THIS SUNDAY FEB 28:
Stay tuned and join the conversation!
IUDOP released the results of a new survey and FMLN presidential candidate Sanchez Cerén seems to have moved ahead in the polls with 36% support. Former Salvadoran President Tony Saca, who is representing a Unity party, is second with 28% support, and ARENA candidate Norman Quijano is in third place with 25%.
If there were a second round of voting, which occurs if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, Cerén would defeat Quijano 43.6% to 41%. If it were Cerén and Saca facing off in a second round, the polls show a virtual tie (42.5% Ceren, 42.8% Saca). If a second round of voting matched Saca against Quijano, Saca would win 39.2% to 30.1%.
The FMLN is generally enjoying more support than the other parties. Based solely on party, if the elections were today the FMLN would get 44.1% of the vote, while the ARENA would get only 25%. The GANA party, which comprises much of Tony Saca’s coalition would only get 12.9% of the vote.
The elections are not until February 2014 so there is plenty of time for Quijano to connect with rural voters or any number of factors to sway voters one way or the other.
At 2:30 in the morning last Friday, the Salvadoran Legislature approved reforms to the Law on Public Access to Information (LAIP). Civil society representatives have reacted by calling the changes unconstitutional and a violation of basic human rights. The reforms take out any teeth the LAIP had to force government agencies to provide information requested. President Funes said he will take his time to review the provisions and decide whether to sign Friday’s bill into law or veto it.
A block of 46 representatives from the FMLN, GANA, and PCN parties voted for the reforms, while 29 representatives from the ARENA, CD, PDC, and 4 other independents voted against them.
Norman Guevara, one of the FMLN representatives who voted for the reforms, said the Legislative Assembly hadn’t approved the Bible when they created the Law [on Access to Public Information] and that it could be reformed. Monday an FMLN spokesman said that they were open to reviewing the reforms and that their only obligation is to transparency.
The Legislative Assembly passed the LAIP in 2011 with 55 votes after civil society organizations, led by Grupo Promotor de LAIP, advocated for years for greater transparency and the right to access public information. The LAIP covers most aspects of information management by government agencies – classification of information, release of information, and promoting a culture of transparency. The LAIP also creates an administrative infrastructure to facilitate citizen access to public information.
Friday’s reforms weaken the LAIP in many ways, according to Grupo Promotor. The Institute charged with implementing the LAIP no longer has the authority to resolve conflicts over what information should or should not be restricted – they can only make recommendations that government agencies can ignore. The reforms also remove the sanctions that were to be imposed if a government agency withheld information. These reforms mean that the Institute will no longer be able to implement the law and guarantee free access of public information.
Over the weekend, Grupo Promotor said the reforms give government entities the privilege of secrecy and silence.
An article posted by La Prensa Grafica hints at a possible back-story behind the reforms. FUNDE, an organization that belongs to Grupo Promotor and has supported the LAIP, recently requested information from the Legislative Assembly about their costs related to Christmas gifts. They also requested information related to how much art the Legislative Assembly had purchased. The Legislature denied the request pertaining to the Christmas gifts and they said that a list of works of art purchased did not exist. The La Prensa Grafica article seems to indicate that the reforms were in response to FUNDE’s requests and that perhaps the FMLN was trying to hide information regarding these expenditures.
Yesterday, Voices spoke with Cristina, an environmentalists who researches and writes investigative reports about issues that affect the Lower Lempa. She told Voices that the LAIP and its implementation have been a success. As an example, she told us that for two years she tried to obtain the National Program for the Reduction of Risks. Government agencies, including the Ministry of the Environment, which she says is the most secretive, never provided her access to the document. Once the LAIP was passed she consulted with the information officials and received everything she needed.
Cristina said, “with regard to investigations, the LAIP has allowed me access to detailed information about industrial and artisan fishing, shrimping, trawlers operating along the coast, mining concessions and licenses, protocols for hydro-electric dam discharges, lists of properties greater than 100 manzanas, and more.”
Since Friday, many civil society representatives have responded to news of the reforms. The Ombudsman for Human Rights, Oscar Luna, said, “as public officials we are obliged to be transparent in our work. The reforms should not be able to affect the right to information that all citizens have.”
The Archbishop of San Salvador, Monsignor José Luis Escobar said, “the reforms are a violation of the Constitution of the Republic and the freedom of information.” He added, “I have heard that President [Funes] is going to study the issue, and is reflecting on it, and I as the President not to sanction these reforms and that the law should remain as it is, and that the diputados also reconsider their position.”
