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El Salvador 2009 Presidential Elections 

Monday, March 16, 2009

Arcatao (March 13, 2009)

I didn't have an internet connection in Arcatao, and have been offline for 3 days. I also haven't had much time to write up anything. Here are some notes we had with FMLN leaders Friday nite who were working Sunday's elections. I'll try to write up and post more from Arcatao over the next couple days.

Humberto (Secretary, JEM)

We have arrived at hour zero, the most important battle. We are here to win.
Wanted to change the location of voting, but not allowed.
Before 3 mesas were in the comedor, but now only 1 is there.
Emphasize need to respect electoral code.
Has been working elections since 1994, and does not think fraud is possible at mesa.
Wants results as soon as possible.
Right does not work unless there is a ‘pisto de medio.’ But we are different. We work hard, and will make sure things tur out well.
If there is fraud, it was already done by putting people on lists. FMLN tried to double vote so any fraud is small and margin of victory will be larger than that.
Sunday defines who will govern for 5 yrs.
Don’t fight with voters.
Vigilantes just watch & help orient voters, but do not tell them how to vote.
Don’t let non-citizens vote. Better to have Chavez with money than that.

Agustín (Coordinator, JEM)

Don’t let people take pictures of ballots
Watch for fake DUIs
Watch for dead people or those outside of country.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Voting is going well today in Arcatao

I have no internet connection here in Arcatao, but elections are going well today. As always, some minor problems but nothing major. People here in Arcatao are very optimistic about the future. This is the report I sent in to WORT´s TWV

Voting has been peaceful and orderly today in Madison´s sister city of
Arcatao (Ar=Ka=Tao). TWV collective member Marc Becker reports that
community members are optimistic and hopeful about the outcome of this
election. The town square has been a sea of red as local inhabitants are
voting massively in favor of the FMLN. Humberto Avelar (A=Ve=Lar),
secretary of the municipal electoral board, says that this election is
¨the most important battle. We are here to win.¨

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Pedro Juan Hernandez, MPR-12

[Audio available at]

Living in our country in a very unique and historic moment in our country. Possibility that FMLN will come into power. First chance to have a leftist government based on popular sectors. Always have had governments that represent dominant sectors. Very specific int'l context, with countries electing governments on the left (Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil, Chile, Nicaragua). But also change in the US in recent elections—historic event to have first Afro-American president. Congratulate us on the victory. Context of international changes, not only in South but also in US. Compare historic moment to collapse of Soviet Union and emergence of US has hegemonic power with the possibilities to push forward strategies that leads to their domination. Characteristics of military domination, pushing forward free trade strategies, neoliberal models that become Washington Consensus. Basic point is free market with the elimination of government participation in economy.

3 things:
1. liberalization of prices, no state control on prices. Leads to abuses in prices that lead to collapse in financial system in US.
2. modernization of state that means privatization of public businesses.
3. external aperture, removal of barriers to moving goods and services.

In the neoliberal model, there should be free entry and exit of materials through the elimination of tariffs. Who benefits from the neoliberal model? Used with different names in our country: structural adjustment, etc. At its base it is made up to function with MNC to benefit of US.

Explain neoliberalism as fish hatchery in which big fish eat small fish. MNCs are really sharks. Strongest people benefit from this model, and weakest lose. Biggest business set prices to liability of poor. More earnings for largest businesses, and costs are passed on to poor. Concentration of wealth, increased number of people living in poverty. People realize they've been lied to, and are waking up.

Wall Street bankers have buried Washington Consensus with financial crisis. Global crisis, much broader than 1930s. Neoliberalism is dead, and will be replaced with one with more state intervention. US will need to lead this, probably with nationalization of banking system. Privatize gains, but socialize losses. If divided up bail out package among everyone in world would be substantive sum for each, but it is all going to one small economic interest.

This is what the last 4 Arena governments have done, benefiting just a few people. No longer just 14 families, but 6-7 now after neoliberalism who are much more powerful. Privatize education, health care, water. No longer human right, but converted into commodity that is only available to those who have money. Anti-terrorist law on books similar to USA Patriot Act. Rights viewed as terrorist act.

