Though it has seemingly bigger issues at hand, the Bush administration is no doubt celebrating the outcome of El Salvador's presidential election this past Sunday as a prime example of democracy in action. Indeed, no evidence of significant election-day fraud has yet come to light as reports indicate that by and large the voting process itself on Sunday March 21st was transparent. The pro-American, right-wing ARENA (Nationalist Republican
Alliance) party once again won the presidency with business mogul Tony Saca garnering 57% of the vote to 35% for Schafik Handal, candidate for the left-wing FMLN (Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front) party, the former guerrillas turned opposition political party. The New York Times noted yesterday that "Mr. Handal promised to bring the 380-troop Salvadoran contingent home from Iraq, restore diplomatic relations with Cuba, tax the rich more heavily, increase government spending for the poor and still seek good relations with the United States."
The outcome on election day reflect the tactics of the ARENA presidential campaign, including the influence of their benefactors the Bush Administration. In fact the FMLN has declared fear as the real winner of the election.
U.S. intervention in Salvadoran electoral politics began early, long before the official start of the presidential campaign season. Last June, outgoing Ambassador Rose Likins in interviews with the Salvadoran press, publicly denounced the leadership of the FMLN and threatened that U.S. investment in the country could pull-out in the event of an FMLN victory. As the campaign season heated-up at the beginning of this year and polls indicated that the FMLN was closing on ARENA the U.S. turned up the interventionist heat. In early February Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs Roger Noriega visited El Salvador to meet with the presidential candidates but at the last minute canceled his meeting with Handal and then in an afternoon press conference made statements warning the Salvadoran people against voting for a candidate who does not share a common economic vision with the U.S. At the end of February Florida Governor Jeb Bush visited El Salvador while on a five-day tour in Central America touting the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and in interviews with the press touted capitalism as the true economic partner of democracy. He met only with Saca and current ARENA President Francisco Flores.
March 14th's news headlines displayed ostensibly independent reporters ensconced at the ARENA party headquarters, conducting phone interviews with Bush's Special Envoy to Latin America Otto Reich (a familiar name to Latin America solidarity activists). Reich warned Salvadorans "to choose a government that they know will have good relations with the United States and which shares the values of private initiative and the war against terror." And late last week three Republican Congressional representatives in a press conference made perhaps the most outrageous statements of all, with anti-immigration stalwart Rep. Thomas Tancredo from Colorado explicitly warning the Salvadoran people that a vote for the FMLN could well lead to changes in the Temporary Protected Status for Salvadoran immigrants-threatening the remittances (money) that the estimated 1.5 million Salvadorans living in the U.S. send back to their families. Remittances are the biggest source of revenue for the Salvadoran economy (over $2 billion per year).
It is clear that ARENA was able to effectively take advantage of the climate of fear that such intervention generated and will continue to push the prescribed economic agenda of free trade and privatization for the Salvadoran people. While none of this is surprising as the legacy of U.S. intervention in its "backyard" Latin America is well-documented, what happened in El Salvador is yet another indication of the limits of "democracy" as conceived by U.S. global empire.
As it attempts to facilitate the development of a government to its liking in Iraq the Bush Administration is re-asserting itself in Latin America and the Caribbean, with the recent ouster of President Aristide in Haiti perhaps being an indication of things to come. Democracy for developing nations as conceived by Bush foreign policy has stipulations that are central to its real concerns: regimes that bend over backwards to accommodate American business interests and that tow the line in the "War on Terror". Self-determination is OK as long as you vote for the candidate of the empire 's choosing.
Jim Goronson is the National Coordinator for U.S.-El Salvador Sister Cities in Madison, WI.