The Latest from CISPES

Lots to report on the day before the election. This is the latest from Democracy Now! and CISPES (Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador) who are among thousands observing the elections in El Salvador that will take place tomorrow. Be sure to be here tomorrow for updates throughout the day. Take care tonight.

Greg Grandin on the elections tomorrow

Click Grandin for analysis of elections on Sunday

Click Grandin for analysis of elections on Sunday

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Public Pressure for U.S. Neutrality Statement Succeeds after Republican Congressional Representatives Intervene in Salvadoran Election

On Wednesday, March 11 — just four days before El Salvador’s historic election for president and vice-president — 5 Republican Congressmen gave speeches on the floor of the House of Representatives threatening that Salvadorans living in the U.S. would lose their immigration status and be outlawed from sending money home to their families if voters in El Salvador elect the opposition FMLN party’s candidate on Sunday. “Those monies that are coming from here to there I am confident will be cut, and I hope the people of El Salvador are aware of that because it will have a tremendous impact on individuals and their economy,” stated Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN). Similar threats by U.S. officials were made during the 2004 Salvadoran presidential campaign.

The Republicans’ statements were on the front pages of the widest circulating daily newspapers on the morning of Thursday, March 12, the day after the presidential and vice-presidential campaigns legally closed, leaving the FMLN unable to respond to the threats CISPES, along with many partner organizations around the country, mobilized its activists in the U.S. to demand public statements of neutrality from the State Department in Washington and the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador.

After receiving what it referred to as an “inundation” of phone calls from citizens around the U.S. on Thursday the 12th, the State department released a statement of neutrality, saying “The U.S. government reiterates its official position that it does not support either candidate in the upcoming presidential election in El Salvador on March 15th… The separation of powers and freedoms in the United States allows the debate in which members of the U.S. Legislature have expressed their opinions, which do not necessarily reflect the official position of the United States.” Later that day, the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador also released a statement saying, “The U.S. Government will respect the will of the Salvadoran people and will seek to work constructively with whoever wins that election.”

Then the next morning, Friday March 13, Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) stated, “As Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, I am confident that neither TPS [temporary immigration status granted to Salvadorans in the U.S.] nor the right to receive remittances from family in the United States will be affected by the outcome of the election, despite what some of my colleagues in Congress have said.”

At a press briefing later that day, Thomas Shannon, the State Department’s top diplomat for Latin America stated, “We are committed to free and fair elections in El Salvador. And we’ve also made it very clear that we will work with whomever the Salvadoran people elect.” All of these statements of neutrality were subsequently covered in the Salvadoran media, and come on the heels of a March 5 letter signed by 33 members of Congress calling for the Obama administration to take just such a position. That letter was published in its entirety in El Salvador’s highest-circulation newspaper, La Prensa Gráfica, on March 14.

FMLN closes presidential campaign with massive carnival, underscores need to defend against fraud

final-rally-for-funes-esOn Saturday, March 7, the FMLN (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front) held a massive carnival to celebrate the closing of the presidential campaign and the upcoming election on March 15th. Over 300,000 supporters converged on the Alameda Juan Pablo II in a sea of red to listen to speakers, enjoy music, and fill the area with chants vocalizing their support for FMLN presidential candidate Mauricio Funes and vice-presidential candidate Salvador Sanchez Cerén.

Caravans of people arrived from all over the country to join in the celebration that was scheduled to start at 4 PM, though people began arriving hours earlier. As the sun set, fireworks lit up the sky as the crowd raised their fists and sang “El Pueblo Unido Jamas Será Vencido” (“The People United Will Never Be Defeated”). Saturday’s festivities highlight the popular support for the FMLN presidential “formula,” which is leading in the polls and continuing to build alliances and receive endorsements from outside the party.

Sanchez Cerén addressed the women in the crowd, anticipating Sunday’s celebration of International Women’s Day and encouraging all women to be protagonists of change in El Salvador. The carnival concluded with a speech by Funes, in which the candidate called for a massive turnout on Election Day and for everyone to take responsibility to defend the victory. He expressed concern about the potential for fraud on March 15 and urged those present to be vigilant.

The governing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) closed its campaign the next day at the Estadio Cuscatlán, gathering 70,000 people and encouraging them to protect El Salvador from “the reds.”

In the weeks and months leading-up to the March 15th presidential election, international observers from the Organization of American States (OAS) and independent non-governmental organizations have expressed concern over the potential for irregularities. The OAS report of January’s municipal and legislative elections stressed the failure of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) to make the Electoral Registry available in its entirety to all political parties. To date, the FMLN has not had access to this list of all eligible voters, which has prevented investigation into numerous reports of irregularities in the Registry.