Things are so bad that they look exaggerated. 60% of Salvadoran population live on less than $2/day, and 20% on $1/day. What can you buy w/ $1? Don't have ability to buy elements that they need. 1/5 of people hungry. No tortillas in morning, or beans for lunch, or eggs for dinner, but Tony Saca on TV morning noon & nite telling us everything is fine. 1/2 have formal employment, 7% unemployment, 43% underemployed. This country doesn't generate possibilities for people. Need to leave to look for better opportunities in other countries, esp. US. 1/3 part of ES in US, more than any other country. Plus high crime rates, 12 people killed/day. This is why we want change. Not supporting socialism or communism, but supporting simple things like a dignified life, food. We have to do things differently, to change life.

Funes says that he is not going to raise taxes or overturn free trade agreements, etc. He's not talking about socialism. He is going to focus on social aspects: education, health, housing, poverty, employment, micro business. Address problems we are facing as country. Not much room for maneuvering. Problems are not going to be solved overnite—not easy. Lots of difficulties. But best scenario that we can have as Salvadorans. What if there is no change? Because god has forgotten us. Without changes problems would just get worse.

Negative effects of FTAs. Funes won't solve all problems, but he is the best we have. We can't support a government that hasn't solved our problems for 20 yrs. Have to support party that is best positioned to solve our problems.

Why do people vote against their class interests? Situate historically. 17 yrs ago moved out of armed conflict—different then other southern countries. But also have most imbedded right-wing sectors in Latin America. Sectors w/ limited education, illiteracy, influenced by press, strong religious influences which lead them more to the right. Leave conflict with people tired of war, but also fertile ground for pushing forward neoliberal economic policies. Dispersion of social movement, levels of social movement organizing is not as high as in 1980s. But this is normal in post-war period. Also influence of out migration and remittances which has created a sense of comfort in population. Whole group of factors that influence political consciousness.

Will Funes be able to bring in his own officials, or will he have to fight w/ Arena officials already in positions of power? Has said that he will respect public employees in their positions, not fire them. Has used a lot of fear of reducing remittances, stop TPC. Making people afraid that if they do not vote for Arena they will lose their jobs, a type of repression. Fear of fraud, which could maintain them in power. Lack of transparency, control over electoral mechanisms, purchase of votes. No doubt that there is going to be fraud on Sunday. Question is on what scale, and whether we are able to overcome it. And yes we can overcome that fraud. 300K in closure of FMLN campaign never seen before.

Expect 52-58% for Funes, and 42-48% for Arena. In worse scenario, 52-48, only 4%. but we can always be wrong, and we won't be able to overcome fraud.

Juan Carlos Sanchez, FESPAD (Foundations for the Study of the Law)

[Audio available at]

Our presence is important to avoid fraud.
FESPAD began in 1988 during work as human rights org. 3 main themes, and elections is not one of them, but participating because of the current situation:
1. human rights and gender equality
2. public security
3. transparency and anti-corruption.
Electoral process plays into people's political and human rights. Not affiliated with a party, but as way to get people to enjoy their human rights. Defending interests of most vulnerable people, including those affected by megaprojects, eg. communities and groups against mining or road construction, railroad displacements, tourism, etc.

Work with gays.

Salvadoran electoral system is one of the most backwards in Latin America. We have been comparing to political systems in neighboring countries of Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua. We are going into Sunday's elections with the rules of the game favoring the right. Shows us the importance of electoral observation. Want a clean electoral system. Electoral system is part of human rights. You come with your human rights. TSE has rules of observation which we think are overly restrictive—sees it as passive, and only thing we do is turn in our report afterwards. But in ES hierarchy of legal norms, beginning with constitution recognizing people. Second int'l treaties that protect Hrs, laws, rules. TSE tries to restrict w/ rules. Don't violate rules, but look at broader HRs. And keep in mind that there are higher level laws. Attitude of legitimizing our political activities. Right not happy we are here. Observation can play 3 roles:
1. preventative. Strong and respective presence could prevent violations of laws, including buying of votes. Possibility of making denouncements.
2. information. Often don't have figures to approve problems, but we can provide info to prove fraud. No organization has capacity of int'l delegations.
3. political advocacy, to carry out forward what we are doing here. Important to try to get feedback & build better democracy.

