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The USA And The El Salvador Elections Of 2004

By James A. Lucas

10 January, 2005

The U.S. government is one of the biggest opponents of democracy in the world.

Take El Salvador for example – a tiny nation in Central America with only about 5 million people. Our government used intimidation in March of this year to promote the election of the ARENA party’s candidate for president, Tony Saca over the FMLN candidate Shafik Handal. At about the same time our government was issuing statements to scare Salvadorans it was also trying to scare Americans about non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

During the election campaign many U.S. officials made statements in El Salvador in violation of that nation’s laws. A full report on that election by the Centro Intercambio y Solidaridad (CIS) is available at

To understand the indignation that Salvadorans might feel over statements by foreigners within their nation we need only put the shoe on the other foot. How would we react on hearing that foreigners in our nation made threatening statements about dire consequence that might happen if George W. Bush or John Kerry were elected?

Another example occurred recently when a British newspaper encouraged its readers to write to voters in an Ohio county to influence how they would vote in our recent presidential election. These Ohioans, unlike the people in El Salvador, were in no way threatened. But nevertheless a salvo of irate emails was launched across the ocean in response. Just imagine how much more severe would have been the reaction to a real threat to our democracy – like the one people in El Salvador faced.

Bush Administration officials, embassy officials and congresspeople tried to convince Salvadorans that if the FMLN won, U.S.-El Salvador relations would deteriorate, and as a result U.S. financial assistance and foreign investment in their nation would be endangered. People in El Salvador would no longer be able to receive remittances from their 2 million relatives who live in the U.S. Their economy would suffer a further blow if the temporary work visas (TPS) of about 290,000 Salvadorans in the U.S. were revoked. This would cause them to be deported back to El Salvador and would create a heavy economic burden for that nation.

The people of El Salvador already had reason to be afraid of the U.S., since they knew how our government previously victimized them during their 12 year civil war by providing a million dollars a day in military assistance to support both the death squads and also the ARENA party against the FMLN. 75,000 people, mostly civilians, lost their lives in that conflict. These are facts which Vice President Cheney conveniently omitted in his comment during the Vice Presidential debate of 2004.


The CIS report referred to above is based on an analysis of articles with statements by U.S. officials in the three principal newspapers in El Salvador: El Diario de Hoy, La Prensa Grafica and CoLatino. Results show that there were 27 articles containing statements against the FMLN but none against the ARENA party. There were 12 statements that took an objective point of view with half of these being in CoLatino, which has a much smaller circulation than the other two.

La Prensa Graphica and El Diario de Hoy reported all of the anti-FMLN statements made by U.S. officials in large headlines, often on the front page. These articles were given large amounts of space, while the few articles where our officials claimed objectivity were relegated to smaller areas.

In the words of the CIS report:

“These declarations were used in editorials to press the point that an FMLN win would bring disaster upon the Salvadoran people…This idea was reinforced further by ARENA campaign ads in the newspapers, radio, and television, some using direct quotes from U.S. officials. On the other hand, declarations of objectivity from U.S. congresspersons received scant coverage; most were reported only in the smaller afternoon paper, the CoLatino….

“The ARENA party also emphasized the threats of the U.S. government in its campaign advertisements. Some of this propaganda was published in U.S. papers, in areas where many Salvadorans live. The Houston Chronicle, of Houston, Texas, carried an ad asking Salvadorans to tell their family members back home to vote for ARENA so that they would continue to be able to send home remittances.”


Here are some examples of U.S. intervention.

Paul Trivelli, Director of Central American Affairs for the Department of State, said “We said that we would not hesitate to express our opinion on issues that affect our bilateral relations and that we will continue reacting to the actions and statements of the FMLN during the campaign.” Douglas Barclay, current U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador remarked, “Congresspeople can say what they want when they are here. “

Rose Likins, in 2003 before she left her post as our Ambassador to El Salvador, said that the U.S. would respect the will of Salvadoran people in the coming election, but that our government would “re-analyze” relations if the FMLN won the presidency. She said explicitly that the Bush Administration was aware of her sentiments.

El Dario de Hoy alluded to a comment by Douglas Barclay that the U.S. would determine the type of support and relations according to what the elected candidate decided. He also noted in El Diario de Hoy that his country would support the candidate who won. He did not say however that the U.S. would refrain from interfering in the election.

Roger Noriega, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, several times said that he hoped the Salvadoran people would elect someone who “shares our vision, but it is the Salvadorans’ decision and we are going to respect the results.” He clearly showed that he thought Salvadorans should not vote for the FMLN when, during a visit to El Salvador, he met with the candidates from ARENA and also two minor parties but did not meet with the FMLN candidate, Schafik Handal.

