Tuesday, March 10, 2009

the change they need

sunday is the big day. it´s time to vote for a new president in el salvador and i am very excited and nervous at the same time. i´ve only written a couple of times about politics here because it´s difficult to write about without getting preachy and revealing my particular bias. but since it´s election time, i´m going to write a bit about what´s been going on for the past year, and specifically, the last few months.

the current president, tony saca, is from the conservative ARENA (Alianza Republicana Nacionalista). ARENA has been in power since 1992 when the peace accords were finally signed, putting an end to the bloody civil war that plagued el salvador for decades. ARENA, in el salvador, equals money. practically every big business, mall, car dealership, bank, television station and newspaper is owned by ARENA...not the party itself, but by people who are ¨areneros.¨ this does not bode well for the FMLN and its candidate, who is vying for the spot as the next salvadoran president.

the FMLN (frente farabundo martí para la liberación nacional), on the other hand, started off as party of guerillas. farabundo martí was a salvadoran revolutionary in the 20´s and is THE face of revolution here in el salvador. in many salvadoran pueblos you will see murals painted with the likenesses of both farabundo martí and che guevara. in a nutshell, the civil war was started when people fighting for rights for the poor in el salvador (campesinos, etc.) decided to take action, rather than sit back and let the military-run government neglect their social situation. they fought and the national military (la guardia) fought back....fought back by mass killing innocent groups of women, children and old people (known as ¨matanzas¨) and punishing those that were trying to make the government listen to the plight of the country´s poor. many of the FMLN candidates in the past have been products of this war...former guerrilleros. however, the FMLN party, over the years, has tried to move away from its ¨guerrilla¨ reputation, and simply focused on creating a more benefits and help for the poor.

farabundo martí

there are many official political parties, not just the FMLN and ARENA. others are: PDC, PCN, FDR and CD.

the ARENA candidate is rodrigo ávila, a former police chief and college graduate. (tony saca, the current president, has only a high school diploma). ARENA´s campaign slogan is ¨vote with wisdom¨ (vota con sabiduría)...meaning, think before you vote because you might regret voting for the left (FMLN).....like el salvador might become a guerrillero state if FMLN is in power.

the FMLN candidate is mauricio funes, a former journalist and college graduate. FMLN´s main slogan is ¨hope is born, change is coming¨ (nace la esperanza, viene el cambio.) they´ve, however, somewhat changed to a new slogan that says ¨this time it´s different¨ (esta vez es diferente)

let me just tell you a little bit about how each slogan refers to the state of el salvador at the moment. ARENA is going with the fear factor, while FMLN is going for the hope factor. just about every commercial run by ARENA has hugo chavez in it....saying that voting for mauricio funes is voting for hugo chavez.?????? it reminds me somewhat of what obama went through when conservatives were saying that voting for obama was like voting for terrorists because of his ¨connection¨ with william ayers. these commercials have forced funes to run commercials saying ¨don´t believe the lies.¨

it´s particularly frustrating because every outlet of information (television channels - channels 2, 4, 6, 21 - and newspapers - el diario de hoy and la prensa gráfica) are owned by ARENA supporters. so, for example, you open the newspaper to read ¨ávila attends opening of community center for children¨ and there is a photo of him hugging children and giving them toys. then, on the next page, it reads ¨funes is accused of blocking streets in the zona rosa for his campaign tour.¨ it´s outrageous, not because this happens a few times....but because it happens every single day. i can´t even read the newspapers anymore because it´s pura propaganda. i understand that in the states it´s the same way....but at least there are other ways to get your news that are way less biased than your local newspaper. here, everywhere you turn, it´s the same thing. ávila good, funes bad.

ARENA even put out a commercial saying that if you sing the el salvador national anthem and you say the pledge of allegiance, then you shouldn´t vote for the FMLN and funes because that would make you unpatriotic and you don´t believe in el salvador. meanwhile funes is trying to defend all this, WHILE proposing his plan for a CHANGE.

i can´t believe ARENA has been in power for over almost 20 years....but then again, i can. why? because ARENA runs its campaigns based on fear and presents. i´m not kidding! the poverty rate here is unbelievable. but here´s what normally happens...right before an election, ARENA candidates go to poor villages and hand out things like key chains, t-shirts, hats, sometimes even food - like lunch, and essentially ¨buy¨ their votes. it doesn´t make any sense to me why people buy into this? they´re dirt poor and instead of voting for someone they might think could make it easier to get food EVERY DAY, they vote for the candidate that gave them a free lunch. before our mayoral elections in january (el tigre won again...), el tigre came to san jorge and handed out material for school uniforms. does he does this every year? no. just the years he needs the poor people´s votes. in apaneca (i don´t know how it is around the rest of the country) most of the FMLN supporters are professionals, people with educations beyond high school, those working as lawyers and teachers and doctors. el tigre wins every year by going to the poor villages and giving them key chains. ?????

these are just some of the problems facing el salvador right now. here is another from the ny times regarding the election and its candidates.

