Update: US Embassy Demands FMLN Position on Foreign Policy
Included in this update:
* Anti-mining coalition launches spirited advertising campaign
* Reconstruction post-Hurricane Ida
* ARENA politicizes tragedy left by Ida
* Ex-Hermosa Manufacturing workers win union recognition
On Friday, November 27, the US Embassy Charge d’Affaires Robert Blauannounced that “anti-american” statements in a speech made by VicePresident Salvador Sánchez Cerén in Caracas, Venezuela, “could havenegative effects” on US Congressional debates concerning bilateralaid. “So I want to know, what is the true position of the FMLN withrespect to my country?” he went on.
The questioning and threats from the US Embassy came after SánchezCerén attended a gathering of leftist political parties in Caracasalong with other members of the FMLN party’s leadership. At the event,the FMLN embraced 21st Century Socialism and the call for a 5thSocialist International. Furthermore, the party rejected theUS-proposed military bases in Colombia and Sánchez Cerén called forLatin American unity in confronting the US empire.
El Salvador’s right wing media and the ARENA party have latched on to the statements from the US Embassy, attempting to spread fear of US retaliation for Sánchez Cerén’s statements. The strategy is a continuation of the fear campaign used in the lead up to the March 15 presidential elections that brought the FMLN to power, in which voters were told that an FMLN victory would sour relations with the US and result in mass deportations and a halt to monies sent home from Salvadorans living in the US.
This reality of continued US political and economic intervention remains a serious factor for El Salvador in determining its foreign policy. When questioned about Sánchez Cerén’s statements, President Funes made a distinction, remarking, “who participated in that encounter was the FMLN as a political party, and they have every right to attend whichever convention they are invited to; the government did not participate.”
Anti-mining coalition launches spirited advertising campaign
The second week of November, the National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining (the Mesa) launched a new, strategic advertising campaign to educate people in El Salvador about the lawsuits filed by two North American mining companies against the government and to prompt national dialogue about the destructive effects of mining. Billboards and signs on buses and overpasses depict a map of El Salvador with gold blocks atop the Northern zone; clawed hands hover over the map, reaching for the gold. Beneath the image, the text reads: “Mining companies extort El Salvador! Canadian and U.S. companies are each demanding hundreds of millions of dollars.” Radio spots further explain the impacts of mining, Pacific Rim and Commerce Group’s lawsuits, and how the suits override national sovereignty. The billboards and signs are currently are located in San Salvador and in the zones affected by mining; the radio spots are airing nationally.
In other Mesa news, the case of murdered Mesa member and prominent anti-mining activist Marcelo Rivera continues to draw international attention. During a mid-November trip to El Salvador, U.S. Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) met with members of the Funes Administration, the National Civilian Police (PNC), and the Attorney General to express concern over the status of Marcelo’s case, as well as the case of murdered Teamster organizer Gilberto Soto, and other court cases involving suspected political violence. Rep. McGovern encouraged further investigation into the political motives of these cases to demonstrate a solid commitment to ending impunity in El Salvador.
Reconstruction post-Hurricane Ida
Just over four weeks since Hurricane Ida’s torrential rains and left 198 dead, the true extent of the damage is still being assessed. The floods and mudslides caused by the storm destroyed 638 homes and left another 1,250 in extremely high risk. The country’s infrastructure was also hit hard, with 47 bridges and 70 major thoroughfares still in need of major repairs. Many communities’ water distribution systems were also destroyed. Final costs of the damages will be determined on December 4 when the Latin American and Caribbean Economic Commission (CEPAL) presents a diagnostic report to the government. Minister of the Interior Humberto Centeno and Minister of Public Works Gerson Martínez explained that the upcoming reconstruction phase will tackle infrastructure and community planning problems that languished under past administrations.
The government has received over $10 million in clothes, food, supplies, and cash donations from the international community, as well as brigades of Cuban doctors and Venezuelan engineers. The administration of this international aid has been characterized by a heightened level of transparency. Unlike the administrations who governed during past natural disasters, Funes’ cabinet has implemented a public auditing system to report the amounts of aid and how the funds are distributed or spent. The Funes Administration is now soliciting international cooperation for the country’s reconstruction efforts.
ARENA politicizes tragedy left by Ida
ARENA’s legislative fraction has petitioned the National Assembly to censure Minister of the Interior, Humberto Centeno, for negligence in his response to the disaster caused by Hurricane Ida. Many analysts have questioned whether ARENA’s legislative petition is anything more than retaliation for Centeno’s efforts to expose corruption within previous administrations. On October 1, Centeno presented corruption charges against two former Ministers of the Interior—both from ARENA administrations. No other institutions have criticized Centeno’s management of the emergency.
On November 17, protesters claiming to be from affected zones shut down the avenue in front of the Ministry of the Interior, demanding aid for their communities. However, when journalists asked them what zones they were from, none of the protesters were able to name an affected area. Social movement leaders have accused ARENA of mobilizing and paying “phony” demonstrators, who were not actually from affected areas.
Ex-Hermosa Manufacturing workers win union recognition
More than five years after being fired and blacklisted for organizing a union to address workplace abuses and unpaid wages [link to action alert with background on case], the former workers at the Hermosa Manufacturing textile maquila were officially recognized as a union by the Ministry of Labor this past weekend. On November 29, the founding General Assembly of the Textile Workers Union (SITRASACOSI) celebrated its constitution and elected a provisional Board of Directors. Estela Ramirez, newly-elected union president, expressed the groups’ satisfaction at finally achieving legal union recognition. “This will be a powerful new tool as we continue in our struggle for the unpaid wages and benefits that we are owed,” she declared.