Javier Castro, who is the director of legal studies of FUSADES and a representative of the Grupo Promotor, said that group is thinking about legal actions. “We are already evaluating… the resources that we will be able to use at the moment. What we are clear about is that there is a clear violation of the constitution, and that a claim for unconstitutionality is viable.
If Funes signs these reforms into law, it will become much more difficult for activists like Cristina and communities like our partners in the Lower Lempa of Usulután and the mountains of Morazán to access information about the issues that affect them.
The reforms of the LAIP seem to be on par with the constitutional crises that El Salvador has experienced over the past couple years.Democracy is not always easy and sometimes those in power do not like the inconveniences of being transparent or not having control of courts. But it is promising to see civil society stand up to politicians and demand they do the right thing. As Funes reviews the reforms, he will surely consider the outcry from Salvadorans calling for him to veto the bill. And if for some reason he signs the bill into law, Grupo Promotor or other activists like Cristina will have recourse in the Constitutional Court. El Salvador faces a lot of complicated issues – drug trafficking, gangs, economic disparity, and so on. But each time Salvadorans go through one of these democratic growing pains, they come out stronger and better equipped to take on their more complicated problems.
Not to downplay the seriousness of this issue. Salvadorans have worked hard to secure the right to access public information and have a greater voices in their government, and they have the right to be outraged. But this is also an opportunity to solidify the country’s demand for and participation in a transparent and open government.
Voices will be following this story over the coming days/weeks so stay tuned. If you speak Spanish and are on Facebook, Grupo Promotor has a very informative page that we follow.
In January 2001, El Salvador began the dollarization process, which changed the official currency from the Salvadoran Colon to the U.S dollar. According to an article posted on Tim’s El Salvador Blog, former President Francisco Flores and his Minister of Finance, Manuel Enrique Hinds, made the change in order to keep interest levels low, control inflation and increase foreign investment.
In the twelve years since, Salvadorans have engaged in a constant debate over dollarization – has it been good or not, and should they keep the U.S. currency or revert back to the Colon. In June 2011, we posted an article on this blog looking back at ten years of dollarization, concluding that it has not brought about the positive benefits promised.
Others have reached the similar conclusions, including the current President of El Salvador’s Central Reserve Bank, Carlos Acevedo who earlier this month said dollarization was “a sack of unfulfilled promises.” The Central Reserve Bank is a government-controlled entity that regulates many aspects of El Salvador’s economy, including its currency, and Acevedo’s opinion carries some weight.
This is not the first time Acevedo has criticized dollarization. In March 2012 he penned an opinion piece for El Faro that described the process of planning for and implementing dollarization as “hasty and improvised.” He also said that reversing dollarization (de-dollarization) would be even more detrimental. Acevedo, however, also told Contrapunto that “the next government will be forced to consider the possibility of de-dollarization to allow for a monetary policy that provides greater flexibility of public finance, and so it will be able to return to printing money and adjusting interest rates to stimulate the economy.
Bank President Acevedo made his most recent statements (reported by Active Transparency) following the release of a government study on dollarization, which reached some rather negative conclusions. The report found that many key economic indicators, including exports and GDP fell, while inflation and interest rates rose. Dollarization has failed to shield the economy from downturns and instead made El Salvador more susceptible to instabilities in the U.S. economy, as witnessed during the 2009 recession. The Economista published an article yesterday reaching very much the same conclusions.
In his statements this month, Acevedo said dollarization was “badly designed, improvised and lacking consultation,” and that El Salvador’s fiscal performance with dollarization was the worst in sixty years. He also said the performance was so poor that even proponents of dollarization could not ignore its negative impacts. Even in his most recent comments, however, Acevedo stressed that the Funes administration is not considering de-dollarization and that doing so would cause more economic hard and instability. One of his fears is that Salvadorans would make a run on the banks, withdrawing dollars before they were converted to Colones or another currency.
While President Funes may not have de-dolarization plans for the last year of his administration, Vice President and FMLN 2014 presidential candidate Sanchez Ceren said in May 2012 that dollarization was the cause of the current economic recession and that El Salvador’s currency had to be changed back to the Colon.
Norman Quijano, the Mayor of San Salvador and the ARENA party’s 2014 presidential candidate stated in the past that dollarization would be beneficial to consumers. In a more recent interview he said, “reversing dollarization would be the worst thing to do.” Former President Tony Saca, who may run as the GANA party’s 2014 presidential candidate, stated in the past that he supported dollarization and that de-dollarization would be detrimental.
Acevedo’s comments paint a pretty difficult position for El Salvador in terms of the country’s economic policy. Dollarization has been bad, but de-dollarization would be really bad. While the current slate of presidential candidates have made general statements, it is unclear whether they are open to more nuanced positions that will give government economists more tools to promote a more stable economy.