Otto Reich, Special Envoy to the Western Hemisphere for the White House, said in a press conference held at the ARENA party campaign center that Salvadorans should choose a government that they know has “good relations with the U.S. and shares our values.” But he made clear that the FMLN did not meet these requirements. He said that the U.S. “could not have the same confidence in an El Salvador led by a person who is obviously an admirer of Fidel Castro and of Hugo Chavez… The U.S. would be fully justified in revising aspects related to a bilateral diplomatic relationship.” He made his comments in a press conference held at the ARENA party campaign center.

Jeb Bush, President Bush’s brother, met only with ARENA presidential candidate Tony Saca. during a visit to El Salvador to discuss CAFTA (the Central America Free Trade Agreement) .

Rogelio Pardo-Maurer, Deputy Defense Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, after a visit with Tony Saca in Washington, commented that the ARENA plan “is a plan that inspires a lot of confidence in the U.S.”

Thomas Tancredo, congressperson from Colorado, said that if the FMLN controlled the Salvadoran government after the elections, it could mean a radical change in U.S. policy regarding the essentially free flow of remittances from Salvadorans living in the U.S. to El Salvador. Dan Burton, congressperson from Indiana, apparently does not know that the Cold War is over. He said that if the communist candidate of the FMLN assumes the presidency of El Salvador, it could very well be necessary for the U.S. “to reconsider its relationship with El Salvador, the prolongation of TPS and our current support for the sending of their remittances to their country.”

Dana Rohrabacher, congressperson from California, said that it is important that the Salvadoran people understand that their decision at the polls will have consequences for future relations with the U.S. Congresspersons Tom Davis of Virginia, Kevin Brady of Texas, Mario Díaz-Balart of Florida and Jerry Weller of Illinois met with Tony Saca, the ARENA presidential candidate, but not with his opponent.

Many of these statements by representatives of the U.S. were repeated later in statements made by ARENA leaders.

Francisco Flores, the President of El Salvador, remarked “How many families are not going to receive their remittances? An important source of the economy will be lost. We are talking about immense risks for the country… Investors are nervous. I know many projects that are being delayed, people saying, ‘I’m not going to invest while this is not defined.’ The first effect is in the investor and that affects jobs.” He was reported as being “worried for the future of remittances because of the comments of Tancredo, Burton, Rohrabacher.”

Rene Leon, the Salvadoran Ambassador in Washington, reacted to Congressperson Tancredo’s comments about TPS, saying "[U.S.] Legislators threaten the continuation of TPS. He also commented on the other statements from U.S. officials, referring to them as a signal being emitted from Washington and Congress that he looked at with concern.

Women for Freedom (Mujeres por la Libertad), a group that placed a large number of anti-FMLN propaganda in the Salvadoran newspapers, quoted Roger Noriega, and Rose Likins in one of their ads and also noted that, “some Salvadoran brothers do not realize the catastrophe and the chaos that would result from a President like Schafik Handal.”


But there were some congresspersons who objected to these interventionist tactics. Twenty-eight of them sent a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell condemning Otto Reich’s statements referred to above. That letter requested Powell to make a public statement denouncing the comments made by Reich. Since there appears to be no evidence that Powell acted on their request it seems reasonable to assume that the anti-FMLN statements were approved by highest levels of our government. On the other hand, he may have been too busy supporting a U.S. attack on Iraq to give this matter much thought.

Amidst this mass of anti-FMLN sentiment, some statements did appear from U.S. officials claiming the objectivity of the U.S. government, a few even condemning statements made by Roger Noriega. Unfortunately, the majority of these statements were printed only in the CoLatino, a newspaper whose circulation is just a fraction of that of La Prensa Gráfica and El Diario de Hoy. Furthermore, those statements that did appear in the mainstream newspapers received less space and smaller headlines than the anti-FMLN statements.

The U.S. Embassy made statements, published in a small article in La Prensa Gráfica which read: “The U.S. Embassy asserted that the government of that country is willing to work with the government that Salvadorans choose, that the government has no control over remittances, that the immigration policy is defined only with conditions of a domestic character.”


The reputation of the U.S. as a nation that promotes democracy in other nations has been tarnished by its behavior in this recent election in El Salvador. Many of the disenfranchised in that nation remember their 12 year civil war. They remember with sadness the loss of many of their loved ones. They remember how weapons provided by the U.S. were used to defeat them. And now when those memories may be fading they learn again that the U.S. will not let them decide their own destiny.











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