agriculture, Climate Change, Corruption, Economy, El Salvador Government

Carlos Rosario School Returns to El Salvador with New Delegates

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Voices had the pleasure of hosting a delegation from Carlos Rosario, a public charter school for adult immigrants in Washington, D.C. Seven of their staff came down to El Salvador, where a majority of students are from, in order to learn about the country and better understand their students’ roots. The delegates’ objective was to explore the broad reality of Salvadoran culture, economics and education as well as the dynamic effects that migration has on individuals, families and communities.

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After receiving a detailed explanation of the people’s history of El Salvador, they met with the Vice Minister of Education, Teacher’s Union Leaders, a human rights defender, visited the National Cathedral, the UCA, toured the Museum of Words and Images and bought a lot of good reads at Equipo Maiz. Then they traveled to Morazán where they talked with the pastoral team of Community Segundo Montes about the 9 years they’d spent in the refugee camps in Colomoncagua, Honduras. They got a thorough overview of the civil war at the Museum of Revolution in Perquin and reflected heavily after visiting El Mozote. In the lower Lempa River region, they stayed with hosts families in Amando Lopez and experienced life in agriculture based communities there and along the coast. They visited with local community leaders and teachers to hear their perspectives on development and education in the region, they donated much needed supplies to three separate schools and before it was all done they taught a class!

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The group was delightful. They asked great questions, covered a lot of ground, offered helpful suggestions, participated in meaningful dialogue and gave a gift to nearly everyone they met.

Carlos Rosario, thank you and keep up the good work in D.C.  |  READ THEIR BLOG!

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Elections 2009

Elections Re-cap

Final Results

According to the preliminary results from the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), with 99.4% of the results processed the president-elect Mauricio Funes (FMLN) has 51.3% and Rodrigo Avila (ARENA) 48.7% of the vote.

Mauricio Funes made his victory speech just after 9pm from the Sheraton Hotel on Sunday night. In his speech he promised to respect the constitution, build a government of national unity, and work with large, medium and small business owners to strengthen what he called the most dynamic economy in Central America. He also declared that his government would work for a “preferential option for the poor.”

Two hours later, Rodrigo Avila conceded defeat, and promised that ARENA would be a constructive opposition.


Their was an air of celebration from FMLN supporters as soon as the polls closed. When the FMLN announced Funes’ victory, many thousands of FMLN supporters converged in a sea of red at a monument in San Salvador, cheering, shouting, and dancing late into the night.
Electoral Process

In a press conference Sunday night, Walter Araujo, President of the TSE, began by thanking and congratulating the people of El Salvador for their participation in Sunday’s elections, and applauded the political parties for the maturity they showed during the peaceful election process.

Observers and NGOs reported some election irregularities, but that these were largely minor in nature. Observer missions from the EU and OAS were impressed by the improvements made by the TSE in the logistical organization of these elections as compared to the elections in January.

Araujo stated that the success of this electoral process is an indication of how far democracy has come in El Salvador. In reference to the implementation of the election process the he called transparent, open, and democratic, Aruajo declared “El Salvador has won, Latin America has won, and the world has won.”

The Road Ahead

While this certainly is an historic victory for the FMLN in El Salvador, Funes will face tremendous challenges.

  • Funes’ margin of victory was only 2.6%. Furthermore, the intense and often defamatory campaigning has exacerbated the political polarization in the country. Inspiring public trust in his administration and lessening political divisions will be one of his greatest challenges.
  • Right-wing alliances hold a simple majority in the Legislative Assembly, but neither the right nor the left hold the two-thirds majority necessary for political appointments and incurring new debt. Working with other political parties will be difficult after such a difficult campaign season, but is absolutely essential for the FMLN and a Funes’ administration.
  • Weak rule of law has plagued El Salvador for years and is rooted in the legal framework and judicial institutions. None of these will be easily or quickly changed.
  • El Salvador’s economy has long been stagnant, and is characterized by staggering inequality. Facing a global economic crisis, finding ways to keep El Salvador’s economy from a severe downturn and distribute wealth more equitably seem overwhelming challenges.
Elections 2009

Polls are Closed!

Observers throughout the country are reporting massive participation in the elections. By 4pm, with an hour until the polls close, a source in Soyapango stated that they had observed a participation of 60%.

Early exit polling has shown Funes up by a significant margin. However, these results are preliminary, and carry a large margin of error. A representative of FESPAD stated that by their estimates the winning candidate needs a margin of victory of at least 90,000 votes to be confident that the outcome was not influenced by fraud.


