“Noted supporter of terrorism”?! US Smear Campaign against FMLN Presidential Candidate Begins

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In recent years, Members of Congress and State Department representatives have hurled the “anti-American” label against progressive and leftist governments in Latin America, largely in response to policy decisions that have limited US corporate access to their natural resources or markets, in order to justify political intervention or the expansion of US military presence, for example, the re-deployment of the Navy’s Fourth Fleet off the coast of Venezuela. That’s why the emerging media characterization of Salvador Sánchez-Cerén, El Salvador’s current Vice-President and the FMLN’s candidate for president in 2014, as “anti-American” sends a chill through Latin American solidarity activists. Over the summer, liberal and conservative media alike, including the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, falsely reported that Sánchez-Cerén led a rally on September 15, 2001 in San Salvador in celebration of the attacks on New York City’s Twin Towers. In fact, the rally - planned weeks before the September 11th attacks occurred - was organized by student and youth organizations to protest the ARENA government’s annual celebration of Central American Independence Day (September 15). When a small group of students burned US flags, the Salvadoran mainstream media latched on to these images, vilifying Sánchez-Cerén and other FMLN leaders who were present as “anti-American” and “pro-terrorism,” ignoring the fact that the FMLN had publicly condemned the attacks on civilians and expressed solidarity with the families of the victims. Over ten years later, the Salvadoran Vice-President’s fictional flag-burning story was revived by Long Island, NY residents who mounted a small protest against Sánchez-Cerén’s visit with local government officials in August. Protesters and bloggers in Freeport accused the Vice-President of being a “noted supporter of terrorism” and an “enemy of our country,” language they seem to have borrowed from reactionary Members of Congress like Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who made a speech on the House floor just days before El Salvador’s 2009 Presidential elections threatening to impose “immigration restrictions and controls over the flow of the $4 billion in annual remittances sent from the U.S. back home to El Salvador” if “an ally of Al-Qaeda and Iran comes to power.” Rep. Rohrabacher wasn’t talking about Presidential candidate Mauricio Funes; he was talking about Sánchez-Cerén, the Vice-Presidential candidate, who had been a guerrilla commander during the war. The tenor of the accusations being made against Sánchez-Cerén likely foreshadows a much uglier smear campaign for the 2014 elections than the 2009 elections. A prominent FMLN leader, Sánchez-Cerén will likely push El Salvador further to the left than President Funes has. Unfortunately, it seems the US front of the smear campaign is also starting out earlier this time. Over the summer, several Senators threatened to cut US development aid to El Salvador in order to strengthen ARENA’s position against the FMLN in a conflict that was playing out through the Supreme Court.  Though the US has always been an important battleground in the Salvadoran elections, campaigning for 2014 may be the most heightened yet. According to El Salvador’s Minister of Foreign Relations, the Legislative Assembly is expected to approve legislation by the end of the year that will allow Salvadorans living abroad to vote in presidential elections for the first time, thus fulfilling one of President Funes’ campaign promises. The proposed legislation will create an absentee ballot mechanism allowing the estimated 2.5 million Salvadorans – nearly one in four - living outside the country to more fully participate in the political process. Historically, the Salvadoran community in the United States has more visibly mobilized in support of the FMLN than any of the right-wing political parties; Salvadorans were notably absent from the protest against Sánchez-Cerén in Long Island. In contrast, when Norman Quijano, ARENA’s Presidential candidate, traveled to Los Angeles in September, protesters from the Salvadoran community denounced him and his party’s founder, Roberto D’Aubuisson, notorious leader of the Salvadoran death-squads. During the rest of Quijano’s tour, the Salvadoran community effectively pressured the mayors of Oakland and Elk Grove, CA to cancel their meetings with the ARENA candidate, delivering a major diplomatic slap in the face to the San Salvador mayor.

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