, with a little over 51% of the vote; the FMLN got about 29%.

Earlier I'd mentioned how things may not look so pretty if ARENA wins by, say, 500 votes on March 21st, given the heated rhetoric that has characterized this campaign. Adding to the sense of uncertainty, the head of the computer section at the TSE reportedly resigned yesterday after a week of controversy following an experimental run-through of the electoral count at the TSE (Supreme Electoral Tribunal), in which the results were tampered with by a member of the Junta de Vigilancia Electoral (a body on which all political parties are represented, and which is supposed to oversee the funcioning of the elections). El Faro reported Sunday morning one TSE magistrate in saying that, in fact, it had all been a misunderstanding, and that the computer técnico would continue in his post.

The good news is that the OAS--rather belatedly, and only a couple dozen strong--will be monitoring this election, and they've already gotten involved in reviewing this computer problem. If they can stay on top of things, their word will count should anything be disputed. There are also several hundred observers from the CIS and the Share Foundation, and COCIVICA is also coordinating a set of observers. While these groups won't necessarily have any political clout, the presence of international observers throughout the country should have an important dissuasive effect against the exercise of any egregious electoral irregularities.

In addition, the opposition parties (the FMLN, CDU-PDC and PCN) were smart enough to get together and garner most of the presidencies of the Juntas Municipales Electorales and Juntas Departamentales Electorales. From these positions, one would think that the opposition will be in a good spot to discover any electoral day shenanigans fairly rapidly.

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Thursday, March 11, 2004

The PROGRESSIVE on El Salvador

A basic overview of the Salvadoran elections (far more colorful than my November election run-up, albeit less detailed) can be found online at the website of The Progressive magazine. Entitled "Salvador: From the Bullet to the Ballot," it's authored by Elizabeth DiNovella, the Culture Editor for the magazine, and an occasional visitor to these parts.

So if you need a primer on these elections, something you could, say, send to your mother, this is as good a place as any to start. Or judging from what's available on the internet, it may be the only place to start!

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Which country are we talking about now?

"Because the elite is so small and because of the way in which it has ...held on to its power, it is fearful of any efforts to challenge the status quo....

The polarizing, anti-rich rhetoric of ___ only exacerbates those fears."

Jennie Smith of Berry College in Georgia, speaking in reference to Haiti and Aristide, quoted in the Christian Science Monitor today.

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Campaña Sucia

from La Prensa Gráfica, March 11
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Wednesday, March 10, 2004

"Haiti's Bad Actors"

That's how the Washington Post entitled two letters to the editor published in today's paper, including one by me. Mine was edited a bit from the original (see March 7th below), but it was actually an improvement. You can compare the two versions for "lessons learned" on pithier--and somewhat less preachy--letter writing.

The Post juxtaposed my letter with one from American University professor Phil Brenner. He criticized an earlier article, by a different reporter, for downplaying the nasty credentials of such illustrious thugs as Guy Philippe.

However, I hope that no one who reads both these pieces feels the need to choose one perspective over another. I agree wholeheartedly with Brenner's point, as I hope he would agree with mine. As the subtitle suggests, one can't idolize any of the major actors in the current political landscape.

If you've read Amy Wilentz's empassioned piece in The Nation, posted on March 4th, you might be inclined toward a somewhat more benevolent view of Aristide. After all, she writes, Aristide "didn't start out to be a brutal dictator: History and events and the international community and his own flawed character conspired against him." This piece, written in the bitter aftermath of his departure, calls what happened to Aristide over the years "a chronic coup."

However, if you liked that piece by her, you also have to read her op-ed in the LA Times, published on Sunday, March 7th, entitled "Fall from Grace." Although she explicitly identifies "the Haitian elite, the political class, the business community, the exploiters of Haitian labor, conservatives in the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince" as those who conspired to bring him down, she focuses largely on Aristide's own responsibility for his demise:

"Aristide insisted that everything he did was in service of the Haitian people. Thus, anyone who criticized him — personally or politically — was shunned as an enemy of the people. (For the last four years, because of things I've written questioning his actions, I have fallen into this depressing category.) He was quick to justify his ambition and his methods, and the dramatic, tragic story of the Haitian people from 1990 on became inextricably intertwined with the dramatic, tragic narrative of Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

It proved impossible for Aristide to switch comfortably from opposition leader to president. As president, it was much harder for him to have the give and take with average Haitians that had been his daily political bread. Giving up his ministry, marrying and having children brought him down from an exalted position in the average Haitian's eyes to the level of a mortal politician. It was also impossible for him to hold power to public account, because he was now power. In addition, the art of compromise and consensus did not really excite Aristide: He was suspicious of other people's motives. He undoubtedly felt justified in his suspicions after the 1991 coup d'état that forced him into exile.

...Although he was a major player in his downfall, he certainly does not bear full responsibility.

