No official victor has been declared in El Salvador's presidential election. At the moment, Sánchez Cerén of the FMLN leads Norman Quijano of ARENA by 6604 votes -- 1,494,114 to 1,487,510.
The process of checking each of the 10,445 "actas" or tally sheets on which the votes are recorded in El Salvador's presidential election begins this morning. There will be 23 work tables made up of election officials, and representatives of the Attorney General, Human Rights Ombudsman and the political parties.
This is one of those actas which will be reviewed (click to enlarge)
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
No official victor has been declared in El Salvador's presidential election. At the moment, Sánchez Cerén of the FMLN leads Norman Quijano of ARENA by 6604 votes -- 1,494,114 to 1,487,510.
Monday, March 10, 2014
In El Salvador's presidential election on Sunday, the preliminary victor is Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the left-wing FMLN, but by the slightest of margins, and with a final count of the votes yet to come. Preliminary results are released on the Supreme Electoral Tribunal ("TSE") website very quickly after the votes are counted at polling places. Five hours after the polls were closed, 99.8% of the votes had been counted and Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the FMLN had a very slight 6264 vote lead out of almost 3 million votes cast.
Both both parties declared themselves the victors of the election despite the warning by the TSE that no party should claim victory without the pronouncement of the TSE.
What had started as a day filled with what Salvadoran like to call "our great civic fiesta" ended with tension and riot police guarding the facilities of the TSE. Much of the blame for this tension must be placed squarely at the feet of Norman Quijano and his post election speech. Quijano took the stage declaring himself the victor and demanding that the TSE respect the will of the people. Quijano declared that an electoral fraud that kept him from being president would not be allowed to stand. Most concerning of all was his statement that the armed forces were watching the election and were "ready to make democracy."
As the night progressed after Quijano's speech, there were reports that ARENA party members were heading towards the headquarters of the TSE and the Crowne Plaza Hotel where the TSE gives its press conferences and has meetings. Televisions news showed anti-riot police deployed around the Crowne Plaza. I saw extra police out on the streets of San Salvador. It wasn't what anyone expected when the day started.
There was no doubt that ARENA had pulled off a major turnaround in just 5 weeks from its poor showing in the February 2 first round where Norman Quijano trailed Sánchez Cerén by 10 points, and in opinion polls in the past few weeks trailed by 13 to 18 percentage points. Quijano managed to poll 437,000 more votes than he received on February 2, an increase of more than 40%. In contrast, Sánchez Cerén only increased his vote total by 175,000 votes.
What accounts for ARENA's surprising showing? A number of theories could be advanced including:
a) The 307 thousand people who voted for former president Tony Saca in the first round went overwhelmingly to Quijano in this round.
b) ARENA's political vote did a better job of getting out their voters and getting them to the polls. Both parties have impressive logistical operations, which I observed firsthand today, but more ARENA voters showed up.
c) ARENA's relentless negative campaign in the past 5 weeks worked. The images of recent riots in Venezuela were a central theme of the ARENA campaign to drive a fear of Venezuela style socialism into the electorate.
d) "Null" votes took away from the FMLN. It sounds like as many as 19,000 ballots were marked essentially as "none of the above."
e) Voter turnout was up, and apparently this helped ARENA.
f) Rumored ARENA fraud inflated its vote totals. I heard such rumors while observing these elections, but it is difficult to image that outright fraud could continue in any significant fashion in El Salvador's electoral system which most observers say has been free and fair.
This election is not over. El Salvador does not yet have a tradition of gracious losers of close elections.
Tuesday, March 04, 2014
In a partnership between the University of Texas at Austin and the Museum of Word and Image in San Salvador, you can now listen to archived recordings of the broadcasts of Radio Venceremos during the civil war years. Radio Venceremos was the clandestine radio station of the FMLN guerrillas and sought to encourage the revolutionary movement in the country. One of the leaders of Radio Venceremos was Carlos Consalvi, who went on to found the museum after the war.
