Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 154 | Mayo 1994


El Salvador

The Elections: A Post Game Analysis

El Salvador is beginning a new stage. Will it be just more of the same? Will the FMLN be divided? What will happen with local power? Will democracy be consolidated?

Roberto Cañas

Making a clear prediction of what the results of the March 20 elections will mean for El Salvador is like trying to decipher the light and shadows in a crystal ball. All told, the scenario for the next five years would appear to be a disquieting and challenging one.

ARENA came within inches of winning the presidency on the first round and got 39 of the 84 deputies in the Legislative Assembly. Having won 211 of the 262 local governments, it will have almost absolute municipal control. And if that were not enough, it could create alliances to assure its predominance in the new Supreme Court of Justice.

All of this, however, is complicated by the fact that these victories are sullied by a series of "irregularities" in the electoral process that add up to technical fraud. This wrests legitimacy from the new government.

ARENA: A Worrisome Record

We can get some idea of what awaits Salvadorans from looking at the limited "democratic credentials" of the future ARENA President, Armando Calderón Sol. He has been linked to the country's death squads, even according to recently declassified information from the US State Department. We can also get an idea from what we know of ARENA's governmental administration during Cristiani's term.

ARENA's political conduct has been characterized by a long list of violated pacts and accords. They range in importance from the parties' "gentlemen's agreement" to limit electoral campaign spending, which ARENA ignored, all the way to its failure to comply with the 1992 Chapultepec Peace Accords.

The road between those two is strewn with other violations. ARENA violated the October 16, 1993 accord regarding a legislative "inter party peace commitment" of July 25, 1993, which established that the Assembly, via the political parties, would support the accords coming out of COPAZ. By pushing through an amnesty law almost immediately after the Truth Commission's report was released, it violated another accord stipulating that no such law would be passed until six months afterward, so as to be able to comply with the Truth Commission's recommendations. To mention only one more, which hardly exhausts the list, ARENA violated the October 16, 1993 accord regarding proportional representation in the Municipal Councils.

It should be remembered that the negotiated end to the war and the political formula resulting from the Peace Accords did not express the political will of the Cristiani government or the powerful economic sectors that support ARENA. It was a way out imposed by the nation's reality which shifted due to the FMLN's 1989 military offensive, among other events and by international pressure for a negotiated solution to the conflict. ARENA has consistently complied with the letter of these accords, but never with their spirit. It has haggled and dodged and tried to renegotiate everything.

Seeing the electoral results, it is easy to deduce that ARENA will increase this tendency, complying as minimally as possible with the elements of the accords yet to be implemented, even though they are fundamental to the country's stability. The remaining elements include the transfer of lands, programs to reinsert the former combatants from both sides, nationwide deployment of the new Civil National Police, dissolution of what still remains of the National Police and compliance with the Truth Commission's recommendations.

More of the Same

Cristiani defeated the Christian Democratic Party (PDC) in the 1988 elections by waving an anti corruption banner. Nonetheless, the ARENA administration has been characterized by plunder of state funds, although with more refinement than before.

In a TV interview, Cristiani remarked that "the problem with corruption is that when it's done so well, it leaves no evidence." But, in fact, evidence abounds. A review of the system of supplying medicines to the Social Security Hospital shows that most bids have been won by one company, which just happens to belong to Alfredo Cristiani. Or one can take a look at the company of one official in the Ministry of Public Works, which has increased its capital by almost 30 million colóns, based on the bids won from his ministry. There is little reason to believe that Calderón Sol will clean up this act.

ARENA boasts of having achieved a 5% growth in the economy and bringing inflation down to 12%. But creating wealth is one thing, and changing its unequal distribution is quite another. The new government will promote the same economic measures, leaving us with "more of the same" neoliberal economic model. Calderón Sol will go on developing the unjust economic model that excludes the majority of Salvadorans from the formal economy, from social security and from basic education, health, drinking water and sewage services.