...The gold wristwatch that replaced his faithful Casio, and the big white suburban house that is now in ruins, are indicators of how — in many small, incremental ways — Aristide moved away from his power base. But it was a still-polarized Haiti — self-destructive and dependent on the whim of the hardhearted outside world, a country Aristide did not know how to cure — that, after lifting him up so high, took him down."

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UN: "10 years or more" in Haiti

Skimming the Washington Post and NYTimes, I couldn't find the following comment made in Canada by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on a long-term commitment to Haiti, probably because he was answering a Canadian reporter's question in French:

"I believe we certainly want to avoid errors that were made in the past, and we want to work very closely with Haitians to ensure that the country will be able to move ahead, that the money that is given to it will be used properly. The international community will remain involved and with them. As of today we want to put Haiti and the needs of Haitians at the very centre of what we were doing. We've had programs in the past, but I do believe there are lessons to be drawn from the past. We can look to the future. I'm persuaded that we will be able to make progress, but that does take time. That will take time, a lot of time. It is not one year or two, it will take much more time. It could be ten years or more. One must have patience."

It's worth keeping tabs on Haiti through the UN News Centre's special website.

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Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Background reading on the Salvadoran elections

I mentioned earlier that we can expect of problems on election day, which is always the case, although they've never been serious enough in the postwar period to call into question the legitimacy of the elections. This one should be no different, especially given that people will be voting for the first time ever with their new Single Identity Cards (DUI). While the DUI is much more reliable and transparent (pictures on laminated cards, to be compared with an electoral registry with photos of the voter as well!), this will nevertheless be the first time they will have been used.

To brush up on potential election day foibles, many of which are not related to the document used to vote, one surprisingly objective and well-documented report about irregularities in the March 2003 elections was published by the International Observation Mission of the Center for Exchange and Solidarity (CIS). The report is not afraid to document FMLN violations of electoral laws--such as improper use of propaganda, distribution of food (i.e., vote-buying), etc. on election day--alongside the numerous abuses by all the other parties.

If you want even more details, as well as a plethora of data and information on both the 2003 and 2004 elections, you could read the reports of the Consortium of Civic Education NGOs (COCIVICA) at their website. I haven't ploughed through them myself, but COCIVICA has been working on electoral issues for eleven years now (the only nongovernmental organization in El Salvador with that kind of track record), and know what they're talking about. They're a coalition of five NGOs ranging from center to left.

And you'll definitely want to click on the websites of the two principal candidates, Tony Saca (ARENA) and Schafick Handal (FMLN). Can't find a site for Hector Silva anywhere. (Later, I found out that he does have one. I had to ask around for that one.)

If you harbor any skepticism whatsoever that press coverage has been skewed toward the two major parties (as is this blog), with one party in particular getting more favorable coverage, just click on the logos of the four parties in contention at the Diario de Hoy site. Then compare the number of articles listed for each party. From the titles you'll get a general sense of the tone. Draw your own conclusions.

Nevertheless, there is justice. At all three sites, not one provides the proper website address for Tony Saca--all noting "tonysaca.org" instead of "tonysaca.com." For those of us who know the difference between an "org" and a "com", well, the address should be obvious. So you read it here first, folks.

By the way, none of the parties' sites allows for online donations--at this time....

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The authoritarian undercurrents of the electoral process

The Salvadoran historian and writer Roberto Turcios has a wise column in today's LPG, in which he criticizes the authoritarian political culture which has infused the current electoral campaign. With both major parties accusing the other of attempting to steal (FMLN's charge against ARENA) or disrupt (ARENA's charge against the FMLN) the elections, and following what has been perhaps the most confrontational electoral battle since the signing of the peace accords, he scores the utter failure of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal to assert its authority in the matter.

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Of Torture and the Bond Market in Venezuela

As an occasional cellist myself, I have to mention a story by veteran reporter Phil Gunson in Friday's Miami Herald about a cellist (and director of the Venezuelan National Symphony) who accidentally found himself in the middle of a demonstration last week against the Chavez administration's dubious resistance to accepting some 800,000 signatures as part of a recall referendum. As a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Carlos Eduardo Izcaray was picked up by the National Guard, who proceeded to subject him to 20 hours of brutal beating and torture. (I'll spare you the details.) When asked about the case, the Defense Minister responded, "Torture? No, chico!"

Last Thursday, the day after this happened, the Venezuelan ambassador to the UN, a 34-year career diplomat, resigned. In his resignation letter, he noted that such repression "closely resembles those totalitarian or authoritarian regimes rejected by the peoples of Latin America in the 1980s.''

Ni modo. Also on Thursday, a columnist for Bloomberg.com noted that the stable value of the Venezuelan "DCB dollar-denominated floating rate bond" (no, I don't know what that means)... "means investors are remarkably sanguine about the current political situation. Bond prices tell us the prospect that investors have of getting paid interest and principal in full and on time. And for all his bluster, Chavez appears to have a not-so-terrible reputation as a debtor in the capital market."