What are we specifically going to do as FESPAD? Center for reception of denouncements, w/ 20-20 people. 1st commission is to monitor press, looking at news irregularities. Centers w/ DUIs ready to go out, which is weird because time to pass them out has already gone out..

As for reports that need urgent & immediate attention from attorney general, call FESPAD. Better to come to 2 orgs in order to

3rd commission of legal analysis to decide what kind of action needs to happen.

4th commission is outreach to other orgs.

Important network of independent journalism that covers our information.

5th commission of sistemization to come up with final report, etc.

Will have small office in Raddison where TSE has its base, present for final count.

Preparing for a very close vote. Sunday could be very tense. Important to be at Raddison, and could help mediate process. Importance to count votes at JRV, because otherwise TSE will count them. Counting is very important, because people are counting votes when they are very tired. It doesn't benefit FMLN if there are a lot of contested votes because FMLN always loses in recounts. Bad for FMLN to count in TSE because TSE has lack of control & tends to rule against the FMLN. Right is not happy w/ international observation. Importance to present ourselves to authorities, and to interact with everyone there.

Iniciativa Social para la Democracia

Today we are receiving our electoral training at the Iniciativa Social para la Democracia (ISD, Social Initiative for Democracy).

Ramon Villalta, Executive Director
After 37 years, real chance or change in power.
1972: important triumph that was overthrown in that person who was elected was not allowed to take power. If he were allowed to take power, situation today would have been different. High spending, lack of ethnics & morals. Important that outcome of Sunday’s elections be respected, regardless of which candidate wins. Seen messages from Arena & groups of businessmen close to them that they will not turn over power if they lose. Dangerous message, because they are opposed to change in power. For that reason, national and international observation is important because it contributes to transparency and elements we need to dissuade fraud. Our primary job is to dissuade and prevent fraud, and our presence alone in electoral centers will contribute to that. Part of 800 national and international observers. Will be in 60 municipalities in 12 municipalities in the country. Our observations will allow us to monitor events on a national level. This will be translated into a final report on observations, not only on election day but from August 2007 until Sunday. For this reason, your contribution is important. We are together in a battle to achieve this goal.

Maricela Fernandez
Formed after peace accords. 16 yrs on civic engagement and building democracy. We also work on other themes, that sometimes don't look like democracy if we see it as only elections. Also work in civic participation, electoral political process since first elections in 1994 after peace accords. Also work to strengthen institutional proposals. Also work in collaboration with others. We can't observe just day of election, but process leading up to it and results afterwards. Elections not won or lost on 15th, but in terms of what leads up to it. Monitoring on a daily basis what is happening. Watch calendar since August 2007, and there is endless abuses. This morning 2 illegal interviews on TV by both Arena & FMLN since campaigns were to end last nite at midnite. Also monitoring the press for the first time this year, because for the first time victory will largely be attributed to press because they are the ones who communicate messages. Monitoring to see what kind of messages they transmit. The last aspect is observation, which is what we're working on today.

Only 2 parties in 2009. Originally more, but they pulled out. When there are more than 2 parties, unless someone wins more than 50% there is a second round. But because there are only 2 parties, a second round would be redundant. Originally 4 (Arena, FMLN, PCN, PDC), but both pulled out. PCN led by evangelical leader who excited his base, and when party pulled his candidacy the leader felt shamed. Interesting phenomena, because they promised support for Arena but the members want to support FMLN which leads to a split into factions because it made this decision without consulting anyone.

