Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Iraq and El Salvador

El Salvador and its history have had a connection to the prosecution of the American war in Iraq.

El Salvador has contributed to the so-called "Coalition of the Willing" by sending troops to Iraq in support of the U.S. war effort. To date, one Salvadoran soldier has been killed in combat. Despite the withdrawal of troops by other countries such as Spain, El Salvador has stuck with the U.S. The Salvadoran military participation in the Iraq war is opposed by the FMLN and the Salvadoran Lutheran Church among others.

In talking about elections in Iraq, Vice President Cheney attempted to point to El Salvador in the 1980's as an example that elections can be conducted in the midst of an insurgency. In the vice presidential debate on Oct 5, 2004 Cheney stated:

"Twenty years ago we had a similar situation in El Salvador. We had -- guerrilla insurgency controlled roughly a third of the country, 75,000 people dead, and we held free elections. I was there as an observer on behalf of the Congress.

The human drive for freedom, the determination of these people to vote, was unbelievable. And the terrorists would come in and shoot up polling places; as soon as they left, the voters would come back and get in line and would not be denied the right to vote.

And today El Salvador is a whale of a lot better because we held free elections. The power of that concept is enormous. And it will apply in Afghanistan, and it will apply as well in Iraq."


With all due respect to the Vice President, his analogy has some very serious holes. As Mark Engler stated in a Newsday opinion piece:

"There is a serious problem with this story. The 75,000 people Cheney mentioned were indeed killed by terrorists, but not by the rebel FMLN forces that he intended to condemn. Rather, they were under assault from the very Salvadoran government that the Reagan administration was supporting and from its paramilitary death squads. With a list of opposition politicians having already been executed or exiled, the 1984 elections were little more than a farce designed to give democratic respectability to a regime that was perpetuating some of the worst human rights abuses in the hemisphere."


Engler continues:

"El Salvador's current democracy is not perfect, and U.S. interventions in the latest elections - thinly veiled threats that votes for the FMLN, now the leading opposition party, would lead to reprisals from the White House - have hardly helped. But the years since U.S. military support was curtailed have certainly seen an improvement. The clearest lessons from the El Salvador model are that the White House is all too capable of perpetuating crimes in the name of liberty. And that U.S. withdrawal can sometimes be of greatest service to freedom."


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