SAN SALVADOR-Today Costa Ricans and Salvadorans went to the polls to determine their next presidents. In Costa Rica current President Laura Chinchilla and in El Salvador, President Mauricio Funes are both term-limited.
In Costa Rica, the governing party candidate Johnny Araya represents the National Liberation Party and promised to gain control of public debt even if it meant implementing new taxes. He took 30% of the vote. Araya was challenged by centrist Luis Guillermo Solis who took 31% of the vote. Guillermo Solis ran on a platform against corruption and revamping the social security system. A Citizen’s Action Party candidate, he formerly served in the National Liberation government. Leftist Jose Maria Villalta represented the Broad Front Party and was a distant third with 17% ahead of fourth place finisher, another leftist-Otto Guevara-representing the Libertarian Movement Party promising to fight economic inequality. As per Costa Rican law, a runoff will take place to determine a winner on April 6th. In all, 13 candidates ran and since current legislature represents no majority party, some expressed fear of the difficulty to pass future legislation.
In El Salvador, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front party (FMLN) formed in 1981 after multiple massacres by government death squads, and took the presidency in 2009 after decades of conservative ARENA party domination. With over 90% of the vote counted, leftist FMLN candidate Salvador Sanchez Ceren narrowly missed facing a runoff next month by taking nearly 49 percent of the vote, just missing the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff although obliterating the predicted upper 30 percent to lower 40 percent prediction of polls. Although early returns showed he had over 54% of the vote, his margin of victory narrowed to 49% by late evening. Fifty-three percent of eligible voters cast ballots, considerably lower than in previous years.
Sanchez Ceren was a rebel commander against the ARENA party that was in power during the bloody 1980-1992 US supported civil war that led to an exodus of Salvadorans particularly to the United States. Conservative right-wing US politicians have voiced a challenge to Sanchez Ceren’s candidacy and the FMLN party. Trailing more than ten points behind Sanchez Ceren is the right-wing opposition ARENA candidate Norman Quijano. The ARENA party was founded by the leader referred to as the “father” of the Salvadoran death squads Roberto D’aubuisson.
And former President Antonio Saca, representing the most recently formed in 2010 party, Grand Alliance for National Unity-UNIDAD, is trailing with 11%. Some voters at today’s election called the new conservative and right-wing UNIDAD party the spoiler party although some called it hope for a future multi-party system.
Warning of US meddling in El Salvador elections, Alexis Stoumbelis of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador-CISPES is in El Salvador monitoring the election. CISPES was founded in 1980 with the mission of building a national movement to end US support for the military regime in El Salvador and to stand in solidarity for self-determination of the country’s people. Stoumbelis spoke to The Nation Report before she left Washington DC where CISPES is based,
“One thing we’ve seen just over the last week or two is a rise in op-eds in newspapers in the US, presentations that are happening at the Heritage Foundation and other right-wing think tanks of people like Elliot Abrams, former Reagan and Bush state department officials who are basically carrying out the right-wing in El Salvador’s smear campaign against the FMLN’s candidate Sanchez Ceren and making a lot of unsubstantiated allegations about ties to drug-trafficking and either things that they think are going to smear his image or cause Washington to react against him if he wins the election. More concerning has been a rise in violence that people have experienced just since the beginning of the year and this morning President Funes himself sort of made a call to the public and expressed his concern that this rise in violence is something that’s being either caused by or used by the right-wing ARENA party to an electoral advantage. So this is something that people have been worried about for a long time, that there was a truce between the two biggest gangs in El Salvador that reduced the homicide levels very dramatically but since the beginning of that truce over two-and-a-half years ago, people have looked ahead and said, it’s possible that this truce is going to fall apart just before the elections in a way that would suggest that the right-wing political parties have ties to organized crime that they can manipulate in order to scare people and create an atmosphere of tension, fear, and violence in the lead up to the elections. And I would say that if that continues to increase that will be increasingly like the situation that people in Honduras faced leading into their most recent election although that situation was in many ways far more of a crisis in terms of the attacks against human rights defenders than we’re seeing currently in El Salvador.”
Unlike the highly contested election of neighboring Honduras in November marked by election-related assassinations, fraud, corruption, vote buying and other documented irregularities, reports from observer delegations in El Salvador describe polling station voting as going smoothly and that counting seemed transparent.
Many polling stations were held in community schools such as at the Centro Escolar Nicolas J. Abran, in the Zona Blanca district of downtown San Salvador, the capital. Here boy scouts served as volunteers leading voters into the voting center unlike in Honduras where party members took voters-especially illiterate voters-to their party’s table. Political party observers seemed evenly distributed in voting rooms and there was less voter intimidation than observed and reported by election observers in Honduras. Of particular note was the absence of party tents situated next to the entrance of the schools and the absence of food that was served apparently to coerce or bribe Hondurans the high percentage of whom lack the opportunity to sustain themselves. Voters who exited polling stations were unwilling to divulge to The Nation Report which party they supported however Violeta and her mother Derma, and 91 year-old Raul all named gang-related activity as one of their primary concerns motivating them to vote.
Of concern to human rights workers though was a November 13, 2013 raid where armed assailants overtook a security guard at a Salvadoran nonprofit dedicated to finding children who went missing or who were refugees or victims of repression during a US backed 1980 to 1992 armed conflict. The intruders broke into the Pro-Búsqueda Association for Missing Children, set fire to the offices and filing cabinets, and stole office computers. The files were said to contain information linking children known to have been stolen by members of the military to evidence that identified those responsible for the kidnappings. Most were abducted by state military for personal gain or turned over to foreigners for adoption.
Human rights workers believe the attack could be due to an amnesty established by the UN Truth Commission. An appeal to the country’s Supreme Court would allow prosecution and eliminate amnesty for individuals responsible for war crimes. The Supreme Court is allowing the questioning of the constitutionality of the old amnesty law that members or descendants of civil war right wing perpetrators say gives them immunity for human rights violations that was written into law immediately following the war. However, last September the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that challenges the protections that have been in place for military and government officials since the 1993 implementation. In 2013 the Inter-American Human Rights Court in Costa Rica ruled that Salvadoran state officials were responsible for war crimes thereby weakening the amnesty law. The right-wing oligarchy stand to gain the most if the amnesty law is upheld and the most to lose if it is overturned.
This burglary and arson attack came weeks after another human rights group, Tutela Legal was shut down on September 30, 2013 by the Salvadoran archbishop Jose Escobar. The group provided legal aid to survivors and families of government repression during the civil war. Since the closing, victims have been denied access to their files raising suspicions about the security of the archives and the motive of the closing. The archives represent over 50,000 cases of documented human rights violations the majority of which were used during the UN Truth Commission. The recent act of terrorism led organizations to demand protective measures from police and government officials.
Refufia Gaintan/The Nation Report