As El Salvador prepares to hold its presidential and parliamentary elections early next year, the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) worries the Bush administration might be drumming up fear to sway results.
During a June visit to El Salvador, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte expressed concern over alleged links between the populist opposition FMLN party – Farabundo Mart’ National Liberation Front – and rebels in Colombia’s FARC – Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
After Colombian troops raided a FARC camp on March 1, the Colombian government alleged it had seized a laptop computer that tied FARC and FMLN. (The FMLN has denied the allegations.)
“Any group that collaborates or expresses friendship with the FARC is not a friend of the United States,” said U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador Charles Glazer, echoing Negroponte’s remarks.
On June 27, Glazer told a delegation of 12 Americans traveling to El Salvador with CISPES that the United States would not interfere with the country’s January parliamentary elections and its March presidential elections. However, CISPES alleges that Glazer also said that the United States had meddled in El Salvador’s 2004 elections.
According to a CISPES press release, “When asked directly if the U.S. government had intervened in the 2004 presidential elections on behalf of the [right-wing] Nationalist Republican Alliance party (ARENA), Glazer replied in the affirmative. When asked if such intervention would occur again, he said ‘no.’ “
Robert Riley, counsel for public affairs at the U.S. embassy, wrote in an e-mail: “Ambassador Glazer acknowledged that certain American officials made public comments in the context of the 2004 Salvadoran elections. … However, [Glazer] did not suggest or ‘confirm’ that the U.S. government intervened in those elections in any way.”
According to Riley, Glazer “has stated numerous times publicly, the U.S. government will not take sides in the upcoming 2009 Salvadoran elections.”
FMLN candidate Mauricio Funes led ARENA candidate Rodrigo Ávila by roughly 6 percentage points, according to a July Reuters poll. If Ávila loses, it would be the first time since the end of El Salvador’s civil war in 1992 that the conservative ARENA party would be out of power.
The United States has played a nefarious role in Salvadoran history, funding and training the right-wing military and death squads that murdered and disappeared 85 percent of the approximately 80,000 victims during the country’s 12-year civil war.
In the run-up to El Salvador’s 2004 election, Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) threatened that the United States would stop Salvadoran immigrants from sending remittances to their families if the FLMN party won. Remittances from the United States make up nearly 20 percent of El Salvador’s gross domestic product, and nearly a quarter of all Salvadoran families receive them.
That spring, newspapers reported on fears of remittances drying up, which some say helped tip the outcome to ARENA candidate and media mogul Antonio Saca, who won 57 percent of the vote to FMLN candidate Schafik Handal’s 36 percent.
Then-U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador Hugh Douglas Barkley did not respond to Tancredo’s threats until after the election, saying that the opinions of members of Congress are independent from the positions of the State Department.
“The U.S. Embassy in El Salvador never countered this absurd threat or clarified the impossibility of such legislation being passed,” says Rosa Lozano, a Washington, D.C., delegate who attended the CISPES meeting with Glazer. “Ultimately, such intervention helped turn a close race for the presidency into a decisive victory for the right-wing ARENA party.”
To help assuage CISPES’s concern about the upcoming elections, the U.S. embassy’s labor attaché Jami Thompson told the delegation that the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) will monitor the races.
But delegation members question the groups’ objectivity. Last year, the IRI and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) honored President Saca with a “Freedom Award,” which CISPES says establishes the IRI’s bias.
Says Laura Embree-Lowry, a delegate from Boston: “The presence of partisan groups like the IRI and NDI will be counterproductive to the goal of the Salvadoran people, which is to hold free and fair elections in 2009.”