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Left-Leaning Candidates Continue to Sweep Latin America February 3, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: this is good news, but it has to be taken with a grain of salt.  The reason that we celebrate left or left leaning governments is that it is an indication of popular sentiment.  But experience tells us that not only in Latin America but in Europe and elsewhere, self proclaimed leftist, populist and socialist political parties once in power more often than not fall prey to neo-Liberal economic policies, not to mention alliances with US, Russian or Chinese imperial adventures.  Unfortunately, the exceptions are few.  Nonetheless the victorious left parties in El Salvador and Costa Rica deserve our support unless or until they change colors.  The author of this article in her/his enthusiasm, forgets about right wing US allied governments in Mexico, Panama, Honduras and Colombia.

Published on Monday, February 3, 2014 by Common Dreams

Paraguay could be only country from the Rio Grande to Patagonia ‘where a firmly right-wing leader remains in power’

– Common Dreams staff

Supporters hold a poster of Salvador Sanchez Ceren, January 25, 2014 (Reuters/Ulises Rodriguez)

Celebrations broke out among left wing supporters across two Central American countries this weekend as elections in Costa Rica and El Salvador showed right wing candidates are increasingly loosing ground, Agence France-Presse reports.

“Left-leaning candidates dominated presidential elections in Central America on Sunday, with polls showing El Salvador’s Salvador Sanchez Ceren and Costa Rica’s Luis Guillermo Solis poised to claim victory in their respective runoffs,” according to AFP. Those elections will take place in the coming weeks.

Ceren, former guerrilla leader of the Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN), won 48.9% of votes in the first round of a run-off election.

In what was considered a more surprising result, Solis, a former history professor, also finished with a strong lead in the first round of voting in Costa Rica.

As AFP reports:

Ceren and Solis are just the latest candidates to ride a wave of centre-left sympathy in Latin America, where right-wing parties are struggling to attract voters. […]

If the former academic wins Costa Rica’s runoff on April 6, Paraguay will be the only country between the Rio Grande to Patagonia where a firmly right-wing leader remains in power.


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El Salvador Votes Away Its Bad Past March 20, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in El Salvador, Latin America.
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by Mark Weisbrot

Last Sunday’s election in El Salvador, in which the leftist FMLN (Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation) won the presidency, didn’t get a lot of attention in the international press. It’s a relatively small country (7 million people on land the size of Massachusetts) and fairly poor (per capita income about half the regional average). And left governments have become the norm in Latin America: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela have all elected left governments over the last decade. South America is now more independent of the United States than Europe is.

But the FMLN’s victory in El Salvador has a special significance for this hemisphere.

Central America and the Caribbean have long been the United States’ “back yard” more than anywhere else. The people of the region have paid a terrible price – in blood, poverty and underdevelopment – for their geographical and political proximity to the United States. The list of US interventions in the area would take up the rest of this column, stretching from the 19th century (Cuba, in 1898) to the 21st, with the overthrow of Haiti’s democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (for the second time) in 2004.

Those of us who can remember the 1980s can see President Ronald Reagan on television warning that “El Salvador is nearer to Texas than Texas is to Massachusetts” as he sent guns and money to the Salvadoran military and its affiliated death squads. Their tens of thousands of targets – for torture, terror and murder – were overwhelmingly civilians, including Catholic priests, nuns and the heroic archbishop Oscar Romero. It seems ridiculous now that Reagan could have convinced the US Congress that the people who won Sunday’s election were not only a threat to our national security, but one that justified horrific atrocities. But he did. At the same time millions of Americans – including many church-based activists – joined a movement to stop US support for the terror, as well as what the United Nations later called genocide in Guatemala, along with the US-backed insurgency in Nicaragua (which was also a war against civilians).

Now we have come full circle. In 2007, Guatemalans elected a social democratic president for the first time since 1954, when the CIA intervened to overthrow the government. Last September, President Zelaya of Honduras – which served as a base for US military and paramilitary operations in the 1980s – joined with Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez when they expelled their US ambassadors. Zelaya defended their actions and postponed the accreditation of the US ambassador to Honduras, saying that “the world powers must treat us fairly and with respect”. In 2006 Nicaraguans elected Daniel Ortega of the Sandinistas, the same president that Washington had spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to topple in the 1980s.

El Salvador’s election was not only another step toward regional independence but a triumph of hope against fear, much as in the US presidential election of 2008. The ruling ARENA party, which was founded by right-wing death squad leader Roberto D’Aubuisson, made fear their brand: fear of another civil war, fear of bad relations with the United States, fear of a “communist dictatorship”. Almost comically, they tried to make the election into a referendum on Hugo Chávez. (Venezuela kept its distance from the election, with no endorsements or statements other than its desire to have good relations with whomever won.)

