El Salvador is heading toward another important electoral event within the next month. On March 11 Salvadorans will cast their votes to elect 262 mayors and 84 deputies to the Legislative Assembly. The results, especially for the legislative election, will shape the remaining two years of the Funes presidency.
The latest polls show a strong political opposition led by the conservative Alianza Republicana Nacionalista, ARENA, with higher voter preference over Funes’ governing, left of center, Frente Farabundo Marti para la Liberacion Nacional, FMLN. President Mauricio Funes still maintains high approval ratings however it seems like his apparent likeability among voters isn’t translating into potential votes for his party. Some argue that this may be the result of Funes (and the FMLN) maintaining a complex relationship filled with public disagreements on some issues and coincidences on others.
If the polls remain the same for the next month the big looser may be the orthodox leadership of the FMLN. Pressure has been mounting on the traditional, hard line leadership of the FMLN, from their base to break away completely from Funes. These militants perceive Funes as too much to the right and not pushing for radical reform. However, if ARENA does well and the FMLN doesn’t perform as expected this would leave President Funes in an awkward position as he would effectively become a “presidente sin partido” (president with no party). Should this scenario occur Funes would most certainly look for refuge in one of the smaller political parties and face a difficult two years characterized by attacks from both the left and right of the political spectrum.
Citing an op-ed she wrote condemning violence against gays and lesbians, Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) for weeks led the charge in the U.S. Senate to block the nomination of Mari Carmen Aponte to be the U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador. On Monday, the Senate voted 49 to 37 to block Aponte’s nomination, 11 votes short of the 60 needed to break a Republican-sponsored filibuster. Lost in the lead-up to the vote and the outcome was a key question: why is a position against violence targeting homosexuals and in defense of gay rights a valid reason to reject a nominee to an ambassadorship?
At issue for Senator DeMint and the 48 Republicans (and one Democrat, Senator Ben Nelson [NE]) was Aponte's op-ed titled “For the Elimination of Prejudices Wherever They Exist” in the El Salvadoran daily La Prensa Gráfica on July 28th this year. The offending op-ed declared that everyone has a responsibility to “inform our neighbors and friends about what it means to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender” and praised El Salvador for signing—along with the U.S. and 80 other nations—a UN declaration for the elimination of violence against gays and lesbians.
Echoing the sentiments of a coalition of conservative El Salvadorans and Latin Americans who had objected to the essay, DeMint said this week that, “We should not risk…an ambassador who shows such a blatant disregard for [El Salvador’s] culture…” Never mind the fact that Ambassador Aponte—posted in El Salvador for the last 15 months on a recess appointment—was only implementing the administration's initiative in support of Gay Pride Month, which really means this is a policy issue better taken up with the President. The larger issue should be whether making locals uncomfortable on issues of human rights should be the way we gauge our policy and diplomats. Would we pursue the same course in other civil and political rights? Human rights in Syria? Voting rights in Russia? When did homophobia or violence against the LGBT community become a matter of local culture that deserves respect?
Severe flooding has claimed the lives of more than 80 people and displaced thousands in the wake of some of the region’s heaviest rains since Hurricane Mitch ravaged Central America in 1998. After rainfall totals reached nearly 40 inches in 72 hours in the hardest-hit areas of El Salvador and Guatemala, officials in both countries declared states of emergency and issued mandatory evacuation orders to residents of low-lying areas.
According to Salvadoran emergency management office director Jorge Melendez, the downpours in El Salvador have left “27 people dead, the majority of them from mudslides that hit their dwellings.” A total of 13,874 people have been moved to 209 shelters, said Melendez. In neighboring Guatemala, 28 people have died and the death toll is expected to rise.
The immediate response of governments in the region has focused on search and rescue operations, particularly in rural areas. Already, however, analysts are predicting billions of dollars in economic losses as a result of the storm. Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes yesterday launched an appeal for international humanitarian aid. Thus far, Venezuela has pledged support and Spain has responded by sending 20 tons of supplies, including tents and hygiene kits.
La superación de la pobreza no es cuestión de izquierdas o derechas, es cuestión de voluntad. No comparto con quienes vociferan que en el mundo hay una gran conspiración de los ricos para explotar a los pobres. Tampoco me identifico con quienes sugieren que a las izquierdas les conviene mantener niveles de pobreza altos como caldo de cultivo para la sobrevivencia de sus postulados ideológicos. La pobreza en El Salvador es una realidad.
La Dirección de Estadísticas y Censos de El Salvador (DIGESTYC) publicó recientemente los resultados de la Encuesta de Hogares de Propósitos Múltiples (EHPM) para el 2010. La EHPM arroja datos importantes que se supone deben orientar las políticas públicas, no sólo del gobierno de turno, sino de toda la clase política. ¿Qué nos dicen los últimos resultados? Primero, el 12.6 por ciento de los salvadoreños viven en pobreza extrema, es decir con un ingreso menor a $45.12, lo equivalente al costo de la canasta básica alimentaria. Segundo, el 25.3 por ciento de la población salvadoreña vive en condiciones de pobreza relativa, es decir hogares sin la capacidad de cubrir el equivalente a dos canastas básicas alimentarias. En síntesis, el nivel de pobreza general en El Salvador es del 36.5 por ciento. Los niveles más bajos ocurrieron en el 2006 y pues obviamente los efectos de la crisis financiera mundial del 2008 incrementaron de nuevo los niveles de pobreza.
¿Qué sentido tiene enumerar cifras que seguramente sabremos estimar? Leídas fríamente quizás sugieran que El Salvador es otro país más, que a pesar de haber logrado importantes avances democráticos y de desarrollo, seguirá destinado a la pobreza. Sin embargo, hay una lección más importante que se puede derivar de las cifras y su evolución con el tiempo: para poder superar la pobreza es necesario primero trascender la disputa entre izquierdas y derechas.
Es urgente encontrar puntos de coincidencia en políticas públicas específicas para reducir los niveles de pobreza. Las diferentes fuerzas vivas del país deben reconocer abiertamente que existen dos amenazas claras para la sostenibilidad democrática del país, y la región: la inseguridad ciudadana, incluyendo crimen organizado y la pobreza. En un escenario ideal no debería de existir retórica ideológica de izquierda y derecha al afrontar realidades que ponen en jaque la viabilidad nacional. La combinación de liderazgos anclados en el pasado, un aparato estatal lento e ineficaz y la ausencia de una visión compartida del futuro entre la clase política, sociedad civil y sector privado nos mantienen en medio de una batalla ideológica.
El contexto electoral es la oportunidad perfecta para que los partidos políticos logren acercar posiciones, sin temor, en temas de trascendencia nacional. En pleno siglo veintiuno hay temas que no deberían ser víctimas de la polarización: acceso a servicios básicos, educación, salud, política energética, competitividad nacional, institucionalidad democrática y prevención de la violencia, entre otros.
La reacción de la sociedad civil salvadoreña ante la crisis de choque de poderes entre los órganos legislativo y judicial unos meses atrás fue ejemplar. Sin embargo, así como se reaccionó apasionadamente ante un decreto legislativo, es preciso reaccionar más enérgicamente contra la pobreza que roba vidas y aplasta sueños.
Julio Rank Wright is contributing blogger to AQ Online. He is from San Salvador, El Salvador, but temporarily living in Washington DC.
From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Argentine President Announces Reelection Bid
Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announced Tuesday she will run for reelection in October. Fernández, who has led Argentina since 2007, stated her decision was based on “a strong sense of political and personal responsibility.” Given her current high popularity, many analysts see her as well placed to win reelection.
Sec. Clinton Joins CentralAm Leaders at Guatemalan Security Summit
In a trip aimed at supporting Central American efforts to rein in drug cartels, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will head the U.S. delegation to Guatemala City for the Central American Integration System’s summit on security, kicking off June 22. Assistant Secretary of State for Hemispheric Affairs Arturo Valenzuela and Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield will also attend and will meet with seven regional presidents, including heads of state from Central America, Colombia, and Mexico. The United States has already pledged $200 million to support security initiatives in Central America and is not expected to pledge additional funds at the summit.
In a related story, The Washington Post takes an in-depth look at security challenges faced at the porous Guatemalan-Mexican border.
El Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes yesterday announced a major series of media reforms that will transform state-owned radio and television by granting them unprecedented legal autonomy to broadcast independent content. The reforms, which were developed in collaboration with the World Bank, is designed to put an end to the historic role of state media as a campaign tool of incumbent governments and a mouthpiece for ruling administrations.
Salvadoran Minister of Communications of the Presidency, David Rivas, explained that "for many years state radio and television were subject to political whims or subjected to the interests of particular groups, but not the interests of society as a whole." Critics of state media in El Salvador say the state-owned Radio Nacional and Canal 10 were often used during the country’s brutal 1980s civil war to disseminate disinformation and distract Salvadorans from accurate war coverage.
World Bank representative Alberto Leyton lauded the announced reforms and emphasized that state media should further the “public good” by refraining from simply broadcasting the “situational interests” of a particular government.
Thousands of fervent fans will converge in Charlotte, North Carolina today for two games of the much anticipated CONCACAF Gold Cup soccer tournament, which gives national teams from North America, Central America and the Caribbean an early chance to further their World Cup ambitions. Although Charlotte is not widely known as a Hispanic soccer hub and the city has never hosted such an important tournament, millions of viewers from across the hemisphere will tune in tonight as Costa Rica battles El Salvador, and Cuba takes on the Mexico’s national team.
Charlotte first attracted the attention of Gold Cup organizers in 2010 when nearly 65,000 fans packed Bank of America Stadium to watch an exhibition match between Mexico and Iceland. Although soccer has struggled to take hold in much of the United States, support for the sport in Charlotte has been buoyed by Latino immigrants. North Carolina is home to an estimated 410,000 Mexicans, and more than 50,000 Cubans, Costa Ricans and Salvadorans, according to the 2010 census.
Charlotte residents are optimistic that the Gold Cup will boost the local economy. According to the Charlotte Regional Visitor’s Authority, last year’s exhibition brought in $11.6 million, largely from tourists travelling from other states. For today’s games, local Spanish-language radio stations La Voz de Charlotte and La Raza have helped generate hype by giving away free tickets and jerseys and by taking countless calls from soccer enthusiasts.
Since the Gold Cup’s creation in 1991, Mexico has won the tournament five times and the United States, four. But history doesn’t temper the support of fans for underdogs like Costa Rica, El Salvador and Cuba, who have never won. This year’s champion will earn a place in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup, a crucial stop on the long road to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2014.
El Salvador President Mauricio Funes started his third year in office last week with a series of policy announcements primarily dealing with citizen security.
The proposed security policies would first institute compulsory military service for 5,000 at-risk youth between the ages of 14 and 16. These young men and women will be recruited if they reside in high-risk areas prone to gang violence as a deterrent and preventive measure but also as a mechanism for rehabilitation. The caveat is that these youth wouldn’t be trained in weapons use and military tactics. Instead, they would be exposed to military discipline and trained in civil protection measures at times of natural disaster. Recruited men and women would be paid for their service and would later constitute a sort of civil protection reserve—not a bad idea in a country frequently exposed to natural disasters. Other new security measures include the creation of a special committee composed of high-level security cabinet members that would closely follow-up on investigations of serious criminal investigations along with the addition of 1,000 new police officers.
How effective will these new policies be in a context of what seems like a spiraling plague of crime? This has yet to be seen. However, what’s true is that the compulsory military recruitment initiative is the first and perhaps most radical policy initiative made in the region since the Mano Dura programs in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras in the late 1990s and 2000s. Boosting the police force may seem like more of the same, but some experts suggest that increased levels of crime are a result of a lack of state presence. The presence of the police force, at the very least, represents state control of currently gang-ridden territories.
The next obvious question is how soon these measures will be taken. First, Funes has to overcome some legal limitations to the youth military service initiative, and reforms to the Military Career Law must go through the legislative assembly. Some government officials are already criticizing the measure, including the Human Rights Ombudsman, the National Institute for Children and Adolescents and a juvenile judge.
Amid a mix of praise and criticism, President Mauricio Funes today marks his second anniversary as the leader of El Salvador, with surveys showing that Salvadorans commend him for his progressive social policies but disapprove of the economy’s slow growth and rampant violence. In a national survey conducted by the Instituto Universitario de Opinión Pública at the Universidad Centroamericana from April 29 to May 7, 1,262 Salvadorans rated Funes' job performance at 6.16 on a scale of 1 to 10, down from 6.78 a year ago and 7.6 in August 2009.
A member of the Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación (FMLN)—a leftist guerrilla organization that was converted into a political party in 1992—Funes assumed the presidency in the midst of the global economic recession and following 20 years of consecutive government by the right-wing Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA) party. He prioritized maintaining close relations with the United States, where more than 2 million Salvadorans live and work, contributing to the U.S. economy as well as to the Salvadoran economy through remittances. The President also has focused on implementing social policies to mitigate the effects of the recession on the Salvadoran poor. Among these is the provision of free lunches, school supplies, uniforms, and shoes to more than 377 million public school students; free medical services; and the Plan de Agricultura Familiar to assist small farmers with credit, insurance, technical assistance, and the procurement of seeds and fertilizer.
While survey results show that Salvadorans recognize the social achievements of the Funes government, they fault the President for failing to improve the economy and effectively combat widespread violence. El Salvador’s economy is projected to grow only 2.5 percent in 2011, although that number is up from 1.4 percent growth in 2010 and a 3.1 percent decline in 2009. Likewise, Funes’ government has succeeded in reducing the extortion rate by 28 percent and bringing down the daily average of homicides, but the latter still stands at 11 per day.
Today Funes will present the FMLN-led Legislative Assembly with an assessment of his past two years of government. The party has confirmed in a press release that it will continue to implement policies in favor of El Salvador’s most disadvantaged populations.
El Salvador is the country with the least foreign direct investment (FDI) in Latin America according to a report released last week by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). The country experienced a 79 percent decline in investment compared to the previous year, with total investment amounting to a meager $89 million.
As the report was being quoted in local media outlets an avalanche of political opportunism ensued. For one, members of the private sector—citing recent rifts between the judicial and legislative branches over some controversial decisions related to electoral reform—cited judicial security as the source of lagging investment. Alternatively, President Funes blamed the private sector for not investing in El Salvador. This criticism was reinforced in the report’s analysis, which noted that Salvadoran businesses were the largest investors in Central America with a capital outflow greater than those of their regional competitors.
The ghosts of political instability and public insecurity in a country with endemic homicide rates resonated widely. But while we become entrenched in politically charged bouts, we fail to evaluate information for what it is.
Why is El Salvador posting such low numbers? Part of it is due to changes in the formal accounting principles used to aggregate foreign direct investment, according to ECLAC. Then they cite “endogenous factors like citizen insecurity, increasing operation costs of foreign businesses and the erosion of certain incentives associated to special sectors.”