At 2:40 the morning of August 17, the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly finished a series of reforms that changed the way 19 autonomous state entities elect their boards of directors. The reforms, which proponents downplayed as relatively minor, drew the ire of ANEP (National Association of Private Enterprise) and further exposed an ongoing feud with President Funes and the FMLN party.
The reforms target entities such as the CEL, which operates El Salvador’s hydroelectric dams, and CEPA, which oversees the country’s ports including the Comalapa International Airport. They also target ANDA, which manages El Salvador’s water and waste management systems, FOVIAL, which takes care of the highway and roads, and ISSS, part of the government health care system.
Though these entities operate like private corporations and enjoy some autonomy from the government administrators, they exist to provide public services and are regulated by law. The President of El Salvador has always appointed the heads of these institutions. The August 17th reforms expand the President’s authority by giving him a role in choosing members of the boards from the non-governmental sector. When these 19 entities need new board members from the non-governmental sectors, they will present the President with a slate of three candidates of their choosing and he will select one. It used to be that ANEP appointed the board members from the non-governmental sector, but the reforms diminish their role in the process.
The relationship between ANEP, the government, and these autonomous state institutions is a little complex. According to their website, ANEP is a nonprofit organization created by Salvadoran businesses in 1966. Its mission is to “coordinate efforts of private initiatives to promote the economic, social, and cultural development of the country, and defend the free enterprise system in El Salvador.” ANEP represents more than 49 trade guilds and 14,000 employees from all sectors of the Salvadoran economy.
Over the years, ANEP has been a driving force behind El Salvador’s embracing free trade and deregulation. In addition to local trade guilds, ANEP’s membership includes 153 large transnational corporations such as 3M, Kimberly Clark, Microsoft, Nestle, British American Tobacco, Sherwin Williams, Texaco, and many others. (see The Nation in the Global Era: Conflict and Transformation, by Jerry Harris, Brill 2009). Each year, ANEP and these transnational corporations hold an economic conference call ENADE (National Gathering of Private Enterprise) from which they generate a report recommending reforms and legislation – many of which are enacted. According to Jerry Harris, this is how larger international corporations influence the government and create a favorable business climate in El Salvador.
Last week, an editorial piece in Diario CoLatino posed a valid question – why does ANEP have to be part of the government? The editorial also asks, “is it legitimate and inclusive that ANEP has representatives in these autonomous organizations, making it part of the government without obligation to a [political] party or government program?” The author indicates that ANEP cites their business expertise to justify their involvement, and that they are a civil society organization and should be responsible for appointing civil society representatives.
While that may be, its more probable that ANEP’s role in these autonomous entities, which provide such important public services, is more a product of their close relationship with the conservative ARENA party. Since the mid-1980s ANEP and members of ARENA have had many of the same political and economic interests. Leaders of El Salvador’s business sector, which is represented by ANEP, have also been the most ardent supporters of, and at times leaders of, the ARENA party. For example, before he became President of El Salvador in 2004, Tony Saca was a prominent business leader in El Salvador and served as president of ANEP. Because they shared so many economic and political interests, and were often comprised of the same people, it made sense for ARENA to carve out a space for ANEP by giving them significant control over the autonomous entities.
Their historical relationship with the ARENA party may help to explain the current conflict with President Funes and the FMLN party. It is already election season. Even though the Salvadoran presidential elections are a grueling 18-months away, the ARENA and FMLN parties began focusing on control of the executive branch immediately after the March 2012 municipal and legislative elections. The language coming from both sides indicates that the feud is political.
In justifying the reforms, President Funes and the FMLN skipped right over the question addressed in the CoLatino editorial – why does ANEP have a role in the first place? Funes instead said that greater government oversight was needed because ANEP did nothing to investigate or prevent the corruption perpetrated by leaders of some of the autonomous entities. The President specifically mentioned the 2002/3 ANDA scandals in which Carlos Perla made off with millions of dollars that should have been used for a water project (click here for a good summary of the Carlos Perla case). He also mentioned corruption scandals in the ISSS (a government health care provider) and BFA (Agricultural Bank). Funes placed responsibility on ANEP and ARENA without explicitly accusing them of involvement, since the scandals happened during their watch.
