Special Update: U.S. Embassy Cables from San Salvador Released by WikiLeaks
On Tuesday evening, the Spanish news website ElPaís.com published five cables sent from the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador that were part of the Wikileaks “Cablegate” leak. The cables were written by Robert Blau, who served as charge d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy until September 2010, when President Obama named the new Ambassador, Mari Carmen Aponte; Blau is now Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy and remains a close advisor of the Ambassador. Coverage of the leaked documents in El Salvador’s largest newspapers has focused heavily on Blau’s assertions of a “crisis” between President Mauricio Funes and the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) party that brought him to power. Regarding the leaked cables, the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) wishes to express the following:
1) While Wikileaks’ release of leaked diplomatic cables provides an unprecedented opportunity to reveal the workings and motives of U.S.foreign policy, the process grants large international news agencies the decision-making power as to which cables to release and the opportunity to craft the first analysis that the public will hear.
Maite Rico, the El País journalist who wrote the summary of the San Salvador cables has a history of hostility towards the Latin American left, having written articles against Venezuela’s President Chavez and others defending the human rights-abusing Colombian military. Considering more than 1,000 cables about El Salvador were reportedly leaked, we must ask what criteria were used to select these particular cables for first publication—cables that right-wing Salvadoran news sources are now using in a continued attempt to undermine new government.
2) The differences between President Funes and the FMLN, who joined forces to end 20 years of right-wing rule by the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party, are hardly news. The disagreements have been more and less pronounced over the past year and a half of governance, as is expected with a coalition government. The five published cables place an exaggerated emphasis on these tensions; one must question why this is. Thus far, the cables seem to confirm the United State’sinterest in the dissolution of their successful partnership as a way to marginalize the FMLN and thus prevent any more profound challenges to the economic status quo or stronger alliances between El Salvador and other left-leaning countries in the region, especially those who have adopted “21st Century Socialism.”
3) The cables reveal several prevailing misrepresentations of the FMLN, painting them as a recalcitrant and violent group that is angling for a take-over, rather than as the country’s most popular political party, which was democratically elected by a healthy majority. Earlier this month, the Central American University (UCA) conducted a poll showing the FMLN with a lead of more than 16 percentage points over all other political parties. This popular support has been building for many years, long before Funes’ candidacy; since 2006, the FMLN has governed more than half of the population at a municipal level. Overall, the cables reveal an Embassy that is out of touch with the leading role played by the FMLN in El Salvador’s current political reality.
4) Perhaps most disturbing is Blau’s assertion that the FMLN and Funes are opponents, rather than allies. His cable from 1/19/2010 is titled, “With ARENA Fractured, Funes is FMLN’s Only Rival.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The FMLN and Funes have remained focused on challenging their real opponents: the powerful and entrenched economic elite. The cables released thus far ignore the active role played by right-wing political parties, including ARENA, and institutions, such as the National Association of Private Industry (ANEP), in blocking even moderate reforms proposed by President Funes, for example, to the tax code, and experimenting with various strategies to undermine and destabilize the new government.
5) In the cables, Blau references criticisms of U.S. foreign policy made by FMLN leaders as a major concern for the U.S. government. This should hardly come as a surprise to the Embassy, considering the decisive role the U.S. State Department played in legitimizing the 2009 coup in neighboring Honduras. Cables that have been released regarding other Latin American countries confirm that the U.S. government views any attempt to become independent of U.S. influence as a threat. CISPES believes that this narrow vision of foreign relations, dividing countries into “friends” and “enemies” based on their allegiance to U.S. authority harkens back to a Cold War mindset that is similarly out of step with the exciting progress toward regional integration and self-determination in Latin America.
6) The cables express concern about the Salvadoran economy;however, the remedy proposed by the U.S. government for the declining economy is more of the same neoliberal policies that have failed the Salvadoran people for the past 20 years—“free market incentives” and “attract[ing] private investment.” Indeed, Blau acknowledges that because of El Salvador’s dependence on the U.S., any economic recovery will be delayed as long as the US economy lags. But Blau expresses concern about El Salvador’s diplomatic relations and visits to Cuba and Venezuela that are intended to seek new economic partnerships. CISPES supports the Salvadoran government’s sovereign right to seek regional economic alternatives to the current model that will strengthen its economy and help it end its dependence on the U.S.
7) Not surprisingly, most of the mainstream media coveragein El Salvador has failed to cover revelations in the cables that are incriminating toward the Salvadoran right-wing. In addition to highlighting the major and debilitating divisions within the Salvadoran right, Blau acknowledges that a major element of ARENA’s internal crisis is that it no longer has the “patronage” of the State apparatus to “hand out” to its associates. This illustrates that the Embassy was fully aware of ARENA’s corruption and partisan use of state funds but continued to support the administration of ex-President Tony Saca, going so far as to help him get elected by intervening against the FMLN in the 2004 elections.
In the end, the leaked diplomatic cables must be taken forwhat they are: a collection of "objective and subjective situations that aren't necessarily based in truth," as Salvadoran Foreign Minister Hugo Martínez put it. Though Blau claims to be “combat[ing] old suspicions of U.S. motives in El Salvador and the region,” what we’ve been able to read so far does not offer much hope that U.S. motives or the bases for those “suspicions” have changed dramatically. Stay tuned for more analysis as the situation develops.