U.S. Relations

Salvadoran VP Sanchez Cerén Greeted by Protesters in Freeport, NY

Sanchez Cerén – El Salvador’s Vice President and 2014 presidential candidate for the FMLN party – drew a crowd of protestors this past Monday when he visited the Long Island town of Freeport, New York. Vice President Cerén was in town to celebrate Salvadoran American Day with the over 100,000 Salvadorans that live on Long Island.

It appears that protestors were out for a couple of reasons. One, some residents don’t seem to like the current Freeport government and welcome any opportunity to say so. More specifically, protestors were upset that their local representatives would meet with Sanchez Cerén who they called a terrorist for participating in anti-American, flag burning protests four days after the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

Calling Cerén a terrorist is nothing new. U.S. politicians and members in the conservative media frequently use the post-911 incident as justification for supporting for ARENA candidates and denouncing the FMLN as terrorists. As campaigning for the 2014 elections gets heated up, its surely going to be a story repeated again and again.

Ceren’s involvement in the rally has to be taken in context, however. September 15th is Independence Day in El Salvador – a day when many groups hit the streets to celebrate independence from Spain and even demad independence from the U.S. It happens every year.  September 15, 2001 Sanchez Cerén and other FMLN activists used Independence Day to protest El Salvador’s adoption of the U.S. dollar as its currency, which many people saw (and still see twelve years later) as a way the U.S. maintains control over El Salvador.

Many other groups were protesting in San Salvador on September 15, 2001 as well, including a radical student group that burned a U.S. flag. It’s dishonest and wrong to say that because Sanchez Cerén and others were speaking out against dollarization and privatization a few days after 9-11 that they are anti-American terrorists that support Al-Qaeda. In fact, before participating in the rally, Cerén led a delegation of FMLN officials to the U.S. Embassy to convey their condolences for the attack on the U.S. – hardly the act of an anti-American flag-burning protester. After the rally, Cerén told reporters that he and the FMLN were marching to condemn dollarization and privatization.

The distortion of Cerén’s activities on September 15th is similar to recent op/ed pieces posted in the Wall Street Journal discussing this summer’s constitutional crisis in El Salvador. Just like Cerén’s detractors have resorted to name calling instead of engaging in policy debates, the WSJ chose to use the important struggle between the judiciary and other branches of government to characterize the FMLN as anti-democratic Chavistas (Tim’s Blog wrote a great analysis of the WSJ and a similar Washington Post article).

The FMLN and its leadership are not perfect and there is plenty of reason to engage them in policy debates, but no one is served by the kind distortions and name-calling reminiscent of cold war and post-911 paranoia.