In response to ANEP’s reaction to the reforms, President Funes said he did not even know why they were taking such a strong position. He also accused them of trying to dynamite the negotiations that ended the constitutional crisis. He added, “there are groups busy creating a destabilizing environment. ANEP has been destabilizing the country, torpedoing the situation [negotiations] and has tried to manipulate the roundtable.” Since Funes took office in June 2009, there have been allegations that the most extreme members of the conservative parties have tried to destabilize the FMLN and Funes Administration by causing social and economic crises.
ANEP began their attacks against the FMLN and Funes administration in May, accusing the administration of mismanaging the economy. The most heated rhetoric started coming in June and July when this summer’s constitutional crisis flared up. (For more on the constitutional crisis, we recommend Tim’s Blog). ANEP publically stated that as long as the President and his administration “continues their assault against democracy, the independent judiciary, and respect for the constitution, the private sector will not participate in the Economic and Social Council, CES.”
In response to the August 17th reforms, ANEP posted a statement to their Facebook page saying, “What Funes did today is exactly the same that other non-democratic presidents of ALBA countries [Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, which includes Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Cuba] have done. And now those countries are immersed in the worst crisis of authoritarianism and lack of freedom in all of Latin America.” ANEP President Jorge Daboub also called the Funes government a dictatorship.
This is the same language that ARENA candidates and their surrogates and supporters have used against the FMLN for many years. Staff at the US Embassy and even members of the U.S. Congress used similar language during the 2004 campaign when ARENA candidate Tony Saca defeated FMLN candidate Shafick Handal. Members of Congress tried to influence Salvadoran elections again in 2009 when FMLN candidate Mauricio Funes defeated ARENA candidate Rodrigo Avila. This summer Mary O’Grady has used her position on the Wall Street Journal editorial board to post op/ed pieces laced with this same kind of extreme rhetoric, attacking both the FMLN and Sanchez Cerén who will represent them in the 2014 elections.
The August 17th reforms that decrease the role of the ANEP in these autonomous government agencies is probably not a bad thing. Not because ANEP is corrupt or incapable, but as Diario CoLatino editorial piece noted, because its not really their place to have such a large role in these public entities.
The 19 entities targeted by the reforms manage over $1.6 billion in public resources and have a profound impact on the lives of every Salvadoran. Voices on the Border’s partner communities in the Lower Lempa, for example, struggle every year with flooding caused in large part by the September 15th Dam managed by the CEL, one of the entities affected by the reforms. The CEL makes more money when their reservoirs are full at the end of the hurricane season – they are able to generate more electricity farther into the dry season. Full reservoirs, however, means that if there is a big storm, like Tropical Storm 12-E that dumped 55 inches of rain in El Salvador last October, communities downstream will likely flood. The August 17th reforms increase the likelihood that someone from the Lower Lempa or at least sympathetic to their flooding issues could get appointed to the CEL board and influence management of the dam.
With the 2014 presidential elections “just around the corner” in El Salvador, political parties are well into the process of picking their candidates. Like other countries, Salvadoran political parties go through a nominating process to decide who will represent them in the general election. While the FMLN has all but officially chosen Sánchez Cerén, the current Vice President of El Salvador, as their candidate, the ARENA party has yet to select their candidate. Some in the ARENA party are still are still trying to change the way party officials will choose their 2014 representative.
El Faro reported on Monday that a group of ARENA reformists have proposed changing the nominating process. The party’s top leaders would still choose the candidate, but their vote would be secret. One party spokesman said, “if passed the reforms could change the invisible structure of the party.”
While it may seem counter-intuitive that secret ballots would somehow eliminate the “invisible structure of the party,” the idea is to provide those who cast votes with some anonymity so they can vote on merit. According to the El Faro article, four main power blocks finance and control the ARENA party. A former official in the Saca Administration (2004-2009) said these interests exert the most influence during the nomination of presidential candidates. Once a president is elected they may try to push an issue every now and then, but for the most part they leave them alone. The secret ballots during the nominating process would in theory decrease the influence these four powerful interests have over the nominating process.
The nominating process has always been top-down, with the party base having little to no input. The secret ballots won’t change that power structure at all. The party leaders will still be the ones casting votes and the base won’t know whom they voted for. The main shift would be a consolidation of power away from the four interest groups back to the party leaders. One ARENA founder suggested the party give the base a voice in choosing candidates by moving to a party-wide vote. Doing so would bring the party more in line with the independent and inclusive voting practices that the Supreme Court has been discussing for the past year.
The El Faro article indicates that former President Alfredo Cristiani supports the reforms and is currently surveying the AREANA leadership to see if he can muster up a consensus to vote them into the party bylaws. While he has benefited from the current system over the years – it got him elected president in 1989 – it he would likely benefit from the changes. Instead of having to answer to the power blocks, party leaders will have more control.