In addition to the power outage in Apopa for most of the day, electricity went out at 3 voting centers in Soyapango at 4pm. Because the results must be transmitted digitally, these outages have worrisome implications for the processing and announcement of the final results. Any delays to the announcement of victory will likely heighten tensions.

FESPAD (the Foundation for the Application of Law) stated that they are receiving a fewer total number of complaints of logistical problems with the electoral process than in January. However, a representative from FESPAD said that the complaints they are receiving are more serious than in January.

The majority of irregularities reported to FESPAD fall into three categories:

1) Influencing voters with t-shirts, inappropriate campaigning, food, or money

2) Obstruction of voting; for example, a business reportedly did not let its workers vote

3) Large concentrations of people (suspicious), ARENA is claiming that they are people working in ‘logistica’

Thankfully, there are very few reports of violence, and only 3-4 cases of people attempting vote twice.

Now that the polls are closed, all attention turns to counting the votes and reporting them to the TSE center.  Voices staff will be at the TSE center for the rest of the evening, monitoring the process. We will continue to monitor the power outages and report any results as they come in. 

Elections 2009

El Salvador Prepares for Presidential Elections

With roughly 9,500 ballot boxes, each requiring a bare minimum of 6 staff members each, spread across 480 voting centers, the task of organizing and executing elections is daunting. Analysts have identified security, qualified voting center staff, and rapid result transmission as priorities to be addressed before the presidential elections on March 15. (Click here to view the full post)

Elections 2009

Negotiating Political Power Post-Elections

Some ARENA campaign advertisements portray Mauricio Funes (FMLN) as an extremist, FMLN hardliner or as a puppet of a radical FMLN leadership. In response, the Funes campaign has emphasized his moderate political platform, which some FMLN supporters view as too moderate.

Now, some critics of Funes raise questions regarding his ability to maintain support from the FMLN faction in the Legislative Assembly if he were to win the presidency. They argue that if Funes really does act independently from the FMLN, he could lose their support and with it the ability to govern effectively.

In an interview with Voices, a political analyst at the Central-American University, Álvaro Artiga, acknowledges that this type of scenario is indeed possible, however unlikely.

Artiga explains that Funes has an incentive to do what’s necessary to keep the FMLN’s support in order to implement his policies. Furthermore, no party wins an election to lose the next. The FMLN has a strong incentive do everything possible to make a Funes presidency –what would be the FMLN’s first ever– as successful as possible to prove that FMLN candidates are capable of governing at a national level.

Artiga points out that a fissure within a future Rodrigo Ávila (ARENA) administration is possible as well. Arturo Zablah, currently ARENA’s vice-presidential candidate, began the campaign season as the presidential candidate for a minority party coalition. Before accepting the candidacy for vice-president from ARENA, Zablah harshly criticized past ARENA administrations in his own campaign. If Zablah chose to take up these complaints again and were to break with Ávila or the ARENA leadership, it could pose significant political difficulties for an Ávila administration.

However, this scenario is unlikely as well. The ARENA party must have considered this possibility during the process of selecting a vice-presidential candidate. In addition, Zablah’s inability to muster support for his coalition earlier in the presidential race may make him more dependent on ARENA for political capital.

Artiga concludes that while a fissure between candidates and their party’s leadership is a possible and concerning scenario for either party, there are enormous political pressures to maintain positive relationships.

Elections 2009

Study Shows Disparity in Campaign Ad Spending Between Parties

A total of $15.8 million was spent on campaign advertising in the run up to the municipal and legislative elections in January, according to study by Salvadoran NGO, National Foundation for Development (FUNDE) in partnership with Transparency International.

The ARENA party advertising alone accounted for nearly two-thirds of the total amount spent, paying $10.3 million for advertising. The FMLN spent significantly less, just over $3 million or 19% of the total.

Fuerza Solidaria, a right-wing Venezuelan organization, was the next largest spender, paying out $1.1 million for pro-ARENA ads. This is roughly the same amount spent by all other political parties. Amigos de Funes, an organization supporting Mauricio Funes as a candidate, spent $67,899 or 0.4% of the total.

This level of spending is much higher than during past election campaigns. Parties and other organizations spent $7.8 million prior to the presidential elections in 2004, and only $4.2 million for the municipal and legislative elections in 2006. The amount of spending is expected to go up before the presidential elections in March.

Political analysts have expressed concern over the high level of campaign spending in a country without campaign finance regulations or laws guaranteeing access to information, a situation that could give large contributors -individuals or interest groups- inappropriate influence over politicians.

