Civil society organizations, unions march for social justice and food security

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Also in this update:
  • New Ads attack FMLN candidate
  • Salvadoran President Saca calls on business owners to influence employees votes; Colombian President Uribe attends national business forum
  • Foreign Minister Argueta refutes accusations of unconstitutional statements made in US
  • Internal tensions within ARENA increase with selection of Zablah as vice-presidential candidate

On October 18, various citizens organizations gathered for a large rally at the El Salvador del Mundo monument in San Salvador, followed by a march through the capital to the Plaza Cívica. The organizations, representing rural campesinos, unions, and consumers, united under the banner of improving El Salvadors food security and fighting against inequality and hunger.

Much of the focus was on the Salvadoran governments agricultural policies, which have amounted to an abandonment of the nations agricultural sector, according to Jaime Rivera, General Secretary of the labor coalition FESTRASPES.

What can solve the countrys food security crisis is for the government to turn 180 degrees from the agricultural policies implemented since 1989, said Rivera. The agricultural sector of the country has been abandoned, while the commercial and financial sectors have been promoted by the policies of the ARENA party. The organizers of the march publicly called on Salvadorans to organize and generate this change through the upcoming elections of 2009.


New ads attack FMLN candidate

A right-wing Venezuelan-based organization called Fuerza Solidaria an ally of the Salvadoran ARENA party has recently sponsored a series of television ads that connect FMLN presidential candidate Mauricio Funes to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, using the supposed connection to raise fears about the U.S. government cutting off remittances sent by Salvadorans living in the U.S. should Funes win the 2009 election.

The FMLN responded by calling on the Salvadoran Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) to take a strong position in ensuring clean a campaigns and transparent electoral process. Oscar Luna, the head of the government human rights department, also condemned the ads in light of the fact that they come on the heals of an agreement between Funes and the candidate of the governing ARENA party, Rodrigo Avila, calling for a peaceful campaign based on mutual respect. Another mainstream political commentator, Ernesto Rivas-Gallont, has called on U.S. Ambassador Charles Glazer to respond to the lies implicit in the ads and declare publicly that U.S. policy related to remittances and the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) that many Salvadorans living in the U.S. benefit from will not change based on the results of the elections.

The most recent poll by the Technological University (UTEC), released on October 28, gives Funes a 15 point advantage over Avila; the FMLN also leads in the polls for the January 2009 legislative and municipal elections. The last time the FMLN had a chance to win presidential elections in 2004 a similar smear campaign was employed effectively by ARENA. Television and newspaper ads constantly manipulated El Salvadors close relationship with the U.S. in order to raise fears about the FMLN winning the presidential election, fears which were stoked by U.S. officials who threatened the continuation of that relationship.

Salvadoran President Saca calls on business owners to influence employees votes; Colombian President Uribe attends national business forum

El Salvadors four presidential candidates attended the National Private Sector Business Forum in El Salvador in early October The forum, which was organized by the governing ARENA party for the ostensible purpose of presenting the business sectors economic concerns to the presidential candidates, also featured a speech by Colombian President Álvaro Uribe.

Federico Colorado, president of the National Association of Private Enterprise, declared that the business communitys proposals to the candidates make it clear that the capitalist system is the correct route for El Salvador to follow in order to face the future. The event was attended by the four presidential candidates: Mauricio Funes (FMLN), Rodrigo Ávila (ARENA), Carlos Rivas Zamora (PDC Christian Democrat Party), and Tomas Chevez (PCN National Conciliation Party).

However, the speaker who stood out was Colombian President Uribe, who had been invited to outline the economic challenges facing Latin America. Uribes speech was a highly partisan one that called upon the Salvadoran population to defend the system of liberties that is at risk of from a populist wave coming from the south an attempt to paint the FMLN as a dangerous party that would roll back civil liberties if elected. These comments, a clear endorsement of the right-wing ARENA partys presidential candidate Ávila, were echoed by current Salvadoran President Antonio Saca during his speech at the forum.

Saca urged the assembled business owners to influence their workers to vote for Ávila, asking them to speak with employees so that they understand. We have to take care of the people. For his part, Ávila promoted his own candidacy, saying, in allusion to the FMLN, we dont need to experiment with crazy ideas.

Foreign Minister Argueta refutes accusations of unconstitutional statements made in US

Three weeks after a September 18 speech linking the FMLN party to terrorist groups and calling for the United States government to be more involved in El Salvadors electoral process, Foreign Minister Marisol Argueta de Barillas has sought to defend herself against charges that her statements violated El Salvadors constitution, which stipulates that government officials may not use their positions to carry out partisan political activities. Argueta has stated that her comments, made in a speech before the right-wing American Enterprise Institute think tank in Washington, D.C., were misunderstood and did not represent a violation of the Salvadoran Constitution.

The Foreign Ministers speech called for the U.S. to pay more attention to the upcoming elections in El Salvador as one means of ensuring that the FMLN does not win at the polls. To lose El Salvador would be a loss for the security and national interests for both El Salvador and the United States, she asserted.

Argueta declared, If you review the speech you will understand the meaning of what was expressed If there are those who feel they were alluded to, or who feel damaged, I am profoundly sorry, and, not for one moment was that my intention. This statement came after strong denouncements of her speech from numerous organizations and politicians, including, notably, members of right-wing parties. (Check out the CISPES action alert from September.)

The FMLN held a press conference in late September and released a statement denouncing Minister Arguetas speech. Along with these public responses, the FMLNs legislative fraction put forward a request for Argueta to officially explain her partisan, pro-ARENA statements and justify her official trip to the United States. The FMLN pointed out that Arguetas speech violated Article 218 of the Constitution by utilizing state resources to carry out partisan activities, and in this case by calling for the United States government to violate El Salvadors sovereignty and prevent the free will of the Salvadoran people from being expressed through the upcoming elections. According to Sigfrido Reyes, the FMLNs Chief of Communications, Argueta made compromising declarations that are an injury to our national dignity and cause severe damage to international relations. To date, Minister Argueta has not responded to the FMLN's call for an explanation.

Internal tensions within ARENA increase with selection of Zablah as vice-presidential candidate

Recent statements by leaders of El Salvadors business sector, including Roberto Murray Meza, have added further evidence of the divisions within the governing ARENA party. Faced with these pressures, the partys presidential candidate Rodrigo Ávila named Arturo Zablah, a one-time critic of ARENAs economic policies, as his running mate on October 11.

Over the last six months, discontent among ARENAs membership has become publicly evident. In September local ARENA representatives in the municipality of Zacatecoluca including Lorena Benavides sent a letter to the partys highest decision-making body, the Executive Council of ARENA (COENA), which is lead by presidential candidate Ávila. The letter urged COENA to promptly select a candidate for vice president We call upon COENA to define, as soon as possible, the person who will run for this office. The dignity of the women and men who support the party is being played with.

ARENA held its General Assembly on October 12, an event at which the partys candidates for the Legislative Assembly and municipal offices were announced. The General Assembly was also notable for the conspicuous absence of former Salvadoran President Armando Calderón Sol, raising further speculation about dissatisfaction with vice-presidential candidate Zablah from within the party.

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