Salvadoran Foreign Minister Calls For More U.S. Intervention in 2009 Elections
U.S. urged to eschew neutrality as voting approaches in El Salvador
In a September 18 event hosted by a right-wing think tank in Washington, D.C., El Salvadors Foreign Minister, Marisol Argueta, called on the U.S. government to pay more attention to the 2009 Salvadoran elections, lest Salvadoran voters elect the leftist FMLN (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front) partys presidential candidate. Arguetas comments before the American Enterprise Institute were part of a panel discussion titled The Perils of Populism. The event was moderated by Roger Noriega who, while serving as Assistant Secretary of State, personally intervened in El Salvadors 2004 presidential campaign by threatening U.S. retribution in the case of an FMLN victory at the polls.
Elections for mayors, municipal councils, and Legislative Assembly deputies will take place on January 18, 2009, while El Salvadors next president will be elected on March 15. Mauricio Funes, presidential candidate for the FMLN, enjoys a significant lead in the most recent polling. The right-wing ARENA party, one of the Bush Administrations few remaining allies in Latin America, has governed El Salvador since 1989. Their tenure that has been marked by continued deregulation of the Salvadoran economy, privatization of public services, a failure to implement the 1992 Peace Accords, and increasing repression of activists and opposition political figures.
Referring frequently to her countrys upcoming elections, Minster Argueta sought to paint the FMLN as part of a dangerous cadre of neo-socialist political forces in Latin America. Argueta claimed, without providing evidence, that the FMLN is closely linked to ETA or to FARC [terrorist organizations] and is intent on repressing political liberties including freedom of speech and freedom of press.
In 2004, several U.S. government officials including Noriega, other high-ranking Bush Administration appointees, and Members of Congress made statements to the Salvadoran press establishing that the United States would not approve of an FMLN government, and would thus reconsider the immigration status of Salvadorans living in the U.S. in the case of an FMLN presidential victory. With twenty percent of El Salvadors economy comprised of remittances sent home by immigrants working in the U.S., such threats carried substantial weight with voters.
At the end of her remarks, Foreign Minister Argueta seemed to call for a repeat of such intervention in 2009, while rejecting the notion that the U.S. should remain neutral or agree to work with whichever party the Salvadoran voters select. After Noriega expressed confidence that Salvadoran voters will exercise their characteristic wisdom and do the right thing, Argueta concluded the discussion by stating, Thats why it is very important that the U.S. message is not, We will be able to work in the same way with whomever gets elected in El Salvador. It will not be such.
Reviving 1980s Cold War rhetoric, Argueta labeled leftist governments in Latin America "threats" to U.S. national security and, referring to the FMLNs chances in the 2009 election, stated, If power goes to the wrong hands, El Salvador may very well be the next populist failure in the hemisphere.
Losing El Salvador will be a lose-lose situation for the security and national interest of both El Salvador and the United States, the Foreign Minister added. It will generate freedom-cutting measures. It will produce instability in the country and neighboring countries and it will have the potential of making El Salvador go back 30 years in history when Central America was in turmoil. As President Ronald Reagan said more than 25 years ago in a State of the Union Address, Tonight, the security of the United States is at stake in El Salvador. These words remain in the minds of many of us that need to have more attention being paid to what is going in Central America.
Reaction in El Salvador
Arguetas speech created a controversy in El Salvador, where representatives of other parties condemned the Ministers statements as an abuse of her role as a public official. Such statements demonstrate that Argueta is more a functionary of the ARENA party, said Hugo Martínez, FMLN spokesman for international relations.
Even ARENAs right-wing allies in the PCN (National Conciliation Party) were concerned by Arguetas statements. Orlando Arévalo, a PCN legislative deputy who serves on the Foreign Relations Commission, stated, This is negative for the country, for democracy, because this paints ARENA as a dictatorial party that is not inclined to respect the popular will, but wants to maintain its own power at whatever cost.
The FMLN went so far as to accuse the Foreign Minister of violating Article 218 of the Salvadoran Constitution, which states, Officials and public employees are at the service of the State, and not of a particular political fraction. They cannot take advantage of their positions to carry out partisan political activity. Those who do so will be sanctioned in conformity with the law.