For articles in Spanish, see “Partidos sobrepasan $15 millones en propaganda electoral, dice FUNDE” from Diario Co Latino and/or “Partidos gastaron $15 mlls en un año de proselitismo” from La Prensa Grafica.

Elections 2009

A Flurry of Endorsements

This past week, the political endorsements for the only two remaining presidential candidates have been coming fast and furious.

The National Republican Alliance (ARENA) has succeeded in consolidating support for its ticket from El Salvador’s right-wing political parties. The top leaders of the National Conciliation Party (PCN) had already pledged their support to ARENA’s Rodrigo Avila, and as expected the Christian Democratic Party (PDC) endorsed ARENA as well. The FMLN’s Funes received the official nod from the center-left Party of Democratic Change (CD).

The FMLN and ARENA are also receiving endorsement from former political parties.

This week Funes accepted the endorsement from the Social Democratic Party (PSD), a former party that had split off the FMLN, now turned movement. The secretary general of the leftist Revolutionary Democratic Front (FDR), which must dissolve because it failed to win enough votes in the January elections, has surprisingly endorsed ARENA’s vice-presidential candidate Arturo Zablah. The same is true of the former leaders of the dissolved National Action Party (PAN), composed mostly of ex-members of military patrols. They promised 60,000 votes to ARENA.

Dissension among the ranks

Officials from each party have defied the endorsements made by their party’s leadership to make their own endorsements.

For example, two PDC mayors had already announced their endorsement of Funes before the party announced its endorsement of Avila. More interesting still, there is apparently a faction within the PDC calling themselves Christian Democrats for Change. They have taken out a radio ad featuring a sound bite from Jose Napoleon Duarte –one of the party’s historical icons– which calls the ARENA the party of violence. It should be noted that, Rodolfo Parker, secretary general of the PDC accuses the FMLN of being behind the ad.

There is also a divergence between leadership and the representatives of the FDR. Even though the party’s secretary has endorsed ARENA’s vice-presidential candidate Zablah, three of the party’s leaders and 90% of its base support Funes.

The PCN, also experiencing some dissension, has threatened to sanction members who publicly endorse Funes.

Some officials who’ve been unable to decide between candidates have declared that they will leave their voters free to decide.

And what about those voters?

Along with their pledge of support, party leaders pledge to give the candidates the votes that their party received in the elections on January 18. The vote totals for each party are shown below.

Party:  # of Votes  (% of Votes)

ARENA: 854,166 (38.56%)

FMLN: 943,936 (42.60%)

PCN: 194,751 (08.79%)

PDC: 153,654 (06.94%)

CD: 46,971 (02.12%)

FDR: 22,111 (01.00%)

In his article titled “Nada nuevo (Nothing new)” political analyst Joaquin Samayoa asserts that, as reflected by the fissures within the party hierarchies, the bases will split too. It is likely that the majority of the PCN base will vote for ARENA. However, some angry supporters of Chevez -the PCN’s former presidential candidate who was pushed out by party leadership- may stay away from the polls. The PDC base will also probably mostly vote for Avila, but a significant minority is expected to vote for Funes. Samayoa points out that many CD supporters came to the party because they were unsatisfied with ARENA, but rejected the FMLN’s ideology. He cautions that with the CD’s endorsement of Funes, these members may leave the CD for good.

Samayos  goes on to say “The discussion about offering support from the institution to one of the contending parties or to leave their militants free is idle talk. The Constitution is what grants us voters freedom, not the leaders of a party…The vote is free and secret. That is how we understand it, and that is how we, as citizens, will exercise it.”

Elections 2009

Who Will Pay for the Financial Crisis?

Interview with Dagoberto Gutierrez

One of ARENA’s campaign strategies has been to emphasize its good political and economic relationship with the United States, while painting Mauricio Funes as the puppet of a radical communist FMLN whose goal is to implement a Chavez-style economy in El Salvador. When our delegation met with Dagoberto Gutierrez, one of the signers of the 1992 Peace Accords and a political analyst at the Universidad Luterano (Lutheran University), he offered a very different view of the nation’s two largest parties.

Gutierrez described the FMLN as drifting towards the center in order to court voters, and in the process giving up several of the more radical planks of its platform. According to Gutierrez, neither candidate would threaten El Salvador’s relationship with the US, or challenge the nation’s oligarchy in any significant way.