The state will not intervene to regulate the economy; it will promote privatizations and develop social compensation plans through the Social Investment Fund (FIS). It will stick with the design of the Salvadoran Foundation for Social Economic Development (FUSADES), the country's largest nongovernmental organization. Supported by the US Agency for International Development and the country's own most powerful economic sectors, FUSADES is the think tank that actually draws up ARENA's economic strategies. Mirna Liévano de Márquez, the current Minister of Planning, just executes them.

Pending Problems

The economic sectors that lost out with the neoliberal adjustment measures particularly the medium sized agricultural producers vehemently supported Calderón Sol's candidacy. He was also supported by the sectors most linked to ARENA's party structure. We can thus expect contradictions about how to orient the economy and disputes among the different sectors in the capital. But we can also expect that pressures and influence from AID and the World Bank will still prevail.

What remains to be seen is how the government will promote industrial conversion. The manufacturing sector has to become competitive if it is to adapt to international competition growing out of the economy's trade opening.

During his administration, Cristiani resolved one central demand of the economic sectors that support him and to which he belongs: by privatizing the banking sector, he returned control of it to them. In this process, the public treasury took responsibility for guaranteeing the system's outstanding debts except for those of agriculture's cooperative sector. Calderón Sol will continue to dismantle what remains of the agrarian reform and favor the economic sectors he represents.

One of the few other things that remains unclear is what the new government's posture will be toward the free trade agreement in general, or Central American economic integration in particular.

A Return to the Past?

The fact that Calderón Sol fell short of winning the presidency on the first round makes clear the need for a government interested in consensus building with the participation of all the country's political forces.

In this second consecutive term of ARENA administration, the party faces a major dilemma: either work for governability or succumb to the temptation to return to the authoritarian past. In transition periods such as the one El Salvador is going through, the emergence of authoritarianism, erratic movements or involutions are all possibilities that should be not discarded, and suggest major challenges for the left.

The best evidence of the direction ARENA is taking will be in its everyday administration. That is where its real commitment to the democratic process that it preached so much can be measured. It will have to put an end to impunity and respect human rights such as freedom of expression and association, as well as many others. In short, it will have to change.

The Military Role?

To all this must be added the question about the future behavior of the armed forces. It is not crazy to think that the army sectors most resistant to change will feel their positions propped up by an ARENA government that will be in power almost until the year 2000. That will tempt them to try to get along without subordinating themselves to civilian authority.

The army will most likely continue resisting compliance with the broad and integral military reforms established in the peace accords. It will seek to keep such reforms to a minimum. The military top brass will strengthen its pacts and alliances with the new government.

But doing so will be a dicey extreme, since changes in the armed forces are at the heart of El Salvador's democratization. Unless the military reform agreed to in Chapultepec is carried out fully, the military dictatorship will not be really dismantled.

And the US?

US policy toward El Salvador will be, as the gringos say, "business as usual." It will legitimize the new government as a product of free elections and will continue providing US taxpayers' money although in lesser amounts to rightwing programs and institutions such as FUSADES, FIS, Municipalities in Action and many others that, in the final analysis, have an allegiance to ARENA.

The World Did Not End

The difference between today and the past, however, is that Calderón Sol will not be able to govern the country as if it were his ranch. The blood of so many years has won room for the citizenry to play a protagonistic role in this new setting. Hope is nourished in this reality. Even in the country's politically polarized setting today, the development of new social movements is both necessary and viable.

In addition to fighting for their particular demands, these movements will have to link their actions to challenging the government's policy as a whole. And even this is not enough. They will also have to develop a capacity for alternative proposals that can visualize a very concrete way out of the current situation. These movements should formulate proposals that generate and provoke participation, hope and vitality. They will have to renew enthusiasm and shake off the frustration and any sense of loss that the electoral results may have left. The fact is that the world neither begins nor ends with the 1994 elections in El Salvador.

Fraud and Weakness

Despite the large number and wide range of irregularities, it would be wrong to take a one dimensional view, reading the electoral results only from the perspective of technical fraud.

