FMLN Strength Causes Fear in ARENA; Saca Visits US, Calls for Increased Intervention in El Salvador

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Salvadoran President Antonio Saca continues his strong ties to President Bush during a meeting on November 29

In late November, the Public Opinion Institute of the Central American University (IUDOP) conducted a poll showing the leftist FMLN party with a clear advantage just over a year before the Salvadoran legislative, municipal, and presidential elections of 2009. In terms of the presidential race, the FMLN had 34.5% of voters preference while ARENA came in second with 27%. At the same time, popular FMLN presidential candidate Mauricio Funes received a 74% approval rating. Jeanette Aguilar, coordinator of the IUDOP stated that there is a clear FMLN advantage in the three levels of elections, which will be held in January and March of 2009. A strong FMLN candidate and the failure of the right wing government of ARENA to solve the countrys problems are cited as reasons for an FMLN advantage in the ratings.

ARENA Responds to FMLN Gains

Currently, the FMLNs strength has frightened the right-wing ARENA party into taking desperate measures, attacking the FMLN and paving the way for electoral fraud. Last week, ARENA and the PCN party moved forward with a series of electoral reforms in the Legislative Assembly. The right-wing parties declared that they only need 43 votes from the National Assembly to approve the reforms. The reforms, which were denounced by the FMLNs Electoral Commission, would eliminate the seal and signature on voting ballots, increase the requisites for creating new parties and coalitions, and limit and criminalize voters migrating from one municipality to another for electoral purposes. If the reforms were to pass the process for implementing them would start on March 2008. According to FMLN deputy Walter Duran, these reforms are dangerous as they promote electoral fraud.

At the municipal level, ARENA has recently given interest-free loans for municipal services to municipalities where the FMLN might win the 2009 elections. The right has also continued to attack FMLN San Salvador Mayor Violeta Menjívar, primarily around issues related to garbage collection and the distribution of the vendors stands. Menjívar and the Municipal Council continue to negotiate with vendors regarding the location of their stands in response to the recent conflict between right-wing vendors and the San Salvador Police which resulted in violence in mid-November. Menjívar stated that the violence was caused by people hired by the right-wing parties to destabilize downtown San Salvador and its municipal government. In fact, the lack of formal employment and the poor administration of the public transportation system have created the tense situation in San Salvador; furthermore, many of these problems are not under municipal jurisdiction, but rather issues that the Salvadoran government and the Transportation Ministry should resolve.

Finally, in the community of Santiago de Maria, ARENA concessioned the Laguna Alegria Natural Park to a community development association called ADESCAM in 2006 before handing over the administration of the town of to the FMLN. Then in November former major Carlos Antonio Luna said that the park was given away to maintain its tranquil and pleasant environment because we dont want the park to become a place full of garbage and street vendors like San Salvador. The FMLN has countered such blatant propaganda as part of a strategy to undermine FMLN municipalities, which also has occurred through depriving them of resources and public services.

Saca Warns of Socialist Cancer in Latin America

Last week, Salvadoran President Antonio Saca traveled to the United States to visit President Bush, World Bank Chief Robert Zoellick, and to receive the freedom award from the International Republican Institute (IRI). During his trip Saca called for increased U.S. funding for security in Central America through the Iniciativa Merdia program, complaining about the fact that Mexico is set to receive $500 million through the plan while all of Central America will only receive $50 million. Check out the CISPES press release about the Saca visit here.

Saca also made a call to the U.S. government and business groups to beware of the expansion of of socialist governments in Latin America, specifically in relation to the Salvadoran elections of 2009. Saca stated that the U.S. can help out a lot in preventing citizen support for certain proposals offered in the upcoming elections, referring to the FMLN [during the 2004 Salvadoran presidential race, the U.S. government openly supported the fear campaign launched by ARENA.] FMLN Communications Director Sigfrido Reyes decried the hypocrisy of Saca for requesting U.S. intervention in the Salvadoran electoral process while simultaneously criticizing the FMLN for supposedly being financed by the Venezuelan government. According to Reyes, Saca is definitely full of panic, probably due to the FMLNs strength.

Salvadoran Legislative Assembly reprimands Director of National Civilian Police for Attacking Community of Cutumay Camones

Parties in the Legislative Assemblywith the exception of ARENAdemanded last week that Police Director Rodrigo Avila explain the excessive use of force to dissolve protests in the community of Cutumay Camones. Legislators of different parties heavily questioned the brutal police attacks against peaceful protesters resisting the construction and operation of a garbage dump in their community. One deputy from the center-left CD party stated that the National Police cannot defend the interests of a private company that does not even fulfill legal requisites to operate, referring to the series of irregularities that have been overlooked in the approval of the construction permits awarded to the private company Presys. Avila was reprimanded for not heeding to the special legislative commission created for the case inearly November, which recommended that the National Police not intervene in the conflict between the community of Cutumay Camones, the Presys Company, and the local government.

On November 27 Cutumay Camones residentsin negotiations mediated by the Human Rights Ombudsman Oscar Lunatemporarily agreed to stop blocking the road as an action of protest. Community leaders presented a series of proposals to Presys and to the municipality to reach a solution to the ongoing conflict, but both the private company and Santa Ana mayor Orlando Mena were unwilling to come to a solution. Luna said neither the mayor nor Presys chose to accept the proposals; on the contrary, they left the negotiation table. Presys and the local government have chosen to ignore the proposals, putting the fragile agreement in danger and demonstrating their lack of interest in reaching an agreement to stop the conflict. Meanwhile, all 27 protesters arrested last week were released on bail and damages charges were dropped, but they will continue to be charged with public disorder.

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