ARENA was joined by Republican members of Congress from the United States, who tried to promote the idea that Salvadorans – about a quarter of whom live in the US – would face extraordinary problems with immigration and remittances if the FMLN won. Although these threats were completely without merit, the right’s control over the media made them real for many Salvadorans. In the 2004 election the Bush administration joined this effort to intimidate Salvadoran voters, and it helped the right win.

The right’s control over the media, its abuse of government in the elections and its vast funding advantage (there are no restrictions on foreign funding) led José Antonio de Gabriel, the deputy chief of the European Union’s observer mission, to comment on “the absence of a level playing field”. It’s amazing that the FMLN was still able to win, and testimony to the high level of discipline, organisation and self-sacrifice that comes from having a leadership that has survived war and hell on earth.

This time around, the Obama administration, after receiving thousands of phone calls – thanks to the solidarity movement that stems from the 1980s – issued a statement of neutrality on the Friday before the election. The administration appears divided on El Salvador as with the rest of Latin America’s left: at least one of Obama’s highest-level advisors on Latin America favoured the right-wing ruling party. But the statement of neutrality was a clear break from the Bush administration.

El Salvador’s new president, Mauricio Funes – a popular former TV journalist – will face many challenges, especially on the economic front. The country exports 10% of its GDP to the United States, and receives another 18% in remittances from Salvadorans living there. Along with sizeable private investment flows, this makes El Salvador very vulnerable to the deep US recession. El Salvador has also adopted the US dollar as its national currency. This means that it cannot use exchange rate policy and is severely limited in monetary policy to counteract the recession. On top of this, it has recently signed an agreement with the International Monetary Fund that commits the government to not pursuing a fiscal stimulus for this year. And the FMLN will not have a majority in the Congress.

But the majority of Salvadorans, who are poor or near-poor, decided that the left would be more likely than the right to look out for them in hard times. That’s a reasonable conclusion, and one that is shared by most of the hemisphere.

Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), in Washington, DC. His column is distributed to newspapers by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

El Salvador: FMLN Starts Out Ahead November 22, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in El Salvador, Latin America.
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www.upsidedownworld.org  Written by Raúl Gutiérrez   
Tuesday, 18 November 2008
 (IPS) – As the campaign gets underway, the left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) is the favourite in the polls for El Salvador’s March 2009 presidential elections.A win for the FMLN would be historical in a country traditionally governed by the right, analysts point out.Since this Central American country declared its independence from Spain in the 19th century, it has been governed by conservatives, economic liberals or military dictatorships (from 1931 to 1979).

And since 1989, it has been ruled by the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA).

Christian Democratic and Social Democratic parties won the presidential elections in 1972 and 1977, but the military resorted to fraud and repression of opponents, forcing many of them into exile.

In 1980, civil war broke out, with the leftist FMLN guerrillas fighting government forces. The insurgent group became a political party after a peace agreement was signed in 1992.

Today, the party’s presidential candidate, Mauricio Funes, is leading the polls by a margin of two to 15 percentage points over his main rival, ARENA’s Rodrigo Ávila.

Although the campaign did not actually begin until Friday, Nov. 14, political scientist Napoleón Campos told IPS that the Supreme Electoral Court has allowed the parties to informally campaign for nearly two years.

Under the country’s electoral laws, campaigns can only last four months in the case of presidential elections, two months in the case of parliamentary elections, and one month for municipal elections.

For the first time ever, the FMLN — the main opposition party — stands a real chance of winning the presidency, after four unsuccessful attempts since 1994.

But despite the natural wear and tear suffered by ARENA after nearly 20 years in power, and the impact of the current international financial crisis, Campos said the scenario could change from here to Mar. 15.

Local media outlets have estimated that the country’s six political parties will spend a combined total of 30 million dollars in the campaign. The parties taking part in the elections, besides the FMLN and ARENA, are the Christian Democratic Party, the National Reconciliation Party, Democratic Change and the Democratic Revolutionary Front.

The FMLN is also ahead in the polls for the Jan. 18 legislative and municipal elections.

Nelson Zárate, director of the Centre for Research on Public Opinion (CIOP), whose latest poll found that Funes is 15 points ahead of Ávila, told IPS that the leftist candidate has generated “a wave of credibility that is drawing people to vote for the FMLN” at all levels, not only in the presidential elections.

Funes, a popular journalist and talk-show host, did not even actually belong to the FMLN until August, which in the view of analysts puts him in a position to draw voters who would not have cast their ballots for one of the party’s long-time leaders.

The FMLN kicked off its campaign with a caravan of hundreds of cars that set out from San Salvador on Saturday with Funes at its head. They were joined by more and more cars until thousands were driving from city to city around the country.

The aim of the caravan, said the head of the party, Medardo González, is to awaken people’s “confidence” in the change that the FMLN proposes to bring to the country.

ARENA’s campaign opened, as always, in the western city of Izalco, which is a symbol for the governing party. In 1932, an estimated 30,000 indigenous peasants were slaughtered there by the anti-communist dictatorship of General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, who took power in a January 1931 military coup.