For example, many factors contributed to the left not getting the results at the municipal level that it expected and many others predicted. One such factor is that it ran as a coalition in the presidential race and as separate entities in the municipal one, thus confusing voters at the moment of marking their ballots. Dozens of municipalities were lost by less than 20 votes. These losses were key, since the building of local power is basic to the left's possibility of making it to the presidency five years from now.

But there is no question that the rules of the game were not fully respected, which skewed the results against the left. More political and organization skills must be developed to prevent such fraud and defend votes in the future.

It is impossible to correct all the structural deficiencies of the electoral system in the few weeks before the second round of voting. Nonetheless, the coalition's participation in this round is allowing it to denounce those deficiencies and to overcome some of the multiple irregularities that caused a loss of credibility for what were called the "elections of the century."

The Left's Challenges

The leftist coalition of the FMLN, the Democratic Convergence (CD) and the Revolutionary National Movement (MNR) with the FMLN participating in the elections for the very first time has been consolidated as the country's second political force. It now faces the challenge of expanding its attraction beyond the circle of already convinced.

To do so, it must set aside its top down and authoritarian baggage and become a broad, participatory and renewed left. It must become one with a vision more in harmony with today's world, able to broaden its base, particularly among the urban population.

It will have little chance of accomplishing this either electorally or politically if the hegemonic ambitions within it are not overcome. The same is true of the interminable debates that get in the way of hammering out unified, fully developed, politically viable and, therefore, saleable positions.

With 21 deputies in the Legislative Assembly, the left can help build a national accord in the country's transition toward democracy. It can also work toward strengthening the democratic institutions that emerged from the peace accords, thus opening real possibilities for pluralist political expression.

Make A New Nation

A key aspect of the challenges faced by both the country and the left is the building of a democratic state, in which the full exercise of civil liberties and the consciousness and actions of the citizenry are being constantly strengthened.

It is the only way we Salvadorans can learn about and enjoy our rights and also comply with our duties. We should quickly start looking beyond the elections to build democracy beyond the moment of voting.

El Salvador's viability as a nation depends on building a broad consensus so that the country as a whole all Salvadorans can see the world surrounding it more through the same eyes. All sectors should comprehend that this does not only mean inserting themselves in the globalized world in the best conditions. Above all, it means working together for sustainable human development and an end to poverty.

The decadence of the center's traditional options became clear through the pitiful number of votes the centrists received. The PDC moved to third place and the new evangelical parties Unity Movement (MU) and National Solidarity were irrelevant. That, combined with the political polarization between ARENA and the FMLN, leaves a huge opening in which to build a new, intelligent and sensible center left political formation in the next few years.

The challenge is to build a real political and social option, with a massive and mainly urban electoral base, a coherent and committed program of profound political and social reforms for the founding of a democratic state.

It must be an option that embraces a political and economic strategy based both on the aspirations of the base and the limitations of the future. It must provide answers to the main issues and debates of today's world, enmeshed in a crisis of so many dimensions.

Vote with the Future in Mind

Two weeks before the elections, Archbishop Arturo Rivera y Damas made a plea in his Sunday homily that caused major irritation within ARENA. We offer below the extract that particularly disgusted the party's officials, due to its allusion to ARENA founder Roberto D'Aubuisson, responsible for the assassination of Bishop Oscar Romero. "The vote must be made responsibly. A responsible vote has to look to the future. The future we want cannot be built if the foundation is fragile or is not set on the firm rock of values that guarantee healthy coexistence among all citizens. How can a vote be cast with the future in mind if the assassins of Monsignor Romero and those who organized the plot against his life and gave the order to kill him are overlooked? In the light of faith, there is no doubt that the bishop is the main representative of Christ in a diocese. That is why killing a bishop is such an ignominious and heinous crime.

"Whether they want it or not, the shadow of this sacrilegious crime pursues those who, even after 14 years, continue impenitent, idolizing the man who wanted to resolve the problems of El Salvador with blood and fire. We have already pardoned, but we cannot silence what the Commission of Truth proved and presented to the eyes of the world. We say again: the future of El Salvador cannot be built on lies, arrogance, corruption, repression, hatred and injustice."

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