[Translation] Embassy tried to help procure a victory for ARENA in 2006 and 2009
Below is an unofficial translation of Jose Luis Sanz’ article in El Faro “Embajada procuró favorecer una victoria de Arena en 2006 y 2009” as well as links to the actual leaked cables. Original text here: http://www.wikileaks.elfaro.net/es/201105/notas/4159/)
Embassy tried to help procure a victory for ARENA in 2006 and 2009
José Luis Sanz
Published May 23, 2011
From 2005 to 2008, the United States Embassy in ElSalvador tried to use donations and migration benefits to influence ElSalvador’s internal elections and asked Washington for “political coverage” forthe ARENA strategy in 2009. The Councilor of Political Affairs MichaelButler even suggested in 2007 that George W. Bush personally convince Saca tonot put forth René Figueroa as a candidate.
U.S. intervention in El Salvador’s political processes, at times far from subtle, is nothing new. Justlooking at the past decade, on February 6, 2004, six weeks before thepresidential elections, then-Assistant Secretary of Hemispheric Affairs at theState Department Roger Noriega visited El Salvador and publicly called onSalvadorans to “measure the consequences” of a potential victory of the FMLNcandidate Schafik Handal. A few days later it was his predecessor Otto Reich who made a quick visit to the country and suggested that an FMLN governmentwould be a blow to “commercial, economic, and immigration” relations betweenthe U.S. and El Salvador. Throughout the campaign, ARENA had broadcasttelevision spots that claimed a change in government would result in the loss of TPS, a temporary benefit that allows more than 200,000 Salvadorans to liveand work legally in the United States.
September 9, 2005, Michael Butler—at that time Councilor of Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in ElSalvador—sent a confidential cable to Washington that noted that at that time:“U.S. assistance is widely perceived to be a benefit of postwar ARENA governments' close relationships with the U.S. Indeed, fears of apossible deterioration in that relationship likely played a significant role inthe 2004 presidential election, after an ARENA campaign that highlighted the party's longtime friendship with the U.S.”
In this document, written six monthsbefore the 2006 municipal and legislative elections, Butler analyzes thecontending parties and formulates workplans to once again favor ARENA: “Theclose U.S.-El Salvador bilateral relationship tends to further strengthen ARENA's hand in next spring's elections,” he says and suggest that “Signing acompact with the MCC [Millennium Challenge Corporation] would also help legitimize ARENA's economic program by showing it carries concrete benefits.”
The State Department cables in the hands of El Faro reveal that, at least in past years, U.S. intervention inSalvadoran electoral processes has been calculated and sustained over time. Just 14 months after Antonio Saca’s government took office, the U.S. Embassy inSan Salvador was already paying attention to the 2009 presidential election,and from 2005 to 2008 their diplomats analyzed practically every facet of theirbilateral relationship with El Salvador in light of its effect on the possibility of victory for ARENA—the party that guarantees U.S.-backed economic policies, according to a 2007 communiqué from former-Ambassador Charles L.Glazer.
A confidential cable dated August 12,2005, illustrates the constant effort of the Embassy to make the politicaltempo of the bilateral relationship coincide with the Salvadoran electoralcalendar. In it, then-Ambassador Douglas Barclay analyzes the executionperiods of CAFTA and pressures both the Saca government as well as Washington to complete the necessary legal requirements so that it can enter into effectas soon as possible, convinced that the agreement will generate a positive effect in El Salvador and strengthen the electoral possibilities ofARENA. “We would be making a mistake by delaying these benefits just asthe friendliest government in the region launches its campaign for the March 2006 elections,” he writes.
Following the legislative elections ofthat year, won by the FMLN in the end, the interests of the Embassy focused onthe long path to the 2009 presidential elections. In another confidentialcable dated January 2, 2007, it is Glazer who—after an extensive enumeration ofthe humanitarian reasons that the U.S. should renew TPS—adds that “thepolitical importance of this issue should not be underestimated. Such a massive deportation would be a political embarrassment for the GOES [Government of ElSalvador] in the lead up to 2009 local, legislative, and presidential electionsthat could provide a significant boost to the electoral prospects of thecommunist-dominated and Chavez-supported FMLN. El Salvador under ARENA,sleadership has been one of our most important allies in the Western Hemisphere,during a major rise of leftist populist regimes unfriendly to USG [U.S.Government] interests… terminating TPS would dramatically undermine President Saca's ability to support us on this and many other global and hemisphericissues of importance.”
The same logic prevails in anothercable signed by Glazer on April 11, 2007, that is directed personally to DanFried, then-Assistant Secretary of European Affairs in the Department of Stateand, since March, Hillary Clinton’s Special Envoy to Close Guantánamo, and to Thomas Shannon, Noriega’s successor as Assistant Secretary of HemisphericAffairs. In a section titled “In life, timing is everything” Glazerwarns: “El Salvador will hold municipal and legislative elections in January2009 and presidential elections two months later. Awarding MNNA [Majornon-NATO Ally] status to El Salvador prior to these elections could provide animportant push to political actors inclined to maintain strong security anddefense cooperation with the United States, and, if appropriately timed, wouldhelp maximize President Saca's remaining tenure in office.”