The proposed reforms are not new; party leaders have been considering secret ballots for many years but they have not had the internal support to get them passed. Opponents of secret ballots argue that the current system has served the party well for the past 31 years and that there is no need for reform. They also argue that the current open system is more transparent.
The 2014 election is important for ARENA. They lost the presidency to the FMLN in 2009 and they want it back. ARENA did well in the March 2012 municipal and legislative elections, taking control of the Legislative Assembly and winning several municipal seats that have been in the hands of the FMLN for many years.
A few names have been tossed around as possible ARENA candidates for 2014. Norman Quijano just won his second term as mayor of San Salvador, and is often mentioned as a possible candidate. He said shortly after the elections that he would certainly be open to the idea of running. Another possible candidate is Ana Vilma de Escobar, who was Vice President under Tony Saca (2004-2009) and is the wife of one of El Salvador’s wealthiest businessmen. As already mentioned, Sánchez Cerén is the likely candidate for the FMLN party, and former-president Tony Saca may try to run as a GANA party candidate. Back in April, Tim’s Blog posted short bios on each of these candidates.
Last Sunday, Salvadorans went to the polls to elect mayors and legislative representatives – the first elections since March 2009 when Mauricio Funes became the first opposition candidate to win the country’s Presidency. It was the conservative ARENA party’s turn to celebrate yesterday, winning back control over the Legislative Assembly and a large number of important municipal seats.
According to the Supreme Election Tribunal website, the party totals for the Legislative Assembly are:
- ARENA: 33 seats
- FMLN: 31 seats
- GANA: 11 seats
- CN: 6
- PES/CN: 1
- CD: 1
- PES: 1
- Independent Candidates: 0
Despite the clear victory for ARENA, no single party has a simple majority of 43 seats and ARENA will have to depend on GANA or other minority parties to take action. As Tim’s Blog pointed out, it’s always possible that the FMLN, GANA, and CN could form a voting bloc and control the Legislative Assembly. While GANA is a conservative party, there may be political advantage in siding with the FMLN on occasion just to keep ARENA in check.
Sunday night, ARENA officials didn’t seem too worried about uniting with GANA. In 2009 when the FMLN won the Presidency and retained control over the Legislative Assembly, ARENA seemed to have hit rock bottom. In October of that year, however, they expelled ex-President Tony Saca from the party accusing him of rigging the selection process that named Rodrigo Avila as their presidential candidate; as well as conspiring to divide the party through the creation of the well-financed GANA party. Before the elections, ex-President Saca called on the GANA and ARENA parties to unite for the 2014 elections to ensure victory over the FMLN.
But after making such an incredible comeback on Sunday, ARENA leaders again called Tony Saca and the Areneros who left to form GANA traitors and said they do not need to unite to defeat the FMLN in 2014. And ARENA leaders are already eyeing the 2014 elections. On Monday night, Norman Quijano, who won his second term as the mayor of San Salvador by handily defeating FMLN candidate Jorge Shafik Handal, said on Channel 33 that he is definitely considering running for president. Tony Saca has also indicated that he is interested in running for another term as President. Ana Vilma de Escobar, who was Tony Saca’s Vice President, has also made it clear that she is interested in running for President again – she had aspired to be the 2009 candidate before Avila was anointed. Vilma de Escobar did well on Sunday collecting more votes in San Salvador than any of the other legislative candidates on the ballot.
In addition to losing seats in the Legislative Assembly, the FMLN took a big hit in greater metropolitan are of San Salvador, which is comprised of 14 distinct municipalities. In addition to Mayor Quijano holding on to his office in San Salvador, ARENA candidates won in Mejicanos, Soyapango, Ilopango, Apopa, San Martín, Tonacatepeque y Ayutuxtepeque, as well as Santo Tomas just south of the city. As La Prensa Grafica pointed out yesterday, the population of these former FMLN strong holds is over 984,000. Though the margins of the ARENA victories were tight, they were victories none-the-less.
In Soyapong, the FLMN incumbent Don Carlos “Diablo” Ruíz” lost by a mere 309 votes. Many have made the joke that ARENA had to perform an exorcism in Soyapongo to get out “El Diablo”. Others are wondering what will become of the ALBA contracts, whose operations hinge on their partnerships with FMLN municipalities. The Mayors of Apopa and Soyapongo hold the vice president and secretary positions, respectively.
FMLN spokesperson, Roberto Lorenzana, summarized his party’s losses yesterday during a press conference, saying that ARENA won 2.9% more votes, and took some of their symbolic strongholds – Soyapango, Apopa, and Mejicanos – four legislative seats, and more than 150,000 votes that they got in 2009. He said the party is accepting the results with maturity and responsibility, and will be looking at what lessons they need to take away from the losses.
