Saca completes fourth year as president, FMLN candidate extends lead to 21% in recent polls
Also in this update:
- ARENA backs down from attempt to violate agreement with OAS
- Community resistance succeeds in stopping construction of landfill
On Sunday, June 1, Salvadoran President Elías Antonio Saca completed his fourth year in office. In a speech before his cabinet members and legislative deputies, Saca heralded his proudest achievements as president, with an emphasis on populist, direct subsidy programs such as the Solidarity Network and Alliance for the Family. This discussion of Sacas successes contrasts with the opinion of the vast majority of the population, which, according to recent polling, believes its economic situation to have deteriorated during Sacas administration.
On the other hand, the opposition FMLN party (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front) is viewed by many as the only party capable of solving the economic crisis faced by the majority of the population. 38% of respondents believe the FMLN to be the party that can specifically fight against corruption. 40% think the FMLN would be able to generate employment, and 47% believe the party would be able to stop the increase in consumer prices.
Not surprisingly, given those results, FMLN presidential candidate Mauricio Funes has stretched his lead over ARENA rival Rodrigo Avila to 15-20 points in recent polls, just over 9 months ahead of the 2009 elections. The same IUDOP poll gave Funes a 42%-26% lead over Avila, while a CID-Gallup poll released a few days later had Funes up 21 points at 41% -20%. These numbers may have been a contributing factor in ARENA ideology minister Rene Figueroas decision to step down from his position on the governing board of ARENA earlier this week.
Given the general discontent with the current ARENA government and widespread rejection of its policies, President Saca has attempted to improve the partys image through an intensive publicity campaign that is currently inundating print and broadcast media outlets throughout the country. These expenditures come on the heels of Sacas announcement of a special Austerity Plan, which claims to limit spending by the presidents office.
The costs associated with Sacas efforts to publicize his administrations policies have risen to an average of 9 million dollars monthly, which adds up to 108 million dollars for the year, and this has zero social benefit for the population, contested the FMLNs legislative leader and vice-presidential candidate, Salvador Sánchez Ceren.
In the face of this situation, the FMLNs faction in the Legislative Assembly has petitioned the President of the Comptrollers Office, Hernán Contreras who is a member of the National Conciliation Party (PCN) to request that the budget granted for Sacas office be revised. Contreras promised to follow up on the FMLNs petition.
ARENA backs down from attempt to violate agreement with OAS
Faced with the undeniable increase in support for the FMLN, the deterioration of its own public image, and internal divisions related to its presidential candidate Rodrigo Ávila, the ruling ARENA party continues implementing measures aimed at enabling electoral fraud. In doing so, the party recently attempted to violate an agreement between El Salvadors Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) and the Organization of American States (OAS). After strong rebukes from opposition politicians and civic organizations, ARENA backed down from these plans on May 28.
On March 4, 2007, TSE President Walter Araujo signed a Convention of Technical Cooperation between the TSE and the OAS, which sought to strengthen the integrity of the Electoral Registry, foment democratic participation, and increase the transparency of the electoral process. Under this agreement, the OAS was charged with the responsibility of establishing and presenting an operation plan for reaching these goals, assigning personnel, and hiring the contractors and consultants necessary for the implementation of the project.
However, on May 22 of this year, by means of the 3-2 majority held by right wing representatives on the tribunal, the TSE approved changes to the accord that would limit the role of the OAS to that of an advisor in the electoral process, therefore drastically reducing the institutions ability to promote transparency within the TSE and fairness in El Salvadors elections.
Along with the FMLN, social organizations, including Citizen Action for Democracy, denounced the unilateral decision and accused TSE President Araujo, ARENAs representative on the tribunal, of having violated the agreement that had been made with the Secretary General of the OAS in March 2007. Norma Guevara, an electoral specialist with the FMLN, decried the TSEs decision to violate its own agreement with the OAS as a lamentable, shameful, scandalous act that still must be corrected.
In response to the criticism and pressure from social organizations and the FMLN, TSE President Araujo, on May 28, announced that he had changed his mind, stating that he will not implement the TSE-approved changes to limit the role of the OAS. As a result, the OAS will continue in the role defined by the March 2007 agreement.
Community resistance succeeds in stopping construction of landfill
On the early morning of Tuesday, May 27, members of more than 20 communities in the Cutumay Camones area of the Department of Santa Ana succeeded in halting the construction of a landfill. This victory came after more than 6 months of organized, peaceful resistance to the governments plan, which threatened to contaminate local water sources.
The struggle in Cutumay Camones took the form of protest activities, which were supported by neighboring communities and by social organizations that are focused on defending access to water in El Salvador. The landfill project appears to have been a political favor by Santa Ana Mayor Orlando Mena. Menas Christian Democrat Party (PDC) is headed by Secretary General Rodolfo Parker, who is the largest shareholder of PRESYS, the company that had been contracted to construct the landfill.
According to Reina Chávez, a representative of the organized communities in the area, there is an agreement with the company to remove the construction equipment from the proposed site of the landfill, effectively canceling its construction. PRESYS has arrived at the conclusion that it will not be possible to construct the poorly named sanitary fill, which would have directly affected the water that we consume, explained Chávez.
However, PRESYSs marketing director, Dagoberto Fuentes, claimed that the company is only waiting for El Salvadors Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) to carry out an evaluation before continuing with the project. Fuentes insisted that the opportunity to continue with the construction of the landfill has not been thrown away. MARN officials have not made any public declarations related to this matter.