COHA: A Warning for President Obama: Speak out on El Salvador or Jeopardize Prospects to Revive Latin American Relations

  • Salvadoran election campaign hijacked by right-wing scare tactics, threatening U.S. hostility
  • Republican congressmen call for sanctions in the event of an FMLN victory
  • COHA, scholars and representatives urge Obama and Clinton to speak out and promise a neutral stance from Washington

As the El Salvadoran population goes to the polls this Sunday, March 15, to elect a new president, there are serious grounds to doubt whether the vote will be free and fair. There is a huge disparity in campaign funding between the parties, rising levels of violence, and concerns over the impartiality of the Supreme Court, Electoral Tribunal and much of the media. Moreover, the right wing ruling party ARENA and ultra-conservative NGO fuerza solidaria have spread a campaign of disinformation that threatens to destabilize the country and undermine its democratic institutions.

On March 9, COHA distributed an open letter to Hillary Clinton, signed by more than 140 U.S. and foreign experts in Latin American affairs, appealing to the Secretary of State to speak out about the U.S. government’s stance on the Salvadoran election. That letter’s message reflected the one sent by a group of congressmen to the Secretary of State on March 5. A key feature of the Salvadoran right wing’s campaign publicity has been a concerted attempt to scare the electorate out of voting for the left-leaning frontrunners, the FMLN, by suggesting that a victory for that party’s candidate, Mauricio Funes, will lead to a hostile relationship with the Obama administration in Washington. This pursuit of a dirty campaign was lent legitimacy by a third letter, which as the conservative Salvadoran daily Diario de Hoy reported on March 10, was sent to Clinton by a group of arch-right wing Republican congressmen appealing for the administration to issue sanctions against Salvadorans living in the U.S. in the case of a FMLN victory, a message reprehensibly repeated by them – namely, Trent Franks and Dan Burton – on the House floor on March 11.

COHA reemphasizes that President Obama must see it as his duty to issue a clear and emphatic clarification of the U.S. government’s stance in favor of non-intervention in the upcoming Salvadoran vote, if he genuinely wants to witness improved U.S. relations with the rest of the hemisphere. He must distance his administration from irresponsible and underserved hostility towards democratically-elected, but ‘unfriendly’ governments, a predictable feature of the Bush presidency, and ensure that there is no sense in which Washington can be perceived to be prejudicing any democratic election in another country, even tacitly.

To date, nobody high up in the White House, State Department, or U.S. Embassy in San Salvador has spoken out. Washington is running out of time to protect democracy, and the U.S.’ already tarnished image in Latin America. Given the recent history, which witnessed repeated acts of intervention by the former U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, Rose Likins, and other U.S. emissaries, a clear statement by the U.S. president is needed to help clear the air, in order for Washington for once to be seen as standing behind its conciliatory rhetoric with concrete actions which could make all Americans proud.

This analysis was prepared by COHA Staff

March 13th, 2009
Word Count: 500

Council on Hemispheric Affairs

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