there was a recent ARENA-run ad on television where this nurse narrated a 5-minute long commercial on how ARENA has been nothing but butterflies and sunshine for el salvador since the peace accords were signed in 1992. she went down the list of presidents since the accords and how they built roads and buildings and how generally they made everyone´s life a living garden of eden throughout the years. it ended with tony saca´s presidency and how san salvador is this beautiful, modern city with upscale malls and high-rise condo buildings. this is true about the malls and such....there are malls here with polo, anne taylor, apple, l´occitane and nautica stores. they´ve been building like crazy in the zona rosa...upscale condos and apartment buildings. but my question is this....how do any of these places deserve to exist when there are still people in this country WITHOUT WATER, or electricity or anything but plastic as walls to their homes? really! how is it possible that ARENA can call itself a party of voting with wisdom when it´s allowed people to go without water in favor of building ¨la gran vía¨ an upscale mall? the government of el salvador recently started building high walls in front of the shanty towns and ¨undesirable¨ parts of san salvador in order to hide the poverty. i have passed the squatter village mentioned in the above-linked NPR article. when passing it the first time, back in september of last year, i couldn´t believe what i was seeing. i see extreme poverty here every day, but i had never seen it like this, in such quantity. picture about three football fields of dirt, not a tree in sight. then fill it with shanty after plastic-wall shanty. it was only about a quarter full in september of last year. i just last week passed it again on my way to molineros and it is full to capacity. it´s extremely depressing. i didn´t see anything about this during that 5-minute infomercial narrated by that nurse.

on the other hand, the civil war was very recent (in historical terms), and some people are put off by the fact that the guerrilleros started it. they don´t look beyond WHY they started it. and funes, in a poor decision, selected a former guerrillero to run with as his vice president. i think this was a mistake....kind of like the palin factor in mccain´s bid for president. funes is very well-respected, and most of the negative ads run on television focus on his vice presidential running mate, salvador sanchez cerén. my family in molineros said as much to me when i visited them last week. they said ¨it´s not funes that we don´t want, it´s his running mate.¨

i was really mad one day because shortly after obama took the oath of office, ARENA ran an ad in the newspaper congratulating obama (even though, in my opinion, obama´s political ideologies couldn´t be further than those of ARENA´s). they did this in order to show salvadorans that they approve of obama, even though during the presidential campaign in the states they criticized obama for his campaign promises and ideals. the salvadoran government and tony saca were very close to bush. so after the results came in showing that many latinos in the states supported obama, ARENA did an about face and printed this huge ¨congratulations obama!¨ ad....a huge one-page portrait of obama with the ARENA logo at the bottom. if you are a poor person who can´t read or write, what do you think you see there? that obama is supporting the ARENA party.

shortly after this ad ran, the front page of el diario de hoy stated that ¨the u.s. embassy criticized the FMLN for using obama in it´s campaign ads!¨ i was like ¨WHAT???¨ antonio was fuming. apparantly, the guy who is in charge until a new ambassador is appointed here, made a statement saying that the u.s. is unbiased in opinion of either candidate and it doesn´t want either candidate using obama´s image to support its political campaign. funes did (and still does) use obama´s photo on television in an ad in which he shows both obama and lula (president of brazil) and says how he looks to them as examples of presidents of countries who are fair and just and that provide true democracies. i understand if el diario wants to accuse funes of using obama in his ads, but why omit the fact that ARENA is doing the same thing?

there is no ¨freedom of the press here,¨ unless you from the ARENA party. it´s one-sided and sadly, it´s the ONLY form of information most people have. all i want is for the press to be fair and give educational insight on both parties and candidates. yes, i want funes to win....but my complaints lie in the fact that if el salvador wants to claim that it´s a true democracy, it needs to change a few things. you can´t have a democracy when all of the people making the decisions have been from ONE PARTY for almost 20 years. salvadoran citizens don´t vote on anything except for diputados, mayors and the president. there is no vote for city council, or ordinances or anything. so, for example, el tigre wins in apaneca and he´s for ARENA. he appoints the city council, who, guess what? are all from ARENA. how are there ANY checks and balances in that?

antonio couldn´t believe the absentee ballot i received prior to the presidential election in the states....full of choices of judges, councilmen, ordinances as well as for president. the ballot in el salvador is this: a single page with the flags of each political party. that´s it. then the voters put a big black x on whichever party they want to vote for. so, it´s not a vote for the candidate themself, its a vote for the party. and in this election more than ever, mauricio funes has been trying to distance himself from the idea that he is the FMLN, because of the connotations it has to the civil war. there is a group here called ¨amigos de mauricio¨ - a group of people not so much supporting the FMLN as they are mauricio. but when it comes down to it, a voter is putting an x not on the name of mauricio funes, but on the FMLN flag.

i realize it could be worse. el salvador´s not zimbabwe or some other country....like venezuela. people DO at least get to vote, however corrupt it might be. but i look at the state of this country and it´s obvious that what ARENA has done so far is not working to relieve the economic stress that this country has....no jobs (i´m not talking no jobs like the no jobs in the states....there are REALLY no jobs here), education rates, hardly ANY family planning education, the fact that the income for most people comes in the form of remesas from the states. it´s crazy!

anyway, i know i´m bad about expressing my political opinion and if you want to read a more educated and researched blog go to tim´s el salvador blog. he´s been great about posting some of my blog entries on his site, so i´ll do the same. his blog is a lot more informative and you might get a better picture of things through his posts than mine.

so the election is sunday. i´ll probably stay inside all day because i don´t want deal with any of the negative campaigning anymore. hopefully by monday el salvador will have a clear winner......mauricio funes!!! ojala!

esta vez es diferente......