[Marxism] El Salvador's US Installed 'Democracy'

Tony Abdo gojack10 at hotmail.com
Fri Mar 26 17:57:07 MST 2004

The Salvadoran election results hardly received a blip of attention this 
week in the US, or elsewhere. This has to be a stiking example of the limits 
of strictly, country based 'solidarity' campaigns, and a concrete example of 
why the antiwar movement must not remain only focused on Iraq to the 
exclusion of other areas of US interventionism.  Today, there are far too 
many deployments of US troops around the planet to remain only focussed on 
Iraq alone.

What will the Democrats do when they take office early next year? They have 
no plans to pull the US out of Africa, Central Asia, South America, the 
Middle East, Central America, nor the Balkans.    An antiwar movement that 
forgets even where the US is intervening, is not going to be very active 
when a Kerry begins to sweet talk.  Here is a CounterPunch commentary on 
current US intervention in El Salvador....
March 26, 2004
US Meddling in Rightwing Consolidation

Democracy in El Salvador?

On March 21 in El Salvador, over 2 million Salvadorans went to the polls, 
58% of whom voted for Tony Saca, the Alianza Republicana Nacionalista 
(ARENA) party candidate for President. Schafik Handal of the Frente 
Faribundi Marti para la Liberacion Nacional (FMLN) received 36%. I was 
present at the election as an international observer working with the Center 
for Exchange and Solidarity (CIS) at a voting center in a small municipality 
in western El Salvador, Jayaque, where I saw bus after bus with ARENA flags 
flying arrive at the park, jammed full of voters who evidently made their 
crayoned "X" over the ARENA banner on their paper ballots. When the ballot 
boxes were opened after 5 PM, the ARENA vigilantes could hardly contain 
their glee as they collected fat piles of ballots for their party.

The Salvadoran people had voted, but there was little joy in the decision. 
In San Salvador on the night of the 21st, after everyone knew the results, 
an eerie quiet prevailed. ARENA had defeated the FMLN and two other smaller 
parties who failed to achieve sufficient votes to maintain themselves under 
Salvadoran election law, but had broken election laws at will, spent 10's of 
millions of dollars, employed a vicious smear campaign, and enlisted the aid 
of United States Congressmen and the United States State Department to do 

ARENA is the right wing party created by Roberto D'Aubuisson in the early 
1980's. He was named in the United Nations Truth Commission Report as the 
intellectual author of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1980. 
It remains a far right political party whose main ideological idea is a 
fervent anti-communism. This approach is described by Joan Didion in her 
1982 book "Salvador": "to the right, anyone in the opposition was a 
communist, along with most of the American press, the Catholic Church, and, 
as time went by, all Salvadoran citizens not of the right...(the political) 
left may mean, in the beginning, only a resistance to seeing one's family 
member killed or disappeared."

The candidate of the FMLN, Schafik Handal, is a stalwart of the social 
struggles. He represented a party which was born out of the guerrilla army 
of the civil war which converted itself to the largest political force in El 
Salvador. Last year for the first time, the FMLN garnered the most votes of 
any political party in the local and legislative elections.

ARENA started their campaign in August with an intense advertizing campaign 
introducing the fresh-faced ex-sports announcer Tony Saca. This was over 3 
months before a campaign was legally allowed. They painted their blue, white 
and red colors on almost every light pole in the nation. They employed a 
vicious smear campaign against the FMLN candidate Schafik Handal, a veteran 
of the civil war, who was labeled a kidnapper and a terrorist in a personal 
attack campaign also illegal under the law. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal 
was paralyzed by the ARENA voting bloc, and no adjudications of these 
violations of law went forward during the campaign. According to Blanca Flor 
Bonilla, a Deputy of the FMLN, ARENA spent $55 million of government funds 
in their massive advertizing campaign.

There was a steady stream of United States government intervention in the 
process, against the FMLN and in support of ARENA. Since 2003, officials of 
the United States have been threatening the Salvadoran people with severe 
consequences if they have the nerve to actually change their governement. 
The last ambassador to El Salvador, Rose Likens, warned that an FMLN 
government would have consequences for US-El Salvador relations. State 
Department functionary Dan Fisk compared Schafik Handal to "firures of the 
past" such as Daniel Ortega and Rios Montt. When current US Ambassador 
Douglas Barclay met with Schafik Handal, and the FMLN later published their 
picture together, he requested they retract the photo and not use it 
anymore. On February 6, the Assistant Secretary of Western Hemispheric 
Affairs for the U.S. State Department, Roger Noriega, said: "I think it is 
fair to note that the FMLN campaign has emphasized its differences with [the 
U.S] concerning CAFTA (Central America 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."

The Special Envoy of the White House to Latin America, Otto Reich, laid it 
directly on the line on March 13, in a telephone interview conducted from 
the ARENA offices in San Salvador: "We would not be able to have the same 
confidence in an El Salvador led by a person who is obviously an admirer of 
Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, as we have today in (ARENA President) Flores." 
Reich continued to warn that a win by the FMLN would cause a reevaluation of 
the United States relationship with El Salvador.

In the days before the election, the major daily newspapers ran front page 
articles about the efforts of United States congressmen such as Dan Burton 
of Indiana, William Diaz Ballart of Florida, and Thomas Tancredo of Colorado 
introduced bills threatening remesas and immigration should the FMLN take 
the Presidency.