Maria “Chichilco” Ofelia Navarrete, the former FMLN guerilla featured in the 1990 documentary “Maria’s Story” and current Vice-Minister of Government, said this week that Sunday’s results were a sign that El Salvador’s voters are maturing. She points to several politicians from the FMLN and ARENA who lost offices they’ve held for many years because voters wanted change instead of voting for the same parties and the same people. She sites examples from her home region in Chalatenango. In Pontonico, the FMLN mayor who has held his seat for many years lost by 10 votes to the ARENA challenger. Similarly, in San José Cansaque the ARENA mayor who had been in office for many years lost his seat to the FMLN challenger. She says:
“This means that every day the people are maturing in their democratic development… at times the people get fed up with the same government. The leadership from all parties has to reflect, first on the direction of their internal democracy – this is an urgent call.”
Sunday’s voting was not without complaints. On Sunday, officials closed the polls in two municipalities – San Lorenzo, Ahuachapán and San Miguel Tepezontes, La Paz. In San Lorenzo, the Municipal Electoral Board stopped voting to “protect people’s votes.” One report says that election officials closed the polls because FMLN supporters from other places were trying to vote in San Lorenzo. In San Miguel Tepezontes, opposition parties accused the ARENA incumbent mayor of bringing in voters from other municipalities to vote for him, which is of course of a violation of the election code. Because voting in these communities was stopped, the TSE announced that they will try again this Sunday, March 18th. Eugenio Chicas, the president of the TSE said that those found responsible for closing the polls could receive up to 10 years of jail time.
In other communities, political parties have not accepted the results of Sunday’s election, claiming fraud. In the municipality of La Libertad, La Libertad, activists from the GANA, ARENA, and PNL parties protested the victory of FMLN-PES incumbent, claiming that he also brought in outsiders to throw the elections in his favor. The margin of victory is almost 700 votes, which would not be an insignificant amount of people to cast fraudulent votes. The ARENA party is also questioning Sunday’s results in other municipalities where they lost seats that they once held. In Nuevo Cuscatlán, La Libertad, ARENA leaders claim that the FMLN challenger won by bringing in outsiders to vote for him, and that they bought off members of the local voting board.
Perhaps the most extreme act on Sunday occurred in San Francisco Menendez, Ahuachapan where vandals broke into the voting center as officials were counting votes and burned the ballot boxes, destroying over 90% of the ballots. The article reporting the incident says that the police and attorney general’s office are investigating and have leads. Others in the community have accused the PDC Mayor Narciso Ramirez of election fraud, saying that he bused in outsiders to vote for him. Mayor Ramirez has made national news a couple times over the past couple of years. Last October he made news during Tropical Storm 12-E because he was out assisting with the rescue efforts during the extreme flooding when his truck got swept away by the flooding Paz River. The Comandos de Salvamento pulled him and others from the vehicle and got them to safety. In April 2010, the Mayor made national news when he was caught in a shootout over a “business deal” gone bad. Mayor Ramirez was shot three times and three others were killed.
In Pasaquina, La Union, the attorney general has charged three people with electoral fraud. Police caught the men transporting flyers that threatened people going to vote. In Ozatlán, Usulután, officials have charged a man with voting twice.
The municipality of San Fernando, Morazán is going to have to have a run-off. Candidates for the ARENA and GANA parties each received 259 votes, meaning that there is no clear winner. The FMLN and CD parties were not far behind with 236 and 238 votes respectively. The TSE announced that they would hold a runoff after the Semana Santa vacations in April.
Last week we posted two stories about Decree 743 – the controversial law that requires El Salvador’s Constitutional Court to make decisions by unanimous consensus instead of a four-vote majority as in the past. Due to the makeup of the court, decree 743 essentially renders the court powerless.
There has been a lot of movement around this issue since our last update – the following are highlights from the week’s developments. Despite all the statements from government officials, legal experts, civil society leaders, and others, there is still a lot that remains unclear about the politics behind the passage of Decree 743 and how the current debate over the law will play out.
Thursday, June 2
- The Legislative Assembly passed decree 743 with the support of the PCN, PDC, GANA, and ARENA conservative parties. Left and centrist parties FMLN and CD legislatures abstained from the vote, meaning that they did not vote against the bill, but just didn’t participate.
- President Mauricio Funes signed Decree 743 into law.
Friday, June 3
- Decree 743 is published in the Diario Oficial, at which point it took effect.