However, Gutierrez stressed that this election is nevertheless very important. He believes the difference between the parties is in how the financial crisis will be handled. He says “if ARENA wins, the poor will be the ones to pay for the crisis. But if the FMLN wins, then there is a chance that the poor won’t be the ones [to pay for the crisis.]”


Elections 2009

The Historic Opportunity of the Left May be Lost, by Victor Mata Tobar*

Enthusiasm for the leftist movement throughout the Americas is a sign of the times. Tired of restrictive social policies that have worsened the inequities and exclusion, the people of the Americas see hope in the left – perhaps their last in confronting a structural crisis born from a model that advances stagnation instead of investing in society, and in an unconditionally free markets instead of a stronger State to control them. If left to its own devices, the free market is destructive and produces poverty while consolidating wealth. Such a model inevitably leads to crises like the one we are currently experiencing in El Salvador.

The electorates’ turn to the left in the majority of countries in the Americas, including the democrat’s victory in the United States, leaves only a few countries such as El Salvador, with a conservative, right wing government. The people of the Americas believe in the left because their leaders have learned to demonstrate pragmatism and tolerance, with less socialist rhetoric and more liberalism, and have transformed their societies. The left seeks the possible, though they do not discard the ideal as a final goal.

In El Salvador, the left will have, for the first time in the republic’s history, a real possibility of winning the presidency. The candidate is intelligent, honest, and well intentioned. His victory, however, is not a sure thing, as has been the thought for the past four months – at least according to the polls, which, while correct the majority of the time, are not always right. In recent polls, the electorate’s preference for Funes has decreased, and I identify two factors driving the decline: one, the weak policy message of the left, and two, the intelligence demonstrated by the right in the management of their campaign. Though he insists on achieving goals such as jobs and employment, the leftist candidate does not move beyond the abstract promise of change. In the United States, the change slogan produced excellent results for the democrats, in large part because the majority of voters in the U.S. rejected President Bush, and Candidate Obama made concrete promises. In El Salvador, President Saca actually has a high approval rating among Salvadorans, and the leftist-change slogan remains abstract with little impact.

The left’s is not running a negative campaign compared to the right, and in principle this seems a positive. We should not forget, however, the right’s extreme debilities, especially the corruption that has impacted the people and systematically destroyed the environment. In addition, the left’s campaign promises ought to be concrete and attractive, such as promises to build 80,000 homes over the next five years to address the housing deficit, supply potable water to all rural homes, or provide universal health insurance (I offer these only as examples of concrete promises, not actual recommendations for projects or policies). As an independent observer who is sympathetic to the left for its humane and historic plan, I stress that the promises should not be as abstract or general as offering safe change – this is unappealing to the electorate.

Finally, the left ought to cease its internal fighting once and for all, and present a strong front. The right, which can be questioned for its cruelty and greed, is showing great pragmatism and intelligence in order to win the elections. Did the mayoral election in San Salvador not just demonstrate this?

*Victor Mata Tobar practices human rights and environmental law in San Salvador and his native home of Apaneca, Ahuachapan. Over his long career, he has been on faculty at the Colleges of Law, Philosophy, and Journalism at the National University, advised the Salvadoran Ombudsmen for Human Rights, served on the board of numerous non-profit organizations, led law reform movements, and promoted the advancement of civil society. This article first appeared in the Diario Co-Latino on February 3, 2009

Elections 2009

A Shift Towards the Center?

Feb 7, 2009

A recent poll published in La Prensa Grafica, a national newspaper, asked with which party voters most closely identified. The ARENA and FMLN parties were nearly tied for support, with roughly a third of respondents identifying with each. In a country known for its partisanship and polarization, a whopping 21.9% of respondents said that they don’t identify with any party. It should be noted that this category includes both respondents who are disillusioned with the political system to the point of non-participation as well as respondents who aren’t committed to a single party.

Another study published in La Prensa Grafica asked party members to place themselves on a political spectrum from extreme left to extreme right. The study found, unsurprisingly, that among ARENA supporters a third identified themselves as being on the right or the extreme right, and a third of FMLN supporters said they were on the left or extreme left. What was surprising was the finding that within all parties, the largest group described themselves as being moderate or centrist. Within the FMLN, 44.6% of respondents categorized themselves as center, center-left, or moderate-left, while 39.1% of ARENA respondents said they were center, center-right, or moderate-right. The magnitude of the shift towards center may be exaggerated by the self-reporting in the study (many people may not wish to think of or identify themselves as extreme) however, the trend may still be indicative of a broader shift among the population.