Fact-Finding Delegation Kicks Off Campaign to Stop U.S. Intervention in Salvadoran Elections


By Callie Arnold, Bruce Millies, and Rob Andolina

    From June 20-29,we were part of a sixteen-member delegation of CISPES activists from across theU.S. that traveled to El Salvador. Wemet with leaders of a variety of Salvadoran social movement groups: labor,youth, human rights, anti-privatization and pro-democracy.

     We also met withleaders from the left-wing FMLN political party. Shortly after we arrived, theFMLN was the first to inform us that long-time Los Angeles CISPES activist DonWhite had passed away (see related article). The delegation dedicated its work to hispassion and commitment.

     We were inspiredby our visits with the three groups receiving CISPES material aid funds: theFMLN Womens Secretariat, the SETA water workers union, and the MunicipalYouth Center of Mejicanos (a city governed by the FMLN).   At this last site, CISPES Executive DirectorBurke Stansbury suffered an ugly defeat at the hands of the Mejicanos youthtable tennis squad, while other delegates were entertained by young martialarts students engaged in a friendly battle of the sexes melee.

     We promised theSalvadorans with whom we met that we would express their concerns in a reportdescribing human rights abuses and electoral fraud taking place in El Salvador with a focus on the U.S. role inexacerbating these problems. CISPES activists will share this report widelywith the U.S. Congress and the media. The goal is that sufficient grassrootspressure, both in El Salvadorand the U.S., will preventand mitigate U.S.electoral intervention and enable the FMLN to freely and fairly compete in the2009 presidential elections. Recent polls show the FMLN with a significant advantageover the right-wing ARENA party.

      In a raremeeting with the U.S. Ambassador, Charles Glazer, we raised specific concernsabout U.S. policy towards El Salvador; a policy that unapologetically supportsthe repressive rule of ARENA, which has now governed the country for nearly 20years (see related CISPES? press release ). Specifically, wedemanded that the Embassy commit to neutrality in the electoral campaigns thatare now under way in ElSalvador. Shockingly, the Ambassadoradmitted that the U.S.had intervened in the 2004 elections on ARENAs behalf. He also pledgedto non-intervention in 2009.

     However, theAmbassadors assurances of neutrality ring hollow in light of his recent publicactions. In statements to the Salvadoran press in June, Glazer made thinlyveiled, unsubstantiated allusions to the FMLN, in effect alleging that theparty has ties to terrorists and plans to rescind civil liberties if elected.Glazer asserted that the U.S.would not support a party that regulates the mass media or has connections tothe FARC guerrillas in Colombia.The ARENA party is running a media campaign to spin these comments against theFMLN, implying that the Salvadoran people can expect U.S. reprisals if a majority votesfor the FMLN.

     This tag-teamapproach revives a strategy from the 2004 elections, when right-wing members ofthe U.S. Congress and the pro-ARENA media in El Salvador threatened that anFMLN victory would prompt the U.S. to cut off Salvadoran remittances, apowerful threat given that a quarter of the Salvadoran population lives andworks in the U.S., and that the money they send back to their families makes up20% of El Salvadors GDP. CISPES continues to demand that Ambassador Glazerdisavow reports being spread in ElSalvadors media, while clearly assertingand maintaining a non-partisan stance toward the 2009 elections. Failure to doso implicates the U.S.in electoral fraud on behalf of a corrupt regime with an ever-worsening humanrights record. 

     During our stay inEl Salvadorwe also met with members of labor unions representing several sectors,including health care, telecommunications, manufacturing, public water,teachers, and others. They described an anti-union climate fostered bygovernment repression, failure to enforce labor laws, and firing of unionactivists. Health care workers told us of lockouts at hospitals anddiscrimination against union members with regard to required wage increases. Wealso learned how the public hospitals downgrade patient services, part of aneffort the union believes to create support for privatization of the healthcare system. 

     Workers inclothing and electronics assembly plants told us of twenty years of repressionand humiliation under successive ARENA administrations. We just cant take anymore; we want a change in government. We have families living on just a dollara day.

     We also met womenfrom a clothing assembly plant who persevered in the face of suffering andinjustice. Money withheld from paychecks earmarked for a government programthat pays home loans and rent was kept by factory owners instead. When theworkers demanded their money, the company fired everyone, closed the plant,formed another corporation, moved to a new location, hired new workers anddenied all responsibility. Amazingly, these workers pursued justice throughlawsuits, acting as their own attorneys and learning to navigate the judicialsystem. They even won court cases against their former employers. However, thegovernment has failed to enforce those judgments. Now these courageous workersare continuing to meet and organize other sweatshop workers. Their goal is toform a legally recognized association of clothing assembly workers.

     On thisdelegation we met with many inspiring Salvadoran workers, organizers, humanrights activists and FMLN militantes and one disingenuous U.S. Ambassador.The Salvadorans all asked us to return home to the U.S.and work to prevent U.S.intervention in the upcoming Salvadoran elections. Please join us in defendingreal democracy in El Salvador!Visit the CISPES website to sign the Peoples Pledge of non-intervention:www.cispes.org 

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