Saca was, according to the Embassy’s diplomatic communiqués, conscious of and complicit with this bilateralrelationship in which there were no barriers between ideological-partisan interestsand State interests. At the end of 2005 he took measures through the Minister of Foreign Relations Francisco Laínez to try to get Bush to visit ElSalvador on his trip back from the Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata orschedule an express visit in January 2006, with the excuse of inauguratingCAFTA but with the true intention of supporting him in the lead up to the March legislative elections. A confidential cable from January 13 of the sameyear demonstrates his obsession with including a photograph of him with the U.S. president in his electoral campaign.
The cable describes a meeting between Saca and then-Ambassador Barclay, in which the President expressed concern overthe possibility that the United States would announce the termination of TPS for Honduras during the Salvadoran campaign, which according to him could beinterpreted by Salvadoran voters as a bad sign. As a solution, heproposed a bilateral meeting at the beginning of February. “Such ameeting would give ‘a push’ to ARENA’s political fortunes and, Saca suggestedhalf in jest, produce a national legislature that could make parliamentaryapproval of a seventh Iraq contingent a foregone conclusion later in the year,”Barclay said of his conversation with Saca. It’s not the only time thatthe presence of Salvadoran soldiers in Iraq appears in the Embassy’s cables asa coin to trade in the relationship between Saca’s government and the UnitedStates.
The Figueroa effect
Despite the fact that as Saca’s term advanced the opinions of Embassy functionaries about his performance wereslowly turning more critical, the contrast is evident between the opinion theyhave of the FMLN—which they classify in various cables as “Stalinist”—and theirpositive evaluations of ARENA. In some cases the Embassy details as partof their political strategy differentiating between what it considers “El Salvador's democratic parties with the FMLN's radicalism.”
With a strong practical sense, a previously cited 2005 cable referring to the 2006 elections describes ARENA as a partythat has, “by far the best national political organization, the deepest pockets thanks to the private sector, and a national leader in Saca who pulls majorvotes.” In the same document, Michael Butler affirms that “Saca and hisARENA team are impressive political operatives who know how to use the powerand resources of the presidency to run an effective national campaign on their own.”
This didn’t keep the Embassy from takinga more and more concerned view about the actual possibilities of an ARENA victory, which they perceived as vulnerable, as the 2009 election drewnear. U.S. interest even came to the point of planning to interfere in the presidential party’s [ARENA’s] primary election.
In August of 2005, a cable signed by Douglas Barclay about the rising homicide rates in the country already citedRené Figueroa as “one of the three” possible presidential candidates andreferences to him as “the preferred candidate of Saca” are repeated in variouscables over time, something that was a whispered in secret within politicalcircles at the time. But when in December 2006, the President decided toput his business partner, best friend, and principal ally within ARENA at thehead of the new Ministry of Public Security, responsible for combating crime,the Embassy reflected: “it could put his candidacy at risk even before it has begun.”
The concern over the possibility thatFigueroa would end up being the candidate grew as the public security problem in the country got worse, to the point that in a cable sent to prepare anofficial visit by Saca to Washington on February 20, 2007, Michael Butlerexpressed his concern over the possibility that Venezuela and Cuba would try “to interfere in El Salvador's critical 2009 presidential, legislative, andmunicipal elections,” and suggested to the State Department: “We also hope thatthe President will urge Saca to put factional politics aside and press tonominate ARENA,s strongest candidate to run in the 2009 presidential election,”in clear reference to the Salvadoran president’s intention to favor thecandidacy of Figueroa. The cables don’t confirm if the theme of the ARENAcandidacy ended up being discussed in the meeting between Bush and Saca inWashington.
In the end, the then-Minister [Figueroa] launched his pre-candidacy amidst a striking division of opinionswithin ARENA, in addition to other reasons that had worn down his image asMinister of Security, as was summarized in a cable signed by Ambassador Glazeron October 3, 2007. “Figueroa is seen by some as a hard-core ARENAconservative, likely to alienate centrist voters and thus exacerbate thepolarization of Salvadoran politics in the 2009 election, potentially providingan opportunity to a (Mauricio) Funes FMLN candidacy. This, combined withFigueroa's strong association with the politically-difficult public securityand justice portfolio, let alone controversial events such as the Suchitoto confrontation (ref B) and arrests, leads some ARENA members to prefer acandidate carrying less political baggage into the campaign trail,” reads thecable. Figueroa would later withdraw his candidacy several months later and the candidate would end up being Rodrigo Ávila.
On September 18, 2008, pressured by the polls that continued giving Mauricio Funes an advantage over Ávila in thepresidential race, then-Minister of Foreign Relations Marisol Argueta publiclyasked for help from the United States to avoid an electoral defeat for ARENA. In a conference at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington D.C., shepleaded: “The United States needs to involve itself more in the region…theenemies are banding together and getting stronger…Losing El Salvador will be aloss for the security and national interests of El Salvador as well as theUnited States.” She had probably not read these cables. El Faro hadn’t read them either and still, ignorant of the three previous years of workby the Embassy, accused it of assisting in U.S. intervention in thepresidential elections.
Links to actual cables: