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Central American University - UCA  
  Number 151 | Febrero 1994
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El Salvador

Ushering in the New Year

Will these elections be free and clean? In the background is the impunity of the powerful and an ambience of fear among the people.

Roberto Cañas

How did Salvadorans welcome the new year in 1994? The majority received it terrified by a new outbreak of cholera, an epidemic that has come to the country to stay since the govern ment has made no systematic effort to halt its advance.

Cholera is a classic "poor people's disease." It attacks those who do not have sufficient food or decent hygienic conditions, those who are also the country's great majority. Between December 23, when the new outbreak began, and January 3, there were 6,979 cholera cases, 30 deaths, 1,800 hospitalizations and an undetermined but significant number who were sent home with oral rehydration packets because of the hospital's inability to handle them.

El Salvador Won!

The year also began with another fever, that of sports. The V Central American Sports Games was inaugurated in San Salvador on January 14. Two days before the athletes of the isthmus formally marched their flags down San Salvador's streets, the media stopped talking about cholera and the thousands of people falling ill. Radios, TV and the press received instructions to stop broadcasting news about this "unpresentable" issue during the days El Salvador was to be at the center of regional attention.

The preparations for the sporting event was dominated by improvisation, as tends to happen in our country. Despite insufficient financial resources and an inadequate infrastructure, the Salvadoran government had accepted the challenge of pulling off the games to rack up as much political mileage possible. It was evident that the development of the competition was linked to the electoral campaign of ARENA, the party in government. From the logotype of the "Little Finger" raised exactly the way ARENA presidential candidate Armando Calderón Sol raises his to the willingness to give the population a circus, if not bread, sports and politics were clearly going hand in hand.

But not all was improvisation. The El Salvador Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which brings together the most important private businesspeople in the country, decided, in coordination with the government, to launch a clean up campaign in the capital with the slogan, "Let's Make El Salvador Shine." Although one would think that the campaign, begun on January 4 as cholera was advancing, would attack potential danger points and infection centers, it did not. The campaign cost well over half a million dollars, but it only made the most visible areas of the capital "shine" with cosmetic touch ups.

In a difficult transition period, when most of the population is emerging from years of polarization, war and violence, the games were well attended and ARENA profited from them. Recreation that makes one forget complex economic and political problems can have unexpected success in the stage the country is in. There was even more success and happiness because El Salvador won the most medals in the competitions. Everyone praised the Salvadoran athletes' performance and pointed with pride to the advances in national sports. No one remembered that a short time ago, at least 30 Cuban trainers arrived in the country, one of the fruits of an official agreement. Those trainers were the hidden source of the Salvadoran triumphs.

The Central American Games were very expensive. Remodeling the Flor Blanca Stadium cost 19 million colons, the Villa Olímpica, 25 million, and the Sports Palace, 13 million. Three million colons was spent on the inauguration alone, and another three on the closing ceremony. In all, the government spent over $17 million on the games. A waste, given the country's situation. An excess, taking into account that this is equal to half of the annual National Police budget, and seven times more than the Human Rights Prosecuter's budget.

The games ended, but cholera continued, as did the political violence. Although top level FMLN leaders were not affected in January, violence in rural areas continued in alarming proportions. According to press reports, there was a daily average of more than three "violent deaths" in 1993. The structural violence of poverty, the root of all other violence, also continued.

Peace Celebrates Second Anniversary

What other colors are there in the photograph of this first month of 1994 in El Salvador? Two political dynamics run parallel through the transition period. The first is fulfillment of the peace accords that changed the country two years ago; the second is the electoral process which will conclude with elections on March 20.

January 16 marked the second anniversary of the signing of the Chapultepec accords. There was hardly any celebration, however, and what there was lukewarm and pale did not do justice to the historical significance of the event. It appears that the past present future articulation, so important in the life of the people, is severely weakened or almost destroyed in today's El Salvador. There is a clear tendency in the country to forget the past, live in the present and avoid looking into the future.

Because no one wants to look at the past, they also do not want to see the truth articulated in the Truth Commission Report. The fact that the government has not given a satisfactory response to all that the report said means that the Salvadoran people, in their collective conscience, face serious difficulties resolving the problem of the past. Since the past is being denied, in the present there is no new Supreme Court, nor are there new military leaders in the armed forces, as the report recommended. That is why impunity still reigns, an historic imperative of the military and the country's economically powerful.

Other anniversaries were also not celebrated in January. Neither the anniversary of the beginning of the FMLN military offensive (January 10, 1981), nor the anniversary of the peasant insurrection (January 22, 1932), key events in this century of national history, were noted. There was no recalling of or reflection on the significance of these events, their errors, achievements or gaps. The country as a whole did not reflect, nor did the left.

What Was Signed, What Was Fulfilled

Historians say that those who do not learn about or remember the past will never overcome their errors. In El Salvador during the transition, the absent past presents potential conflicts.

What is the bottom line of the peace accords two years after the signing? Although there have been notable advances and substantial changes in the country, the issues still pending are also important, and the delays are unjustifiable. The greatest area left incomplete relates to the Truth Commission's recommendations about economic social needs, including the reinsertion of ex combatants from both sides into civilian life, and especially the issue of land transfers. This creates a fragile social equilibrium. The failure to resolve the problem of thousands of demobilized combatants is tempting them to follow the example of the recontras, recompas or revueltos in Nicaragua.

There is a latent danger in this failure to fulfill the accords.

What must be taken into account with respect to the success or failure of the peace accords is the real political willingness of both sides to keep the promises they signed. The government and the army have made their unwillingness quite clear; they do not want to fulfill the letter of the law. They want minimum changes that alter nothing; this is the logic that both have maintained.

The United Nations observer mission in El Salvador (ONUSAL) recognizes important achievements. The change in military doctrine, the creation of a new National Academy of Public Security, official support of the defense of human rights through a specially created Prosecutor's Office and compliance with the cease fire since the peace accords are all positive signs. ONUSAL considers that the transformation of the electoral system, which permits representation and competition of all political groups, is a significant contribution.

After two years, this fragile balance of the accords could be upset by the elections, either for or against peace. The current peace has not been consolidated and, although the changes are already impressive, they do not meet the country's needs. Nor do they fulfill the dreams of so many.

"Elections of the Century"

The elections are the other key dynamic right now in El Salvador. There is general consensus among the country's political class the press reflects it and the mood confirms it that these elections, though truly transcendental, have not sparked the interest of the majority. With little over a month before election day, there is no great enthusiasm to take sides in the elections. It does not appear that the electoral process is a priority for the majority.

These are the first elections after the end of the long and cruel war. For the first time all tendencies on the country's political spectrum will participate, including the left that took up arms during the last decade. There have been important reforms to the country's electoral system and there will be substantial international observation both ONUSAL and another important contingent of observers. All authorities are up for election: national, legislative and municipal. The sum of these peculiar characteristics made analysts term these "the elections of the century." But the country's mood doesn't confirm this.

Will the elections be clean and free? The electoral process is a long one, and the first step was the census list. Everyone recognizes the importance of having a voters' list that corresponds to the reality of the voting age population. But there are weaknesses in the current list. It has not been checked for possible name duplications or those who have died. No one can guarantee at this moment that the list has been satisfactorily cleaned and updated.

But it is not only this. There are also questions about the process of drawing up the voter registration list. In El Salvador there is specific documentation the electoral card to vote, and to get one you have to get past innumerable bureaucratic hurdles. The registration process was developed in 1993, and was satisfactory according to UN evaluation. But it did not automatically guarantee that the person registered would get an electoral card. To guarantee that, the registered person must also have the Supreme Electoral Council seal on his or her birth certificate authorizing the card. A significant number of Salvadorans some 70,000 registered and are now demanding their cards, but will likely end up without them and thus without the right to vote, all for lack of this seal. This has caused frustration among those who are participating in the elections for the first time.
But a clean and free electoral process is not guaranteed only by a clean or total list. The Achilles heel of the electoral process is that impunity continues, the death squads continue to act, and the mood of fear and intimidation has not been overcome.

The Campaign

And the campaign itself? Although the contending parties seven finally registered signed a "gentlemen's agreement" to conduct a clean, above board campaign to contribute to political tolerance and to develop debate based on opinions and positions, this has not happened. The campaign is no longer clean. San Salvador and other cities are full of gross propaganda that is as overwhelming as it is insulting.

Entire avenues and boulevards of the capital are plastered with the red, white and blue of ARENA. Will this publicity overkill backfire on the governing party?
The debates are increasingly negative, with ARENA pulling them down even further. ARENA supporters dredge up past events to use against the FMLN, blaming it for the country's destruction and even going so far as to blame it for the Chiapas incidents. Government officials are desperately looking for proof of Salvadoran involvement in the Zapatista Army of National Liberation to exploit this information in the campaign. The government links the growth in crime not to poverty but to arms that the FMLN did not turn over. And so it goes with everything. It can be predicted that, as election day nears, new arguments of this type will be invented, making the campaign even more negative and cutting short needed debates on positions and proposals.

International observers have already arrived in the country and are demonstrating their interest in observing the elections. The international observation that El Salvador needs is not a presence on March 20 to take pictures next to the voting booths. It is long term observation: observers who arrive a week or more before the elections, are here on election day itself and spend a few days afterwards as well, while the votes are counted.

The Opinion Polls

What do the polls say? The most recent poll that has been made public was done by the Central American University's Public Opinion Institute (IUDOP), between December 4 and 12. Of those polled, 55.2% did not know or did not say who they will vote for and 7.6% said they will not vote for anyone; 20% would vote for ARENA if the elections were to take place on the day following the poll, while 12% would vote for the Democratic Convergence (CD) FMLN, 3.5% for the Christian Democratic Party and 1% for the National Conservative Party.

In response to the question of who is the best presidential candidate, 30.8% responded that they do not know, 28% chose Calderón Sol (ARENA), 18% said no one is suitable, 15% chose Rubén Zamora (CD FMLN) and 6.3% chose Fidel Chávez Mena (PDC).

How can these numbers be interpreted in relation to previous polls? There has been a slight increase in preference for the left (CD MNR FMLN), while the other parties have lost support. But the most significant aspect is something that has appeared as a constant in all the polls: the undecided are in the majority and their number hovers around 50%. This fact makes any kind of political projection very difficult and nobody can make categorical predictions at this time. Any projections, given the 50% undecided vote, are little more than reading a crystal ball. The electoral process and results are still uncertain.
It is clear that ARENA has everything it needs to win. The entire state apparatus and its resources are being used in ARENA's campaign. The ministries and state institutions have spent impressive amounts of money on publicity praising the works of President Cristiani. This month, the Chamber of Commerce organized a nationwide radio and TV hook up, where for two hours Cristiani was interviewed by five journalists in what was a clear ARENA campaign. That day no one could see or hear anything but the program, "Talking with the President." Even the cable channels were intercepted so they could offer no option but the words and image of Alfredo Cristiani. Like the good neoliberal that he is, he repeated the technocrats' mantra: "There are problems, but we are on the right road."
Although Calderón Sol is a candidate with little energy, no vision, and the thought of him actually leading the country scares many, ARENA has in its favor the enormous state structure. It also has the support of the private sector. Virtually the entire mass media are campaigning for him. His party structure is extensive, aggressive and well oiled. The only thing ARENA does not have is a national project to pull El Salvador out of its poverty, a project that promotes true agreement around a central vision of the common good and not just the interests of the minority of the privileged classes.

The Peace Accords: What Is Left to Fulfill?

Land transfers
* Implementation continues to be slow, and is behind schedule according to the last calendar. More than 85% of the properties still need to be transferred.

* The financing has not yet been completed; $40 million from the United States is pending.

Economic programs for reinserting ex combatants
* A general strategy needs to be elaborated which, among other aspects, readjusts the programs according to real demands to make them effective.

* The financing has still not been completed. Around $70 million is needed from the United States to carry out all the programs. The most necessary and urgent financing is housing, for which $20 million is needed.

* The Reinsertion Program Follow up Table, made up of the government, the FMLN and ONUSAL, need to have more decision making power, and the government has to be more flexible so the programs can be more effective.

Recommendations of the Truth Commission
* The constitutional and legal reforms of the judicial system still have to be approved by the Legislative Assembly.

Security Corps
* The former National Police has not been reduced in proportion with the development of the new Civil National Police (PNC). The danger exists that the government will try to transfer members from the old force to the new one, which would corrupt the new police.

* The anomalies found in the PNC should be corrected by the UN team that evaluated its territorial and functional extension. ONUSAL has been urging this rectification, but the government refuses. The most worrisome anomalies are:
The growing influence of former members of the Special Anti Drug Unit of the Criminal Acts Investigating Commission who, without being sufficiently evaluated, are occupying high level posts in the new leadership structure of the PNC.

The incorporation into the PNC of armed forces officials, many of whom are responsible for serious human rights violations.

Both facts tend to negate the civilian character of the new police force and its function to protect human rights.

* Complete the functional and territorial expansion of the PNC.

Electoral Process

* It is urgent that the 70,000 new citizens in the electoral registry obtain their voting cards so they will be able to vote.

* The Supreme Electoral Council must be impartial and guarantee that the elections be clean and that all the participating political parties can observe, without favoring any party or coalition (The Supreme Electoral Council is beginning to make decisions that contradict this).

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