REPORTS: EL SALVADOR
|US Embassy warns voters |
Ambassador says political rise of the FMLN has “generated concern.”
Jorge Schafik Handal
The US Embassy reacted quickly to recent polls showing that the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) was projected to win in El Salvador’s presidential elections on March 21, 2004. Outgoing US Ambassador Rose Likens told the press that the FMLN has "generated concern."
She said that the FMLN’s "holding up Cuba, China or Vietnam as a model or speaking of an end to privatizations when there are US companies that have invested in developing key sectors of national life could endanger investment."
The ruling Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) and President Francisco Flores are sinking fast in the esteem of the electorate (LP, April 9, 2003). Analysts say Likens is feeding the right’s fear not only of an FMLN win, but also that Jorge Schafik Handal, "a former communist," may be the next president.
Likens declined to comment on Handal. "I’m not going to mention specific names. Perhaps it is better to speak now, before the candidates are chosen, to make clear the basis of our relationship. We want the voters to decide, keeping in mind the current factors. Maintaining good relations is in all our interests," she said.
Pressing the point, Likens said, "Salvadorans have the right to decide what they want, but we also have to react on the basis of what happens in March 2004." She sharpened that point in another interview with a local newspaper, saying, "It will be the voters who decide, but I want them to do it having all the factors present."
Likens cautioned that her appraisal should not be taken as coercion. "I’m speaking in a sincere and honest way, simply reflecting reality," she said. "I have no intention of giving instructions."
In June, four FMLN leaders paid the ambassador what they called a "courtesy visit." The four were party coordinator Gen. Salvador Sánchez Cerén;
Handal, who is the candidate most favored by the leadership; Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) magistrate Julio Hernández; and Nidia Díaz, famed former guerrilla comandante, author and party leader.
After the meeting, Díaz declined to say that the conversation dealt directly with Handal’s candidacy, but she did say they discussed "diverse themes of national importance." None would give details, but as a group they characterized the meeting as "very frank and cordial" and said that its purpose was "to discuss future relations between the FMLN and the government of the United States."
The FMLN has been outspoken in its opposition to recent US foreign policy, particularly its invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. The United States, meanwhile, faults the party for its relationship with Cuba and Venezuela. Likens has criticized the FMLN’s "open support" for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
FMLN congressman Gerson Martínez said, "Regarding the declarations of Ambassador Likens, I want to reaffirm that the FMLN is trying to build friendly relations with the United States. We want reciprocal cooperation with the United States, based on the self-determination of the Salvadoran people, under the sovereignty and principles of nonintervention recognized by international law."
Congressman Héctor Dada Hirezi of the Union for a Democratic Center (CDU) characterized the ambassador’s remarks as having been encouraged by the Flores administration. He said that the government has failed to create an independent foreign policy and instead has dedicated itself to being "useful" to US interests. "We have done unnecessary things, losing the only defense in foreign policy that a small country has — acting with dignity. The United States needs friends, not subordinates," he said.
Rafael Machuca, leader of the National Conciliation Party (PCN), said that his party regards Likens’ statements as having gone a step beyond what her diplomatic function permits. "I don’t know that diplomats can take a public position on the affairs of countries and parties," he said.
Meanwhile, Flores, who is reportedly seeking US support for his bid to become secretary-general of the Organization of American States (OAS) next year, said that "risks to the country are going to increase" because of the FMLN’s negative impact on US-Salvadoran relations.
He said the risks would include loss of remittances and the return of Salvadorans living in the United States. The return of thousands of penniless Salvadorans would overwhelm the economy and might destroy any government in power at that moment. The loss of remittances, El Salvador’s largest source of foreign export dollars (US$2.2 billion in 2002), would be equally devastating.
"Many people would lose their jobs," the president said, "because investment would start to be withdrawn from El Salvador." He also said the FMLN was putting the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) negotiations at risk.
Meanwhile, FMLN officials called a press conference to clarify their position on the Flores-Likens remarks. High on their agenda was the issue of privatizations. Sánchez Cerén told reporters the party had no intention of re-nationalizing already privatized companies. But Hernández, a member of the party’s Political Commission, said that an FMLN government would not expand privatization and would seek to "revise existing regulations."
On international relations, Hernández said that an FMLN government would open relations with all countries of the world, including Cuba, and that it would seek contact with top US officials.
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