Today in the Americas, El Salvador's Election Past

With elections less than a week away, this is a special edition of “Today in Latin America.” This month across the 1980s and ’90s have solidified the trajectory of the region today. As Salvadorans vote on Sunday, it would be best to remember, sometimes, elections do matter, let’s hope the choices made are the right ones.

duarte-el-salvadorJosé Napoleón Duarte
Born in Santa Ana, Duarte quickly rose in the world the evolved after La Matanza in 1932 (while, ironically, he would first take part in protests that brought down General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez in 1944). In 1960 he became mayor of San Salvador, the center of power in the country. After losing the 1972 elections, leftists attempted to overthrow winner Arturo Molina – subsequently, Duarte was arrested and tortured. Durante, amazingly, became such a high target for the Salvadoran government (it is now known that Duarte was on the CIA’s payroll).

The civil war (the effects of which we’ll see this Sunday) began in 1979, ushering the Revolutionary Junta into office. Duarte joined the junta in 1980 and became El Salvador’s foreign minister. Because of this post and Reagan’s incessant anti-communism, Duarte launched into the stratosphere as a symbol of democratic resistance against the FMLN and leftists everywhere. As with all stories such as these, Duarte held his power through corruption and death, with death-squads operating in earnest across the country as US aid flowed openly into the juntas’ hands.

On March 25, 1984 (25 years ago) Duarte was elected president with the aid of $2 million to try to suppress violence by Duarte, his opponent Roberto D’Aubuisson (ARENA) and the disenfranchised FMLN. Duarte was seen as a pioneer for trying to negotiate with the bloodthirsty rebels to save the innocents in the cities – in reality, Duarte just accepted a long standing deal with the guerrillas. It is interesting, because the FMLN wanted ARENA banned from participating in elections and representation for themselves. Duarte would not meet them halfway or any way. Probably by the insistence of the US, Duarte promised to end the bombings of civilians but continued regardless. His government became ineffective and, with US aid drying up, obsolete. Dialogues began across Central America on how to “deal” with guerrillismo, but nothing would come out of any of it until the 1990s (1990 for Nicaragua, 1992 for El Salvador, 1996 for Guatemala). Duarte’s PDC, which is not in operation today, lost in 1988 to ARENA.

ARENA’s dominance
0000352292-001March has seen the elections of a variety of president’s who overall worldview and politics remaining remarkably the same. Duarte passed off the presidency to Alfredo Cristiani, of ARENA, for reasons mentioned above. “80%” of the local vote was taken by ARENA, with the FMLN still on the outside. It would be Cristiani who would oversee the peace accord process with the FMLN, leading to greater integration into Salvadoran society. What Cristiani could not do, Armando Calderón did. He enhanced the neoliberal experience and set up the FMLN as a genuine opposition in North American political terms.

flores-bushFrancisco Flores was elected in March 1999. He was a director under Cristiani who oversaw how to implement the 1992 Peace Accords. Only 39 (younger than Obama), he became president in 1999. Flores will be remembered for Iraq, CAFTA and dollarization. It was under him (and his ties to the US) that Flores sent troops to aid George Bush’s war in Iraq. He partnered again with the US to recreate a new Central American Common Market. CAFTA proved devastating for regular Salvadorans and went along with dollarization, which benefited disproportionally wealthy business holders instead of the workers. Finally, Flores moved his country off the colón and onto the US dollar, where it sits today. After an earthquake in January of 2001, Flores was criticized (especially by Maurico Funes – who is running for president for the FMLN this Sunday) for delivery of international aid. Flores responded by attempting to shut down the station.

saca-bushAntonio Saca, with the aid of the United States (are we seeing a trend?), was brought to office in June 2004. Of course, there is evidence of US interference and fraud. He defeated former guerrilla Schafik Handal, who like others of his generation, had denounced violence after the accords. Handal was seen by many as forgetting his roots for such statements and his insistence on electorally challenging the Salvadoran government. This still meant nothing as the US aided Saca by inducing fears of Handal’s past, despite Saca having none. Saca kept troops in Iraq, the only Latin American nation to maintain troops since 2003, which didn’t end until last month.

A New Wind?
With the winds of the past two-and-a-half decades shifting towards reactionary, rightist, US-backed, and impulsive governors. So many, as do I, believe that change will come to El Salvador on Sunday. It will be an impressive victory for the former guerrilla group that, thanks in large part to the United States, has been disenfranchised for, some could say before it even existed. The countless coups and military dictatorships and those like Duarte who switch sides from democracy to a military junta and then preach democracy once more have plagued El Salvador since 1932. Since the fall of communism in 1991, this sort of interference was supposed to be off the table, but it remains. This site has been previewing the election for two months (since I created it in late Jan. 2009) and the efforts by CISPES and other organizations to prevent US intervention. I was, before the economy tanked, going to be an international observer for CISPES (no money, unfortunately) but I stand in solidarity for a free election, the first since…well, since god knows when.


~ by Daniel on March 11, 2009.

One Response to “Today in the Americas, El Salvador's Election Past”

  1. Read an analysis of the upcoming presidential elections in El Salvador:

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