From the UT announcement of the project:
"My hope is that young Salvadorans and descendants of Salvadorans will approach these recordings and learn about the country's contemporary history and learn more about their culture,” explained Carlos Henríquez Consalvi, the co-founder of Radio Venceremos, and founder and director of the Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen (MUPI), the Salvadoran museum that houses the recordings....
"For a historian looking at the contemporary history of Central America, regardless of their ideology, these records are relevant because they offer unique information through cultural and historical programs that go beyond any political position,” Consalvi went on.The radio recordings are available here.:
Monday, March 03, 2014
The second round of El Salvador's presidential election will be next Sunday, March 9. The second round includes the two highest finishers from the first round voting -- Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the FMLN on the left and Norman Quijano of ARENA on the right. The winner of this fifth post civil war election will take office on June 1. In this post I'll take a look at some of the coverage and issues going into Sunday's vote.
For a comprehensive overview of El Salvador's 2014 presidential elections including a look at previous elections, make sure and look at this entry from the World Elections blog.
The polls certainly suggest an easy victory for Sánchez Cerén and the FMLN in the second round. Linda Garrett at Center for Democracy in the Americas has assembled a tally of all the recent polls, and Sánchez Cerén's lead ranges from 10 % to 18%. In his blog Mike Allison points to questions asked in the UCA poll to explain ARENA's collapse:
According to the UCA's recent poll, roughly 30 percent of the voters made their mind up in the months before, including the day of, the election. At the same time, 66 percent of the respondents said that the accusations against Flores strongly influenced their choice of candidates. Flores seems responsible for turning a close race into a lopsided victory for Sanchez Ceren in round one. ARENA now has to convince the Salvadoran voters that they are a clean party, competent to govern. They get rid of their corrupt officials like Flores and Saca (cough, cough). I swear, everybody else is honest.
It's going to be really tough. So many respondents do not believe that ARENA should return to power (55 percent said no) and so many say that they would never vote for ARENA in March (46 percent said never).Allison also has a nice overview of the elections following the first round results in World Politics Review titled El Salvador Elections Show FMLN Hitting Its Political Stride Before Runoff. He notes
One major difference with previous elections is that the FMLN now has the benefit of running on actual achievements in office. The FMLN and Sánchez Cerén could take credit for a variety of popular social programs that provided public elementary and middle school students with meals, uniforms and school supplies. The FMLN also worked to establish several “Ciudad Mujer” centers throughout the country that provide essential social services for women. The benefits from the ALBA-Petroleos de El Salvador partnership, in which several FMLN-run municipalities share profits from energy projects, might also have proved an electoral benefit for Sánchez Cerén.Other looks at the FMLN and the elections include Seth Robins at Christian Science Monitor in an article prior to the election titled El Salvador election: Is 'democratic revolution' fading? which looks at the FMLN's challenges in moving from a guerrilla force, to the main opposition party, to the party in power looking for reelection. The Brookings Institution has an article which is better than its horrible title, Concerns for Democratic Institutions in El Salvador After FMLN First Round Win.
Much more partisan views of the election process come from the left with this article at Truthout: Union-Backed Candidate Wins First Round in El Salvador Election and from the right with Roger Noriega's piece in the Miami Herald titled Is El Salvador the next Venezuela?.
The World Elections Blog has this informative image showing the municipalities carried by the various candidates in the first round:
Perhaps most interesting is San Salvador. In 2009, Mauricio Funes carried the municipality with 104,544 to Avila's 98,105 votes. Five years later, Sánchez Cerén received only 84,336 first round votes in the capital city, while Quijano, San Salvador's mayor, received 97,850 votes and Tony Saca received another 18,000 votes. Funes' significant success in attracting the urban middle class in the capital city in 2009 has not transferred to his vice president, Sánchez Cerén. But Sánchez Cerén was able to recapture the municipalities to the east of San Salvador such as Mejicanos, Apopa, and Soyapango which had thrown out FMLN mayors and elected mayors from ARENA in 2012.
