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Column 021014 Brewer

Monday, February 10, 2014

El Salvador Voters Perplexed Between the Left and the Right

By Jerry Brewer

On February 2, 2014 voters in El Salvador went to the polls to elect a new president to a single five year term that will begin June 1st.  Voters faced the critical dilemmas of a homeland and government racked by fear, murder with impunity, intimidation, and lawlessness.

They must have also been pondering the government’s increased social spending by taking on yet more debt, with little regard for how it will be paid back. The government debt is set to reach 60 percent of gross domestic product this year, up from 50 percent four years ago.

In the face of indecision amidst considerable confusion and despair, no candidate reached the requisite vote total for a first round victory, thus the need for a runoff election in March.

The choices will be two candidates that are polar opposites. One a member of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), which has been labeled by El Salvador’s right wing as communists favoring a Cuban-style dictatorship; and the other the candidate of the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), described as a party of widespread corruption and capitalist greed.

Political paralysis has set in. However, it appears that many Salvadorans made up their minds long ago as to their political leanings and choice between two such ideologies. An estimated one-fifth of people born in El Salvador now live in the United States.

This, perhaps, after studying the failures and misery of regional neighbors like Cuba and Venezuela that suffer under determined dictatorships, with ongoing human rights violations, oppression, and hunger.

It is estimated that over 100,000 (10 percent) of Salvadoran immigrants in the US live in the Houston, Texas area.

El Salvador is the smallest and most densely populated nation in Central America, and it is experiencing slowed population growth, a decline in its number of youths, and a gradual aging of the population. In 2008 a national family planning survey indicated that female sterilization remained the most common contraception method in El Salvador, with its sterilization rate among the highest in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Salvador Sanchez Ceren (69), of the FMLN, took 48.9 percent of the vote in the recent election, just short of the 50 percent needed that would have avoided the second round.  Norman Quijano Gonzalez (67), of ARENA, placed second with just under 39 percent. They will face off again on March 9 in this most important election for El Salvador, as well as neighboring nations in the hemisphere that will feel the actions or inactions of the elected party.

Sanchez Ceren is a former Marxist guerrilla who is currently seen as leading in the polls.

Opponents to Sanchez Ceren cite his anticipated propensity for El Salvador to rely on assistance and/or counsel from Venezuela's Chavez-molded government, and the Castro regime in Cuba.

Quijano Gonzalez is the current mayor of San Salvador. A dentist by profession, his introduction to the political domain began as Manager of Social Action of the Municipality of San Salvador from 1989 to 1994. Since 1994 he participated in five continuous legislative periods, holding the position of secretary of the Board of the Legislative Assembly from 2006 to 2009.

Sanchez Ceren’s political ideology derives from various democratic and revolutionary (i.e. leftist) organizations that he has been a member of over the years. Today he belongs to the FMLN, which is a left-wing political party that prior to 1992 was a coalition of five guerrilla organizations, and its ideology is described as Marxist-Leninist.

Over the years, US funding for training and material has been in abundance to many of the affected regions of the northern cone of Central America. However, many political critics in the region complain that they in fact are ignored, and receive second-class status behind other world areas and issues.

There is little doubt that a failure of a new administration in El Salvador, to make significant proactive progress against transnational organized crime, and gang and insurgent violence, could prove disastrous to the entire region.

Many voters lamented that neither of these two politicians presented a coherent political platform. Quijano Gonzalez has made security and enforcement a top initiative of his rule of law platform.

Last week a former Washington Post journalist and now consultant, Douglas Farah, testified before the US House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism. Farah detailed the terrorist and criminal ties of FMLN operative Jose Luis Merino, and the FMLN's presidential candidate, Salvador Sanchez Ceren. He accused operatives of the Salvadoran ruling FMLN party of having maintained a long-standing alliance with the Colombian FARC, “Under the protection of the governments of Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Bolivia – as well as powerful friends in El Salvador and Panama.”

Totalitarian regimes in Latin America, that once elected do not govern democratically, are a major concern in this hemisphere. They are not seen as mature democracies and refuse to cooperate with US and ally security interests and initiatives. This attitude is a recipe for disaster to the northern cone countries of Central America. El Salvador’s electorate must vote to get a handle on democracy, underequipped and ill-trained security forces, a competent judicial system, and a proactive and coherent plan of strategic enforcement actions.

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Jerry Brewer is C.E.O. of Criminal Justice International Associates, a global threat mitigation firm headquartered in northern Virginia.  His website is located at www.cjiausa.org.

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