American Friends Service Committee
Sara Burke, Managing Editor
Sam Diener, Editor
Pat Farren, Founding Editor
2161 Massachusetts Ave.
Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.
Views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of the AFSC.
Preemptive Intervention in El Salvador
Chris Ney is US Coordinator and Kelly Creedon is Communications Coordinator of Christians for Peace in El Salvador (Crispaz), www.crispaz.org. Crispaz leads delegations to El Salvador, places service volunteers in rural Salvadoran communities, and offers fairly traded Salvadoran handcrafts.
"Fear won the election." That was the assessment of many observers of El Salvador's presidential elections held Sunday, March 21, 2004. The ruling right-wing party, ARENA, represented by Tony Saca, faced off against the party of the ex-guerillas, the FMLN, headed by Shafik Handal. (Two other candidates, representing smaller parties or coalitions, also participated. But attention focused on the ARENA-FMLN contest.) After the surprisingly strong showing by the left-wing FMLN in legislative elections in March 2003, many saw this election - the third presidential contest since peace accords ended a civil war in 1992 - as the opposition's best chance to capture the presidency.
Pre-election opinion polls offered contradictory views of the Salvadoran public's mood: many showed the rival candidates in a statistical tie until the final weeks of the campaign. As election day - and the prospect of an FMLN win - drew closer, the ARENA fear campaign grew more extreme. Campaign ads featured individuals who had lost family members to FMLN violence during the war. An ARENA-related women's organization published photos of burning US flags; the ARENA campaign asserted that the FMLN would lead El Salvador toward totalitarianism, abolishing private property and future elections. The rhetoric and tactics mirror those employed by other Latin American right-wing parties, including that of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.
But the Salvadoran right was not the only peddler of scare tactics. Representatives of the US government added their voices to the fear campaign. In a widely reported interview conducted by telephone from ARENA campaign headquarters, US President Bush's Special Envoy for Western Hemisphere Initiatives, Otto Reich, said that the US and FMLN did "not share values and principles such as democracy." He predicted "radical change" in US-Salvador relations if the FMLN won. In the US Congress, Tom Tancredo (R-CO) threatened to place limits on the remittances sent to El Salvador by family members living abroad should the FMLN come to power.
These remittances - totalling more than $2 billion in 2003 - are El Salvador's largest source of national income. Many economists predict economic collapse if their flow should be interrupted even briefly. Tancredo, who chairs the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, also suggested that the immigration status of 300,000 Salvadorans living in the United States might be threatened by an FMLN victory. His opinions were echoed by Representatives Dan Burton (R-IN) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). Last year, former US Ambassador Rose Likens made similar threats about an FMLN victory.
The fear tactics - domestic and international - worked. Salvadorans turned out in record numbers (some observers estimated more than 60% participation) and the ARENA candidate Tony Saca beat the FMLN's Shafik Handal by a 3-2 margin. (The FMLN retains control of the largest municipal governments and has the largest number of votes in Congress.)
The United States has a long and tragic history of intervention in the Americas. From the declaration of the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 through the era of gunboat diplomacy to support for military dictatorships during the Cold War era, the US has sought hegemony over the people of the Western Hemisphere. Support for the Salvadoran military during the 1980s is one of the bloodiest and most controversial chapters of that history as a civil war claimed more than 75,000 lives and Salvadoran soldiers trained in the United States committed grievous human rights violations.
In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, the United States has pledged itself anew to promoting democracy and combating poverty and ignorance, yet the old patterns of domination remain unchanged. As US congressional committees investigate US actions during the recent overthrow of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and questions circulate about the US role in Venezuela's unrest, Salvadoran voting results suggest a new intervention tactic. The Bush administration's doctrine of preemptive intervention extends to the electoral field through the manipulation of fear to tip an election outcome.
The targeted use of fear is a powerful motivator, especially for
people who have been tramautized by war, state terrorism, or economic
insecurity. The implications for democratic government - whether
newly formed or well-established - are deeply disturbing.