Earlier accounts of voter turnout, including this blog, described turnout as only 53%. The country's election authorities have now revised that number up significantly. Voter turnout in the election was actually 63% of the eligible voters according to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, who said that the original count of 4.9 million eligible voters was overstated by 700,000 with hundreds of thousands of expired identity cards from people who had either died, left the country, or simply never renewed their cards. (I don't think the TSE did a similar post-election review of the voting roll in the 2009 presidential elections, so I do not think one can compare this revised number with the similar reported turnout in 2009).
US solidarity groups had many delegations of election observers in the country on February 2 (including me). Many of those observers have described their experiences of seeing a free and fair election process, including these articles:
- Observing Democracy in El Salvador
- El Salvador election impresses observers
- El Salvador: A new democratic norm?
There seems to be little doubt that the FMLN and Sánchez Cerén will win on Sunday. The only question is by how much. El Salvador will proceed to another 5 years of an FMLN government, but this time headed by a president from the traditional leadership of the party rooted in the civil war years. The election outcome will continue El Salvador on path to the left.
The question is perhaps "how far to the left?" It is worth noting that after its losses in 2012, the FMLN only has 31 seats in the National Assembly, and can only legislate by making deals. There is also the growing strength of the Constitutional Chamber in the Supreme Judicial Court which is helping protect democratic processes. I don't think that the FMLN ruling the country is the FMLN of the 1990s and 2000s. The rhetoric of the party is not of Marx, but of "social investment." The US is no longer denounced publicly by high party officials as the "evil empire." The party wants a former Salvadoran army officer from the civil war to remain as Minister of Defense. We will need to see how Sánchez Cerén and the FMLN fill other high government positions. Much will depend on the 2015 legislative elections and whether the FMLN can gain back strength in the legislature as well. Bottom line -- the trend in Salvadoran government affairs will have a more socialist bent, but do not expect to see any dramatic shifts.
There will be some ugly fighting within ARENA after this election. The party has already removed former president Francisco Flores from any position of influence because of his scandals -- a move which is too little too late after allowing Flores to be a key campaign adviser up until the final month before February's first round voting. Quijano's star is fading fast in the party, after being its greatest hope when he dominated the 2012 election for mayor in the capital city. The party remains mired in its hatred of the FMLN and its cold war rhetoric, and needs new leadership if it expects to compete in the future.
What the elections will not accomplish is a solution to El Salvador's problems of gangs, crime and narco-trafficking. The crime issue has not been the issue which has impacted voter's choice of a president, even though voters believe that it is the most important issue affecting the country. Salvadoran voters did not decide based on this issue, because they do not believe that any of the parties have any good ideas for how to address crime.
Monday, February 24, 2014
[F]our years after the murders, those killed have become known as the “martyrs” of the mining movement, and their faces gaze down from posters in the offices of environmentalists campaigning for a nationwide ban on metallic mining. To the families of Ramiro and Dora, the mining company is directly or indirectly responsible, and the departed live on: “They are our consciences,” says Guevara.
Other motives for the murders
Yet given the impunity surrounding the deaths, there is a danger that other interests are using the mining conflict as a smokescreen to conceal other motives for the murders. Cabañas is known to host narco-trafficking routes from the Honduran border that head west towards Guatemala. El Salvadoran smuggling is dominated by the Perrones and Texis cartels: the Perrones originated in milk, cheese, and clothes-smuggling networks that have developed links to Colombian, Mexican, and Guatemalan groups; the Texis cartel is characterised by the socially elevated, apparently-respectable nature of its leaders.
The success of the Cabañas environmentalists in mobilising civil society could be seen to have presented a danger to the cartels’ operations, for once it threatened to overturn municipal decisions and to develop an electoral dimension, it began to undermine the stability of power relations on which large scale trafficking and money-laundering depend.Read the rest of the article here.
Sunday, February 23, 2014
El Salvador is under an order from the InterAmerican Court of Human Rights to proceed with actions to bring justice for the victims of the massacre. Yet the government has taken few steps in that direction, limiting itself to various measures of support to families of the victims who have returned over the years to repopulate the zone. Steps to actually name and prosecute the perpetrators of this crime have been thwarted by the 1993 amnesty law which the InterAmerican Court says must be repealed.