Principle problems of 2009 electoral process:
1. Inconsistencies in constitution.
2. Campaign started early, began when current president took power.
3. No approval for electoral reforms.
4. Arena's control over TSE, majority vote & president votes 2x. FMLN tries to get copy of electoral registry, but TSE won't give it to them. Has 11 key fields including address and phone number, even though Arena has that info, including access to private telephone numbers. Also have access to work places, and telling people that if they don't vote for Arena they will lose their job. Being told that they need to take a picture of their ballot for Arena or will lose their job.
5. Use of state resources
6. Lack o residential voting programs.
7. Lack of equal resources because of no finance control (Arena has much more resources than FMLN).
8. Pressure on government officials to be part of voting table (JRV) whose votes are visible to everyone else, and if they voted for the FMLN their jobs are in danger. When there were more parties it would be difficult to have a tie, but now with 2 from each party how are they going to achieve agreement? Tables set up for confrontation.
9. Voting at private businesses

A lot of polls, some credible some not. But looking over polls and attitudes toward transparency, 46% think will be clean, 44% believes there will be fraud (because they have seen or experienced something). 85% interested in voting. Important because it shows the level of interest. 92.4% plan to participate. Anther element to take into account is voter intentions with polls showing tendency to Funes. Important to watch, because if so many people plan to vote but if because of fraud or violence it turns out differently it will be significant.

Ivan Callejas
Rules for observation. Residential voting. Define electoral observation: allowed, but limited to this. Guidelines:

1. Recognize and respect sovereignty of Salvadoran state.
2. No interference in the electoral process. Can't suggest or propose something. But can't judge situation. But use our tools: take the manual, wear t-shirt, bring cameras, recorders, videos. We can go to JRV and tell them that they are doing something wrong. With a telephone, we can report a problem to an emergency number or coordinator. Usually not problems. Passive role. Nothing that says that we are or are not allowed to use cameras or recording equipment, but it is the most useful tool to document problems. Our strength of character will define us on that day. We can denounce problems to coordinator, but it leaves it up to them to do something.
3. Impartial
4. Neutral
5. Objective, rigorous, and discretion. Stay objective and take notes, but don't be mislead. Be rigorous. Denounce errors from either side.

Types of observers:
1. Official international observers invited by TSE or Salvadoran government.
2. Visiting international observers, asked by TSE or asked TSE to participate.
3. Observers invited by political parties, inc. national observers.

Rights and services:
1. credential to enter into voting center w/o problems to carry out functions as observers.
2. observe all phases of process
3. access to political parties
4. access to results
5. access to voting centers and Juntas Receptores de Votos (JRV)
6. receive denouncements and complaints (write them down and give to proper authorities)

Responsibilities of observers:
1. Respect Salvadoran constitution
2. wear credentials
3. no campaigning or promotion of a candidate
4. don't act in manner counter to role in terms of behavior. Limits what we do, but that does not mean that we will not play a protagonistic role.
5. Present to TSE any anomaly.
6. Do not interfere in activities of table. Observe at a prudent distance, so we can see what is happening but not to put pressure or insert ourselves in process.
7. Not to celebrate winning of a party or to offer projections of results before TSE has announced results. At points information emerges about who is winning, but we have to abstain from showing emotions.
8. Maintain objectivity and professionalism when results are shown, and abstain from conflicts. Observe, not participate. "Gritar en silencio." Our role is important, because of accusations of Chavez financing the FMLN, etc. As an observer, we can't show anything that would associate us with the FMLN. Doing that would give weapons to the right to delegitimize international observers. What we are asking is not easy, but it is important.
9. Prepare report at end.

Maricela Fernandez
Observe electoral event (not process) on March 15:

1. Installation of JRV.
a. open at 5am. Have to be there then, and will close doors because afterwards they will not let you in. But need to be there before, because that is when people will be interacting and characters of actors will be shown.
b. Open package with everything and instructions. 2 representatives from each party. TSE decided that each JRV w/ odd number will have a president of FMLN and secretary of Arena (and even reverse). Already decided—shouldn't be a discussion.
c. review materials, to be sure that ballot numbers are in sequence (450 ballots in each place)
d. check to make sure each ballot is printed front & back.
e. put materials on table.
f. post electoral registry; this is important, so people can see it. Physical condition of voting center may determine this, but it is used as an excuse not to let people vote.
g. Fill out installation act.
f. Those working table then vote (JRV, party workers, TSE), but observers can't vote in place where they are observing.