- Sigfredo Reyes, the FMLN President of the Legislative Assembly, called Decree 743 a “tragedy for democracy.”
- By late afternoon, protesters had organized a demonstration in front of the Presidential Palace in San Salvador. Organizers used text messages and social media to spread the word of the protest and several hundred participated.
Saturday, June 4
- In the morning civil society organizations met to discuss Decree 743 and to organize a movement against it. They also agreed on organizing a larger protest at 3:00pm on Sunday at the Salvador del Mundo Monument, in San Salvador. They created a Facebook page and twitter accounts, and reached out to communities through phone calls and word of mouth.
- The FMLN party issued an official statement denouncing Decree 743.
Sunday, June 5
- Over five hundred people representing all sectors of Salvadoran society participated in the protest at the Salvador del Mundo. Civil society representatives used a pickup truck as a makeshift stage and a loud speaker to denounce the law and voice their opinions on the impact of Decree 743 if it is allowed to stand.
Monday, June 6
- Civil society organizations met again at the University of Central America (UCA) to continue discussing their opposition and planning a strategy to challenge the new law.
- President Funes responded to the objections of Decree 743, stating that it is constitutional and not a restriction of the judiciary. He argued that the law promotes democracy by requiring all of the justices to come to an agreement before making a decision on a case. President Funes also stated that the process for drafting and passing the law was transparent and not done under the table.
- The Constitutional Court declared Decree 743 unconstitutional.
Tuesday, June 7
- Thirty-five civil society organizations held a press conference in which they demanded that the Legislative Assembly repeal the law.
- The Constitutional Defense Forum, a Salvadoran organization, filed a lawsuit with the Supreme Court against Decree 743.
Wednesday, June 8
- The Funes Administration began to evaluate Decree 743 and the possibility of repealing the law.
- Medardo Gonzalez, the Secretary General of the FMLN, demanded that the Supreme Court recognize Decree 743 as law (yes, in contradiction to the FMLN’s Saturday statement opposing the law). In addition, he called the controversial decisions by the Constitutional Court “rebellious and irresponsible” and said that they were motivated by ideological and political motives.
- The right-wing ARENA party called for the repeal of Decree 743 and asked that the FMLN join them. Former president and ARENA leader Alfredo Cristiani stated that ARENA’s support of the decree was based on misinformation that the Court would abolish the Amnesty Law and the law the enables CAFTA. He said now that he knew the Court will ‘defend’ the Amnesty Law, he will support the repeal of the decree.
- The FMLN met in the afternoon to organize their stand on the law and their next steps.
- Just before 4 pm, Salvadoran attorney Manuel Antonio Cortez Meléndez filed a claim with the Constitutional Court claiming that the Amnesty and CAFTA laws are unconstitutional. These cases had never been formally submitted to the Court prior to this point.
- PDC officials motion to remove the four magistrates from the Constitutional Court for not complying with Decree 743 and declaring it unconstitutional.
Thursday, June 9
- Civil society organizations organized another protest, marching from the Salvador del Mundo monument to the Legislative Assembly. Marchers demanded the repeal of Decree 743 and transparency in the process. One of the main complaints by civil society organizations is that the Legislative Assembly and President Funes were not transparent in passing the law or in discussing their justifications for the law. Once the marchers arrived at the Legislative Assembly, they demanded entrance but only a few were allowed in. Those who remained outside threw eggs at the entrance in protest. On the floor of the Assembly, Diputado Orlando Arevalo (an Independent) accepted a petition from the protestors.
- Early in the day, FMLN representatives announced that they will not support ARENA’s efforts to repeal the law, stating that they have to work with the PDC, PCN, and GANA to “get themselves out of the mess they helped create.” They also refused to meet with civil society representatives, inciting the egg throwing.
- Later in the day, representatives from the FMLN, PDC, and PCN stated that they would support repeal of the law, but only if the four magistrates from the Constitutional Court “demonstrated a change in attitude and don’t invade the functions of the Legislative Assembly.” Medardo Gonzalez stated, “the Court has to change, and if there is change, of course the FMLN will be the first to ask for the repeal of the decree.”
- All five magistrates of Constitutional Court met with members of the Legislative Assembly for four hours in the afternoon. They insisted that they did not negotiate sentences or decrees, and simply clarified ‘misunderstandings’.
- President Funes also released a statement expressing concern over the protests and further justifying his support of the law. His three arguments for supporting Decree 743 are: 1) The decree is constitutional in form and substance; 2) it was presented to prevent the judiciary and legislature from becoming embroiled in conflict; and 3) it does not prevent the Court from acting, and the magistrates are able to achieve consensus. He also stated that the ARENA declaration on Wednesday implies intervention and upon investigation could lead to the removal of any magistrates found negotiating with the Legislative Assmebly representatives.