The Human Rights Center at UC Berkely describes the recent steps initiated by the Supreme Court:
Finally, under the new leadership of El Salvador’s provisional Supreme Court president Florentín Meléndez Padilla, who took office last fall, the state has begun to comply. Meléndez and the Supreme Court’s Institute of Legal Medicine invited the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation, the International Commission on Missing Persons in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and UC Berkeley’s Human Rights Center to spend four days in El Salvador offering scientific advice and insights....
While El Mozote’s massacre has been well reported by journalists (most notably Raymond Bonner in The New York Times, Alma Guillermoprieto in The Washington Post, and Mark Danner in The New Yorker) and intensive investigations and exhumations have been performed by the Argentinians, the state itself has never investigated the crime.
During the meetings at the Supreme Court of Justice in San Salvador, the visiting scientists raised critical questions for their Salvadoran colleagues who will conduct the work, including: How will the families of the victims of El Mozote be involved from the very beginning of the process, as mandated by the Court? Are there more graves to exhume and what will happen if family members don’t want to unearth them? What are the best forensic tools to use in this investigation? What are the challenges associated with investigating a massacre that happened 32 years ago?Along with the recent order from the Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador's Supreme Court that another massacre from the civil war be investigated, this step by the Court may foreshadow a possible ruling overturning the 1993 amnesty law.
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Recently released public opinion polls show the FMLN's Salvador Sánchez Cerén with a sizable lead heading toward the March 9 runoff election. The UTEC-CIOPS poll released today shows the left wing candidate with 54.9% of the potential votes to 45.1% for Norman Quijano from ARENA.
This is about the same 10 point margin as the first round of the elections on February 2, when Sánchez Cerén had 48.9% of the votes and Quijano had 38.9%. It appears that the voters who had voted for former president Tony Saca of UNIDAD in the first round are splitting fairly evenly between the two remaining candidates. Quijano may be headed to a much bigger defeat than when Maurcio Funes beat Rodrigo Avila of ARENA 51.3% to 48.7% to become the country's first left wing president.
The CID-Gallup poll shows Sánchez Cerén with an even bigger lead of 58% to 42%.
Monday, February 17, 2014
I have not blogged previously about the biggest story which has come out of El Salvador in recent weeks, at least judged by the number of mentions in the worldwide press. It's not the presidential elections, but the tale of José Salvador Alvarenga, a Salvadoran fisherman who allegedly survived 14 months at sea after his small fishing boat was caught in a storm off the coast of Mexico. He washed up on the shores of the Marshall Islands, thousands of miles away, with a tale of surviving off raw fish and turtle blood. You can read more about this remarkable castaway tale in stories from the Guardian, here and here.
Our friend Carlos Colorado now shares this essay exploring Alvarenga's story and some of the deeper meanings it might have.
At a surface level, the story of José Salvador Alvarenga is a simple one. His tiny shark fishing vessel got blown off course by a storm, carried off by ocean currents, and it washed ashore far from where he first set off. At another level, Alvarenga’s story is the most fantastical, unexpected, and arguably the most multifaceted story in El Salvador this year. In fact, I have been debating whether Alvargenga’s story is necessarily a Salvadoran story at all, or whether it is simply a universal human story whose subject happens to be Salvadoran. In fact, Alvarenga’s story is like an onion, with layers of intrigue and interpretation.
First, it is worth recounting the basic plot points. This is not intended to be an exhaustive report, but simply provide a basis for the analysis that follows. By all accounts, José Salvador Alvarenga originally hails from a place called Garita Palmera, in coastal western El Salvador. He had been working as a shark fisher in Chiapas, Mexico. In November or December 2012, Alvarenga and a younger Mexican man set off on an ill-fated shark fishing expedition on a small, uncovered boat. A storm blew them off course and the boat’s engine died, leaving the two men at the mercy of ocean currents that carried them deep into the Pacific with nothing to eat except the raw meat from birds and ocean creatures they might catch; and nothing to drink except rainwater if they were lucky, and the blood of birds and turtles and their own urine if they were not. The younger man was unable to tolerate this diet and succumbed to malnutrition, dying about four months into the trip. But Alvarenga managed to survive for thirteen months, until, on January 30, 2014, his boat washed ashore at the remote Ebon Atoll in the Marshall Islands, about 6,500 miles from where he originally set off.