2. voting: 4 people: secretary, president, segundo vocal, primer vocal (if even numbered table, president and primer vocal will be Arena). For the first time, curtain to protect privacy of vote. Need to look for:
* visible number of JRV so people can find it
* voting registry posted
* voting booth in place where people can't see votes
Party's have electoral registry and help people find voting place, but also take advantage of time to tell them how to vote, which is a violation of electoral rules. As observers, don't help people. Don't cross the line. Needs to be absolute line between observers and those representing political parties.

1. present DUI to president who looks for it in the registry, and stamps next to name. Could be problem of double DUIs--someone with same name? Process of years of creating fake IDs for people to come vote, and giving to people in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua. Paying people to say they have more kids then they have to get fake birth certificates. Don't have absentee ballots because for many people outside of country their names have already been used to create fake IDs.
2. secretary signs & stamps ballot.
3. Shows reverse to everyone
4. citizen votes.
5. Primer vocal verifies that voter signs vote and sticks finger in ink.
6. return DUI

Legally, nothing that allows or prevents someone from taking a picture of a vote. People at table can ask if they want to leave their cell phone, and if they don't they have something to hide they will leave it. Allows political observers to watch who has something to hide. Businesses giving cell phones to workers.

Should be sure that finger is cleaned before dipping in ink so that it cannot be cleaned off.

Vote buying, with pre-marked ballots & bring blank ballot back. Importance of verifying signatures and stamps on back to prevent this. Also important to observe things going on outside voting center, watch what is happening.

Note any problems. Our weapon is our pens; don't intervene, even if it is another observer doing something unethical.

In voting center, we can't approach people & talk to them, but we can do so outside of the voting center.

3. Closing & counting of votes

Closes at 5pm as long as no one is still in line.
Closing documents have always been complicated, with forms not filled out property. Write out words for numbers so they can't be changed easily (like a 6 to an 8).

4 key times for observing:

5-9am: opening of booth
2-4pm: when tendencies become clear
5-6pm: closing
5:30-7pm: vote counting. Should be done by 7pm, because there are only 2 contenders.

Ivan Callejas
Forms for electoral observation (p. 28). Check corresponding boxes, 21 questions. Note details on sheet apart from this.
Nothing to keep electoral observers from interacting with each other.
Some JRV will try to get observers to leave, but that is where our strength of character is important.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Lorena Martinez, president, CRIPDES, diputado suplente for FMLN

[I have an audio recording of the talk at]

Exciting moment because elections are providing an opportunity we have never seen before. Transcendental moment because of hope for change after Sunday. After Arena has been in power for 20 years they have not resolved the problems we have solved. In contrast, we have a candidate that is very well liked and has been able to articulate the problems we face. The right has used tricks and dirty campaigns to try to divide people. Constant daily labor to visit all municipalities in country. Right's attempt to hurt us by dividing the election. First time local races have been held before presidential elections; before, everything was held at the same time. The intention was to measure the electoral strengths of the parties. Right expected to win, but they lost. The January election was a Central American election in which Nicaraguans and Hondurans voted. Bus loads of people with different stories about why they were here. An example of attempts to intervene in electoral process, including through TSE to make credentials for people. Arena put efforts into winning capital of San Salvador through fraud. It hurts us to have lost the capital, but on a national level we have won more municipalities, including new ones we haven't won before. But problems continue in TSE, with dead people and those not in municipalities voting to maintain Arena in power. Large demonstration with >300K on Saturday on Juan Pablo II in support of FMLN. If there aren't obstacles, Funes will win. Subjective conditions for victory. But many things could happen, such as power outages, that could disrupt process. Training people to be prepared for such problems. And you will also be part of that process, to watch & observe situation as it happens. We need to make sure that you can defend the vote. Much enthusiasm. Campaigns officially closing today. But Arena plays dirty, and will have people advance their campaign. We can play a role in analyzing what we see happening, that campaign continues to happen. Equipo Maiz says campaign needs to continue. Bread factory is refusing to let voters go vote, and in sweatshops women told that they need to take a picture to show that they voted for Arena or they will be fired. Showing videos of Venezuela and Cuba to say that this is how El Salvador will be if the FMLN wins. But FMLN has toured sweatshops, and women are asking for things they can wear on election day to show their allegiance. Arena has money to pay people to spread propaganda, and we're just working with volunteers. But we are calm, because this is the opportunity we have been long waiting for. The right is worried about losing their privileges, so using tactics of intimidation and violence and fear. That is the difference between us. They are afraid, and we are enthusiastic. Invite us to accompany them on this opportunity for a better option. 26 yrs of CRIPDES, and hope that this is a year of change because it will be a tremendous celebration, an anniversary give for us.