Boy, that's a relief!

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Monday, March 08, 2004

The Left's Runoff Conundrum

The two leading parties in the March 21st presidential contest are ARENA and the FMLN. Things do not look good for the latter:

--If it is to survive electorally, the FMLN needs a second-round runoff (since no one even suggests that they might be able to win on the first round, whereas polls suggest that ARENA might win in the first round. (Check out these polls for yourself, through links on the right side of this web page.)

--The polls also suggest that ARENA would win by a wider margin in the second than in the first round.

--But if ARENA wins by such a large margin in the second round, then its mandate will be stronger than it would have been with only a minimal win in the first contest.

--So, assuming that ARENA is going to win (which the FMLN understandably refuses to accept, but which most observers do at this point), it might be better for ARENA to win in the first round, which would give them a weaker mandate and force them to reach out to the other political parties as they govern for the next five years.

--But if ARENA does win on the first round, then the FMLN will say the elections are rigged, and demand to recount every vote (sound familiar?) The stage is thus set: (1) Schafik has already warned that ARENA is setting a “trap” for election day, (2) almost half the public—according to the latest IUDOP poll—suspects there will be fraud in these elections, and (3) the FMLN base still thinks their man’s going to win, and are going to be pretty shocked when he does not.

--Which is why this electoral cycle will be far more peaceful if ARENA and the FMLN are forced into a runoff. For the second round, there will have been time to correct some of the irregularities that popped up in the first round, and which to some extent should be expected. But even if they are not, the margin of an ARENA victory is likely to be so great that these flaws will matter much less anyway.

--In the longterm, however, ARENA—if it wins in a second round—should let the strong showing of opposition parties in the first round give them pause, as did the results of the March 2003 legislative and municipal elections when they lost the popular vote to the FMLN for the first time ever.

As Roberto Rubio wrote in his column in today's La Prensa Gráfica, when the polls showed the FMLN ahead of ARENA a year ago, ARENA took it seriously, reoriented their strategies, and now they're reaping the rewards. One can only hope that ARENA will take the concerns of its citizens more seriously in spheres other than the electoral one, and translate them into more transparent and equitable public policies over the coming years.

A saber, pues.

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Sunday, March 07, 2004

Flash! Labor rights report finally gets press coverage

Kudos to Erick Lemus, the editor of Vértice (the often excellent Sunday magazine of the erstwhile reactionary daily El Diario de Hoy), for finally piercing the wall of silence and managing to slip in a reference to a December 2003 report by Human Rights Watch on labor rights in El Salvador. (This was the first report on El Salvador since I left HRW in 1993/94.) You see, until today the major media had avoided any mention of the "bad news" proffered by HRW--namely, that not only are existing labor laws deficient by international standards, but even these are not respected, and that CAFTA should try to remedy this situation.

Previously only the afternoon leftist daily Co-Latino, which has a relatively minor circulation, had cited the report. Obviously, the wealthy elites who control these papers have wanted to protect its readers against any information that might undermine the positive spin about El Salvador that their friends in the ARENA party would like to project. (I believe this comment falls into the category of speculation--thus the title of this blog.) A second report by HRW on abuses against domestic child workers in El Salvador, released in January 2004, has yet to receive any coverage in the local press (again, except for Co-Latino).

This may seem like a self-interested pet peeve, but check out these stories on the arrest of persons involved in bank fraud, in the Feb. 12th editions of El Diario de Hoy and La Prensa Gráfica. Now, can someone explain to me why these newspapers have no qualms about revealing names and publishing pictures of the accused (five of whom were released within two days), but cannot tell us which bank was involved (Banco Salvadoreño, apparently)? For further reflections on this kind of self-censorship, read this column by Chema Tojeira, the rector of the UCA.

By the way, the HRW document was reported in the context of a story on working conditions in the maquila sector, and mentions a new report by Intermon (Spanish affiliate of Oxfam), "Moda que aprieta", which might be worth checking out.

A propósito, yesterday I received a rare piece of FMLN campaign propaganda under my door. It was a flyer geared toward my middle class neighborhood (situated as it is in ARENA-dominated Antiguo Cuscátlan), aimed at explaining that the maquila industry would, in fact, stay put under an FMLN government, and that greater investment would indeed take place--as long as labor rights were respected. ("¡Con el FRENTE, las maquilas se quedan!") The background is a picture of Schafick & Co. meeting with Asian maquila owners.

Too little, too late: Just as it took the FMLN too long to realize it had to stop antagonizing the U.S., since having good relations with the U.S. government is, on the whole, electorally popular (more on this later) it also seems the FMLN has only too belatedly discovered that it might be better to focus on establishing good relationships with foreign investors (including Taiwan), rather than trumpet the fact that the first thing they'll do when they get to power is normalize relations with the People's Republic of China.

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