And so the first challenge of this story is whether we can get past the incredulity that such a sensational account engenders. If true, Alvarenga would set the record for the longest time of survival adrift on the ocean. Some experts raised doubts, noting that Alvarenga did not appear emaciated, sun-burnt or weakened as other survivors who had been lost for significantly shorter lengths of time. Others pointed to the unlikelihood of being able to survive at all without proper nutrition. For example, experts noted that, without access to fruits and vegetables, there would not be any natural source of vitamin C and that there is a long history of sailors unprepared for the ravages of long ocean voyages who have fallen victims to scurvy as a result of this dietary deficiency. Still others pointed out that there is naturally occurring vitamin C in raw fish and other animal meats, and unlike European explorers in other centuries, Alvarenga was not cooking his food so he could have gotten it. Moreover, what many saw as Alvarenga’s robust physique may actually have been bloating. Additionally, he apparently started off a much more portly man when he cast off in Chiapas. Finally, all of the details of his narrative have basically checked out, including the time and place where his trip started, and there was even a search for him and his companion after they first disappeared; the identities verified.
At another level, the story of the Salvadoran castaway resonates because the mythos of the ocean is a powerful draw. Joseph Campbell said that the ocean is a symbol of the human subconscious, and so all those stories about man versus the sea—be it Homer’s “Odyssey,” or the Bible’s narrative of Jonah and the whale, or “Moby Dick”—signify something deeper than the storyline they narrate. Of course, José Alvarenga is not a fictional character, and, as we have just analyzed, his story is not exactly a myth. Still, it is hard not to read this story of heroic survival and not cast it in an epic light. At a minimum, it is almost certain that José Alvarenga had to overcome more than dietary and biological challenges. His story has the potential to represent a triumph of the spirit, and this potential explains a lot about the story’s appeal.
At a very superficial level, some in El Salvador have sought to paint José Alvarenga in very shallow strokes, as some sort of nationalistic Salvadoran superman, a symbol of the indomitable Salvadoran spirit. Even the usually unromantic environmental minister Hernán Rosa Chávez could not resist the metaphor, pointing to José Alvarenga as proof that Salvadorans have untold reserves and arguing that El Salvador could therefore become the first country to find a breakthrough to overcome all its environmental challenges. To be sure, there is something to be said about the Salvadoran character, which has had to face poverty, war, natural disasters, and a sometimes seemingly endless onslaught of hardships. El Salvador is a small country, with a Goliath misfortune to contend with. But, José Alvarenga does not fit the mold of Salvadoran exceptionalism. He is reportedly suffering from PTSD, experiencing terrible flashbacks and plagued by an unbearable (albeit understandable) fear of the ocean. In other words, he is not some sort of Salvadoran Hercules.
Another reason for the fascination with the Salvadoran castaway is a dark and morbid allure. This is the pull that makes us slow down to gawk at a traffic accident, and there are many elements in this story that are deeply disturbing, and therefore engrossing, at a guttural level. Details such as drinking blood and urine to survive are thoroughly unsettling and make us question whether we would make it and force us to imagine ourselves in José Alvarenga’s place. One of the fascinating aspects of the story is an undercurrent that has haunted the discussion of the case. This was something that was never tackled head on in proper news stories, but which invariably reared its head in user comments and message boards beneath the stories. Many readers irresistibly questioned whether Alvarenga had survived by cannibalizing his less fortunate travel companion. The rumors may never be put to rest, as this subplot took place in the darkest recesses of this darkest story. It is reminiscent of a subplot in the AMC zombie series “The Walking Dead,” in which one of the main characters stays alive by throwing another character to the zombies to distract them and secure his getaway. Although no one was there to see it, everyone reads it in his character and surmises the truth. We don’t know a lot about José Alvarenga, but some may be looking for clues.
