The USA And
The El Salvador Elections Of 2004
By James A. Lucas
10 January, 2005
U.S. government is one of the biggest opponents of democracy in the
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 partys 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 nations laws. A full report on that election by the Centro
Intercambio y Solidaridad (CIS) is available at http://www.cis-elsalvador.org/election_observers_finalreport2004.htm.
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?
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.
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:
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
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.
INTERVENTION BY U.S. OFFICIALS
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
Bushs brother, met only with ARENA presidential candidate Tony
Saca. during a visit to El Salvador to discuss CAFTA (the Central America
Free Trade Agreement) .
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.
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.
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.
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, Im 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 Tancredos
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.
U.S. OFFICIALS OPPOSED TO U.S. INTERFERENCE
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 Reichs 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
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
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.