Arena convinces other right parties to withdraw their candidates, but some of these conservatives have come out in support of Funes.
Arena hasn't accused FMLN of fraud. But more of a campaign against other leftist leaders than against Funes. If a peson of color can win in the US, then the same thing can happen here. Opens possibilities for change. Has a t-shirt that says that ‘hope defeated fear' w/ Obama's picture on front, and Funes on back.
Our work has forced Avila to also campaign in sweatshops. Women's organizations have also organized in sweatshops. Good results for us.
Conflict between social movement and electoral politics? Work on 2 levels, building popular power in communities, and then official power by winning legislative seats. A lot of leadership potential, and others will step in to build popular power. Possibilities for change on Sunday will mean that social organizing will be even more important because we need to defend conquests and to implement plans. Years in opposition, and we'll need to show that we can govern in interests of people. Just another step in consolidating power through social organizing.
Funes platform: land, employment, human rights, against privatization, access to health care, education, women's rights.
May 1: deputies and mayors take power, president on June 1.
Fear of Arena not accepting loss. That's where accompaniment work comes into play. Call for peace and transformation. Wanting peace, equality, transformation, better life. That's what we want. We've always accepted loss, and now Arena has to do that.
Why is it taking so long for people who won January election to take power? Structures remain the same. How do we adopt rapidly to changing situation?
Why so sure of victory? Because has been in contact w/ bases. We have never seen such an expression of hope from people. Much positive energy. People from other parties supporting us. If the process is clean, we will win. If there is fraud, people will take to the streets. Not preparing to lose, but to win and to defend win. We've already hatched and counted our chickens.
Threats from the US. Change in US govt means that people believe more in themselves as people & less in lies that ruined Shavik's chances 5 yrs ago. Interprets Obama as from left, Funes was never guerrilla. Can claim not to be corrupt. Arena propaganda hurts them because it is not believable. We have to force govt to do what we want them to be; won't do it w/o pressure. Social organizations need to fulfill this role. People aren't paying attention to what Republicans are doing, they are gone like Arena. Psychological change. Out of power, out of mind.
Funes conservative? Not concerned, cuz he is going forward with our programs. He is embracing our same plans. 30 work tables to incorporate their concerns. We've been represented in that platform.
School is for all of us. As Paolo Frere says, about learning & doing, learning from people, and studying more. Something we are building together. Many expectations forced me to take on new roles and keep working.

Monument to Memory and Truth

This morning we had an orientation session for our delegation. In the afternoon a group went to the US embassy and the rest of us did some touring around town. First we went to a memorial wall where victims of the 1980s civil war are listed, including a 1986 massacre in our sister city of Arcatao. It is an impressive monument, with most of the dead, disappeared, and massacres dating from the early 1980s. Names on the wall that stood out included Rutilio Grande (tomorrow is the 32 anniversary of his assassination at Aguilares) and Oscar Romero. The 29th anniversary of his assassination is coming up on March 24.

We then went to the cathedral where Romero's body is held is a crypt under the cathedral. There is also an impressive monument to him there.

CRIPDES leader Lorena Martinez his coming to talk to us tonite.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


We arrived in El Salvador about noon, and spent what seemed like hours to get through immigration and customs and get our group reassembled. We came to the hotel where we are staying (Hotelito Casa La Amistad, not Pueblo a Pueblo which was the original plan) and then got a bit to eat.

A couple of us went to the Jesuit-run Central American University (UCA) where we visited the memorial for the 6 Jesuits and their 2 housekeepers killed on November 16, 1989 by the Salvadorean military under cover of the FMLN's final offensive. The university has a museum about their deaths and other martyrs, and a rose garden (with a mango tree overhanging it) where 4 of the bodies were found.

Tomorrow the real work begins.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


I'm packing and setting up the blog; leaving tomorrow nite.

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