Nicaraguans and Hondurans bussed into Antiguo Cuscatlán

On Monday, March 9, residents of Antiguo Cuscatlán in the department of San Salvador reported the presence of buses filled with Nicaraguans and Hondurans who were being given Salvadoran ID cards (DUIs), presumably to vote in the March 15th presidential election. International observers affiliated with the Salvadoran Foundation for Local Development and Democracy (FUNDASPAD) responded to the citizen denouncement and found two buses parked in front of the City Hall that were full of people who hid when the observers approached. The observers noted that the bus passengers spoke with Honduran and Nicaraguan accents. Nearby business owners reported that there were many other buses that had come and gone during the day.

The citizen denouncement reported that the foreigners were being taken to the fourth floor of the City Hall parking garage and given false DUIs. An individual wearing an ARENA shirt who spoke on the condition of anonymity told journalists that buses had been arriving all day from the East and the passengers were being taken to the parking garage for a meeting about the March 15th presidential election. The FUNDASPAD observers saw a line of individuals leaving the City Hall parking garage and rapidly returning to the buses.

In the days before the January 18th municipal and legislative elections, Nicaraguan and Honduran individuals with Salvadoran DUIs were detained in route to Voting Centers in Morazán, La Unión, and San Miguel. An audit of the Electoral Registry conducted by the Organization of American States (OAS) in December of 2007 found numerous irregularities, including the presence of deceased people and people who had migrated to the United States. The OAS provided instructions for purging the Electoral Registry that the TSE never completed. This, along with the reports of foreigners with DUIs, and the fact that a private company produces DUIs, has raised the concern of many International Observers about the potential for fraud in the March 15th presidential election.

Salvadorans march against Free Trade Agreement with Europe

cispes-bannerOne Tuesday, March 10, families participated in a march against the Free Trade Agreement between Central America and Europe (AdA) that is currently being negotiated between the European Union and El Salvador. Many of the signs being carried also called for a repeal of the Central American Free Trade Agreement with the US (CAFTA). A statement outlining ten reasons to be opposed to the AdA was circulated. Amongst the reasons were that the treaty would increase the gap between the wealthy and poor, privatize public services, and legalize the depletion of biodiversity and natural resources. The march, organized by a group called Red Sinte Techan, concluded at the Legislative Assembly, where a statement outlining the group’s position was delivered.

One of the participants of the march, an 80-year old man who identified himself as Germán, said, “The assets [of El Salvador] are for us…we cannot just endure while they eat well and fill their pockets with money.” Many of the marchers have never had a suitable home. Mirna Esperanza Herrera, from Santa Ana, told reporters she had always lived along the railroad tracks.

The AdA is very similar to CAFTA in that it would remove import taxes from most goods and allow private companies to sue governments for lost investments. Many economists have faulted CAFTA for El Salvador’s economic crisis and the downfall of its agricultural industry. Economist Raul Moreno has also pointed out the danger of CAFTA’s provision that allows companies to sue governments for lost investments. In 2008, a US subsidiary of the Canadian-based Pacific Rim mining company filed a Notice of Intent (NOI) to sue El Salvador for lost investments on a mining project in Cabañas. The lawsuit, which could be filed any day now that the NOI waiting period has expired, would be the first lawsuit of its type for the country and could potentially cost the government millions of dollars.

Right wing denounces CISPES

avila-esA March 6 article by the EFE wire service reports that an ARENA party representative in Miami, Florida, José Alfredo Ávila, criticized CISPES for its support of U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva’s March 5 letter in support of free and fair elections in El Salvador. Thirty-three members of the United States Congress signed the document that asked President Barack Obama to publicly state his administration’s position of neutrality and respect for the will of the Salvadoran voters.

Ávila dismissed the lawmakers’ call for U.S. neutrality, saying “they [CISPES] were the ones who came up with this idea for the letter and asked the Members of Congress for their support.”

ARENA rejects the premise that the United States has intervened in past elections, and on these grounds views the Congressional letter as “an insult.” The ARENA spokesman said that the relationship between the United States and El Salvador has “never” produced any intervention in the internal affairs of either country. However, the Congressional letter was accompanied by extensive documentation of interventionist statements and threats made by high-ranking U.S. officials during El Salvador’s 2004 presidential campaign.

In their letter, the Members of Congress stated their own commitment to “honoring and respecting the will of the Salvadoran people when they go to the polls on March 15,” and affirmed that they look forward to working toward a positive relationship with whichever party is elected on Sunday.

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~ by Daniel on March 14, 2009.

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