Friday, June 10
- President of the Supreme Court of Justice, Belarmino Jaime, publicly denies the existence of an agreement between the Court and either ARENA or Alfredo Cristiani.
- The Secretaries General of both FMLN and PCN, Medardo Gonzalez and Ciro Cruz respectively, emerge from a multilateral meeting between the courts and the parties stating the willingness of their parties to sign on to a bill to repeal Decree 743.
- ARENA denies the allegations by President Funes that an agreement was in place between them and the Court, and criticizes Funes for saying so.
- The Archbishop of San Salvador urges the parties to work together to solve the crisis, expressing a wish for all sides to defend the people and the common good.
Monday, June 13
- ARENA’s proposal to repeal Decree 743 received no response from the Committee on Constitutional Legislation and Legislative Assembly.
- FMLN, GANA, PDC and PCN all declined to vote in favor of the repeal.
- Medardo Gonzalez, Secretary General for the FMLN, now says the FMLN will not support the repeal of the decree in any fashion.
The debate over Decree 743 is far from over, and much seems unclear (at least from our vantage point). It seems that it is questionable whether the new law is even in force – last week four of the five Constitutional Court magistrates joined an opinion stating that it was not, which means that the repeal being discussed is not even necessary. It also remains unclear why Cristiani and some in the ARENA party are willing to support the repeal. Perhaps they see this as an opportunity to appeal to the wide sectors of Salvadoran society that oppose the decree in advance of the 2012 municipal and legislative elections.
Funes’ support for the law is also confusing, as well as lacking. The Constitutional Court is one of the only government entities that has been implementing the kinds of change that the President championed while campaigning in 2008-2009. His argument that the law prevents conflict between the legislative and judicial branches of government is wanting – such tension is common and a healthy element of the democratic process. Funes’ argument that Decree 743 is constitutional in both form and substance is circular – sayin’ it is, don’t make it so.
What seems very clear at this point is that civil society organizations did not have an opportunity to comment on Decree 743 until it was already signed into law. But judging by the the numerous statements made since the controversy began, politicians are concerned what civil society has to say and how the people might respond in 2012.
Last week, we blogged about the status of El Salvador’s proposed transparency law and the myriad reactions to it.
Today, a Diario CoLatino piece makes us hopeful for its quick passage. Three parties (FMLN, GANA, and PCN) have united to support the incorporation of President Funes’s recommendations into the legislation. These three parties, together, have 60 votes worth of say in the matter, 17 more than the minimum needed for the law’s passage. They aim to vote and resubmit the legislation to the President quickly, so that it may become effective early in 2012, before El Salvador’s presidential elections.
The energetic effort made toward passing this law may be due in part to the recent election of a new president of the Legislative Assembly: Sigfrido Reyes, of FMLN. Reyes spoke to El Faro about his election, outlining his goal of transparency in the Assembly and executive branch, which do not have a lot of trust with the Salvadoran public.
Still too early to celebrate, but this seems to be an important step to letting the sun shine on the Salvadoran government.
Since last week when we posted an article about the Legislative Assembly’s plans to form of a Special Commission to investigate the Investigator General of the National Civil Police (PNC) Zaira Navas, several top ranking officials, including Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes have spoken out on her behalf. Members of the Legislative Assembly, including Diputado José Antonio Almendáriz, accuse Navas of improperly investigating Police Commissioner Douglas Omar Garcia Funes, former Commissioner Godofredo Miranda, ex-Director of Police Ricardo Menesses, and many others for corruption and ties to organized crime and drug trafficking.
During the legislative session last Thursday, the 45 votes in favor of the Special Commission were enough to move ahead with the investigation of the Inspector General. While no left-wing FMLN diputados voted in favor of the special commission, 45 right-wing ARENA, PCN, PDC, and Gana legislators supported it.
Yesterday, President Funes expressed his support for Navas, confirming that she has only followed the guidelines he gave her in conducting a thorough “cleaning’ of the PNC. Simialrly, the Minister of Justice and Security, Manuel Melgar, has claimed that the commission may be unconstitutional and should not be permitted to go forward. Even Carlos Ascencio, the Director of the PNC, defended Navas, saying that she was simply following the lines of investigations that President Funes had ordered. The Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights has also stated “we must respect the work of the Inspector General.”
Government Agencies in El Salvador have operated in the shadows for a little too long. A little sunshine every now and then is good for everyone, unless they have something to hide.