Finally, there were many reports of employee coercion in this nation of 
non-union workers. (Excepting the hospital workers, who in 2002 to 2003 had 
to strike for many months to avoid a disastrous privatization of the public 
health system.) Maquila, bank and business employees were told that a Frente 
victory would mean that their employer would simply leave the coutry.

The closest analogue to this election I can recall is the 1990 Nicaraguan 
election, during which the Nicaraguan people were told in no uncertain terms 
that the economy would continue to be ravaged if they kept the Sandinistas 
in power. In El Salvador 2004, United States officials and El Salvador 
elites made it clear that all hell would break loose if the FMLN came to 
power. In this small nation of 8 million, over 2 million of whom live and 
work in the United States, and send over $2 billion dollars a year back to 
their families (remesas), threats against this system of forced migration 
are taken very seriously.

The Salvadoran people know quite well what these threats mean. There are 
overtones of Chile's overthrow on September 11, 1973, by forces supported by 
the United States, as well as the more recent abandonment of the elected 
government of Aristide to the thugs of the coup of 1991, as well as the 
bitter memories of the war years of El Salvador, when the United States 
supported a series of dictators and military juntas amidst a sea of violence 
against the civilian population.

Leslie Schuld, director of the CIS, which sponsored the largest 
international election observer project this year (or ever) in El Salvador, 
stated, "The huge election turnout was a positive sign, but as we review the 
process we will be making suggestions for improvement. The fact that voters 
were made to fear for their jobs, their immigration status or their remesas 
was a setback."

The big losers of the election are the poor of El Salvador, the majority. 
They will continue to live without health care, clean water, basic housing. 
90,000 maquila workers will continue to struggle for $5.43 a day or less, 
without the hope of unionizing, without government protection for 
workers'rights. The agricultural sector will continue its plummet, as the 
small and medium sized farmer will continue to have no credit, and markets 
will be penetrated with ease under free trade agreements and unfair trade 
advantages of the United States.

On March 24, three days after the election, the United States Ambassador to 
El Salvador, Douglas Barkley, came out with a statement that the US 
government would recognize any government chosen by the Salvadoran people, 
and that the remesas and immigration policy were not at risk at any time. 
What a bizarre, cowardly act, days after the election, after he had refused 
to state this during the campaign, and had even refused to allow a picture 
of him with the FMLN candidate to be published.

The elites of El Salvador and the rightwing multinational power brokers of 
the United States put a gun to the head of the Salvadoran people in this 
election. This election did not achieve democracy for El Salvador; it did 
not allow the voice of a free people making a free choice.

Joe DeRaymond has been in El Salvador since February 29 on this 6th election 
mission of the Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad (CIS). He can be reached 
at: jderaymond at enter.net.

U.S.-Backed Rightist Claims Victory in Salvador Election
Published: March 22, 2004

MEXICO CITY, March 21 — After a bitter campaign for president in El 
Salvador, a conservative pro-American businessman claimed victory Sunday 
night over a battle-hardened former Communist guerrilla.

The ruling party’s candidate, Antonio Saca, 39, a media mogul tacitly 
supported by the United States, was winning 57 percent of the vote in early 
returns. Schafik Handal, 73, a longtime left-wing leader, had 36 percent.

The campaign revived cold-war fervors from El Salvador’s civil war. An 
estimated 75,000 people died as an American-backed government fought 
left-wing rebels between 1980 and 1992.

Mr. Saca's party, the ruling Nationalist Republican Alliance, or ARENA, was 
linked to death-squad killings in the 1980's. Mr. Handal's party, the 
Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN, was the rebel force that 
fought the government. After a 1992 peace treaty, the FMLN became a 
legitimate political party, and now controls 31 of 84 seats, a plurality, in 

American officials who were behind-the-scenes players in Central America's 
anti-communist campaigns during the 1980’s had openly opposed Mr. Handal.

Otto Reich, President Bush's special envoy for the Western Hemisphere, and 
Roger Noriega, an Assistant Secretary of State, inferred in public 
statements that El Salavdor's commercial, economic and political relations 
with the United States could suffer if the leftist won.

But ARENA has controlled power in El Salvador since the 1980's, and claimed 
that it kept control tonight.

President Francisco Flores is among the most pro-American leaders in the 
Western Hemisphere, and his apparent successor, Mr. Saca, has vowed to 
continue his policies, including free trade with the United States and 
adoption of the United States dollar as the nation's official currency.

ARENA, whose campaign colors are red, white and blue, argued that the United 
States could cut the flow of money from Salvadoran migrants in the United 
States if Mr. Handal won.

Mr. Handal promised to bring the 380-troop Salvadoran contingent home from 
Iraq, restore diplomatic relations with Cuba, tax the rich more heavily, 
increase government spending for the poor and still seek good relations with 
the United States.

Claiming victory tonight, Mr. Saca promised to govern for all, not only his 
supporters. This was the third presidential election since the 1992 peace 
accords; ARENA party candidates won both previous ballots. But neither peace 
nor the party have brought much prosperity to El Salvador. About a third of 
the people still live on about $1 a day, and a global drop in coffee prices 
has crushed small farmers. Hundreds of thousands of people fled the nation's 
violence and poverty over the past two decades.

Vilma Romero, 42, a doctor in San Salvador, the capital, chose Mr. Saca 
tonight, without enthusiasm.

"I'll stick with the devil I know," she said. "We're giving them another 
chance. This should be a big lesson for the right. They have to draw the 
conclusion that there are a lot of things that need to be fixed, and if they 
don't fix them, this will be their last chance."

Gene Palumbo contributed reporting for this story from San Salvador, El 

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