Could Obama Say a Few Words for Democracy in El Salvador?

We all know that President Obama has a lot on his plate. On the other
hand, as candidate Obama reminded us, "words matter," especially the
words spoken by the President of the United States, and with El
Salvador facing a watershed Presidential election on March 15,
President Obama could do a lot for the people of El Salvador and the
future of U.S. relations with Latin America simply by saying something
along the following lines between now and March 15:

"The United States government will remain neutral in El Salvador's
March 15 presidential race, will respect the election results, and
will work toward a positive relationship with whichever party is

If you haven't been following the recent history of U.S. relations
with Central America in general and El Salvador in particular, that
might seem like a pretty banal statement. But in the context of the
actual history of massive U.S. interference in the region's political
processes, such a statement would be revolutionary.

Before El Salvador's 2004 presidential election, Bush Administration
officials attempted to influence the vote by suggesting that if the
opposition party won, the status of Salvadoran immigrants in the U.S.
would be threatened and remittances sent to El Salvador by Salvadorans
working in the U.S. could be ended. These remittances have been
estimated to comprise 10-20% of El Salvador's GDP, likely surpassing
official development assistance, foreign direct investment, and
tourism as a source of foreign exchange for El Salvador. These threats
were widely reported in the Salvadoran press and have contributed to a
lingering belief that the U.S. will not permit the opposition to win
the election - a belief currently being stoked by right-wing campaign
ads in the country, which are recycling the threats from 2004.

If the U.S. makes no statement that it will remain neutral and respect
the results, the practical effect will be to preserve the enduring
legacy of past interference, and thereby to effectively intervene
against the opposition. An official statement is needed to clarify for
Salvadoran public opinion that the U.S. will remain scrupulously

Representatives Raul Grijalva and Marcy Kaptur are sending
a letter this week to President Obama
urging him to affirm U.S.
neutrality in the election. The letter says:

U.S. immigration policy should not be made into a
political instrument used to influence foreign elections. Similarly,
we reject the suggestion that the US government would seek to
financially punish Salvadorans, in this country or in El Salvador ,
for exercising their right to elect a government of their choosing. As
members of Congress, we will not support any such measure.

Could Obama say a few words for democracy in El Salvador? It would
take him 30 seconds to do so. But it would be a big step towards
repairing the damage of the last 30 years of U.S. policy.

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