Yet, some of the most haunting comments about this story have been in the Salvadoran press. One of them that caught my eye was a remark to the effect that José Alvarenga was a lost son of El Salvador whom his motherland never noticed was missing until he basically came back from the dead. His absence went unnoticed during the entire time he was eking out a subsistence living in Chiapas, Mexico, and during his entire ordeal during the past thirteen months. As a basic truth, the fact is undeniable and God only knows how many Salvadorans leave their country, never to be seen or heard from again. El Salvador bleeds people, and many of them never reach their intended destination. José Alvarenga was one of them—he was heading for the United States, but ended up waylaid in Mexico. Others are similarly diverted by fortune. Still others meet unhappy ends at the hands of criminals who prey on the vulnerable bands of refugees, others are maimed in horrific accidents on the freight trains they scamper on to traverse the inhospitable Mexican landmass, and still others die horrible deaths in the final stretch of desert. As Pope Francis asked about the tens of thousands of Africans who die trying to reach Europe: “has anyone wept” for the undiscovered José Alvarengas?
Here is where Alvarenga’s story becomes distinctly Salvadoran. He typifies not so much the reappeared as much as the disappeared. In fact, in the week since his return to El Salvador, there was a story in the Salvadoran press that got no international play, about three other Salvadoran fishermen who went missing off the Salvadoran coast for a few weeks, and similarly resorted to eating raw fish and drinking turtle blood to survive. Such stories should make us wonder how many people are pushed to the margins of economic desperation and forced to the edge of existence, or even to their demise. Alvarenga comes from a place, Garita Palmera, that does not even merit a Wikipedia entry. And the Ebon Atoll where he ended up does not look much different—a poor, sea-swept town clinging to existence beyond the gaze of most of humanity. As a sobering perspective on such existential write-offs, Alvarenga told his Salvadoran saviors that he met passing ships on the high seas during his ordeal who ignored his pleas. He said that one ship came so close to his that he thought it was going to destroy his vessel. Another ship, Alvarenga said, actually sighted him and its crew waved back at him as he frantically signaled them, wearing only a shaggy beard and tattered underwear.
Please ignore the naked half crazed man jumping up and down on that battered little boat in the middle of the ocean. Tea time will be in half an hour.
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
What's that buzzing I hear as I line up to vote for president? Last week El Salvador's La Prensa Grafica newspaper and media outlet used a remote drone-mounted camera to provide scenes from El Salvador's elections. As reported on one website:
During El Salvador's recent presidential elections, Salvadoran newspaper La Prensa Gráfica found a unique angle from the skies. LPG used a quadcopter to capture scenes on voting day as voters flocked to the polls in the Central American country. It's fascinating to see drones find more acceptance in journalism, but the story also serves to highlight the fact that US journalists currently are barred from doing the same thing.Here is some of the video taken by the LPG drone on election day.
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
The Chaparrastique volcano near San Miguel, El Salvador, continues to show signs of activity weeks after its December 29 eruption. From the summit of the volcano, plumes of smoke with sulphur dioxide (SO2) continue to rise in the air. The monitoring station operated by the Ministry of Natural Resources shows that SO2 levels can rise to unhealthy levels when wind conditions are wrong.
Scientists are also measuring micro quakes within the volcano, primarily on Chaparrastique's north slopes.
Considering the current behavior of the volcano, the possibility of another eruption in the coming days through the central crater or its flanks cannot be ruled out.
With the prospect of another volcanic event, the Ministry has installed multiple monitoring devices including infrared cameras, sonographs, and other sensors hopefully to provide advance warning to the neighboring communities. Detailed evacuation routes are being mapped out. The Salvadoran armed forces opened an encampment of soldiers trained in disasters and search and rescue to provide immediate assistance if needed. The Salvadoran Red Cross has stockpiled thousands of dust masks in the area in the event of more ash.
Hopefully none of this is needed, and the volcano will go back to sleep.