More questions than answers

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We had elections here in El Salvador the 2nd of February. Everything was ok. Calm. The outcome was foreseen. El frente, FMLN, the left, won by 10 procentpoints, but not enough, 51 % of the votes, to win in the first run. We have a 2nd run the 9th of March.

Now the big discussion is obviously who will win in the 2nd run. The competitors are FMLN, and right-wing – ultra-right-wing – ARENA.  It is all negotiations and speculations. Deals here, deals there. The crucial votes are from the 3rd party, la UNIDAD, and the sofa voters, 37 % of the population.

One of our friends came over the other day, kind of suffocated:

– Oh, how is this going to end? She was referring to how the right-wing was going to gain votes. In not so institutional and democratic manners.

I don´t feel so worried. The elections here seem – peaceful and correct. As opposed to the processes in the neighbouring countries Nicaragua and Honduras where there are reports on irregularities. No, here national as well as international observers like the OAS and the EU are right about a correct process, is my perception.

But the most interesting comment I heard during the day of the elections, when we were doing “electoral tourism” was:
– This year we are seeing old women in wheel-cheers participating – that was unseen before.

Other comments:  By the lady who helps us in the house, once in a while:
– People told me not to vote. There might be violent situations, they say. But I am not afraid, I will vote.

And finally, Don Julio, our good friend and also a war veteran,  told us:
– The first time I voted was with a rifle in my back. Referring to the military control of the elections of old days.

Times have definitely changed! Hopefully! And there were few reports on “irregularities”. I was witness of one. A young first-time voter wasn´t allowed to vote. He was on the list for the particular place of votation, but that address didn´t coincide with his DIU – his identification with address of residence. No way, he couldn´t vote. Both ARENA and FMLN, represented by election functionaries  disqualified his right to vote.

But the mobilisation of the functionaries of the public force – the police – was impressing!

There were exclaims of:
– Arrest him!
– Take his pictures!

He had taken a picture of the election functionary who had denied him his vote. Which, indeed, is against the electoral law.

And the guy was surrounded by police, press and functionaries within seconds. But he had the law against him, and he couldn´t vote. And the picture in his cel phone was deleted in public.

But everything calmed down pretty fast. One television canal got its “sensational” report and a couple of good shots and that was it.

(And I got a good shot!)

But the incident and the remarks around the elections in many ways represent present El Salvador, I think. A strong memory of a very violent past. Strong presence of a still violent present.

But things are going the right way. Left is winning. I am pretty sure FMLN with Sánchez Cerén in the head will win. Which I think is good. In this part of the world left-right is still extremely important – in terms of human rights. And my impression is that the left is more respectful in these terms.

(MY IMPRESSION: I have no academic or scientific data and that is the privilege of having a blog. I can be totally subjective, I don´t have to present data, without shame!!!)

But I have so many questions – and some facts. My specific attention the past couple of years has been on security and mainly in those terms I analyse the issues. And according to the surveys, security among the population IS the biggest issue in El Salvador, before economy, job opportunities, education,  health etc.
– But my impression is, when talking to people: Security IS important, but more important is having the bread or tortilla for the day;
– People have heard about the peace process, the “truce” between the gangs which was initiated in March 2012. Which actually has reduced homicides by 40-60%. But they don´t seem to give the present president, Mauricio Funes, the credits for it. Not explicitly;
– They hardly acknowledge the process even at a high academic level, and have little knowhow;
– In the political campaign for the presidency, the “truce” hasn´t been mentioned, only in negative terms from part of ARENA;
– And ARENA, in its campaign against the process, focuses on terror, the fright of the people picturing the gang-members as “killing-machines”.


The picture above is part of the campaign. ARENA says: «We are going to work without fear». It refers to the extorsions, the main-income of the gangs and an activity which has not decreased with the peace process. So yes, MANY people go to work with fear;
– However, ARENA has presented a proposal for a “social pact” which sounds reasonable with the participation of “all” actors  of society. But when I in an interview with peace-mediator Raúl Mijango asked about this fact, his answer was very clear: “They don´t involve the principal actors, the gangs, in the negotiations”.  Well, if the principal actors are not involved – can we talk about a pact?
– In the so called municipalities of peace – among them, the 11 biggest and most violent municipalities of the country – people in a survey credited FMLN for the positive results in terms of less violence as a result of the “truce”;
– In the elections, 9 out of 11 peace municipalities voted for FMLN. Also in ARENA-ruled municipalities like Ilopango;
– Top of all, it has been said that “secret” negotiations between the gangs and the political leaders have taken part. The gangs, as far as I know, are just asking for basic human rights and for law to be followed, like they have done, or since  the “truce” started.

And my final facts:
– The pandilleros, the gang-members- in September  declared that they would participate in the elections. Together with the family-members, they represent like 10 % of the population.

But these issues haven´t been themes of debate! If like 90 % of the people consider violence the biggest problem of the country, the president, Mauricio Funes, has an extreme popularity with 70 % behind him and his regime has reduced homicides by 50%?

Nothing of this is mentioned. Only in vague terms. Sánchez Cerén talks about continuing the present politics of Funes, which are, in general terms about social reforms. Integration. But nothing concrete in terms of really dealing with the problem of security.

Where is the real debate about a new society, which, everyone knows, starts with social reforms? With human rights? What about looking around the corner, at Costa Rica, where they resolved these problems 40 years ago? What about giving the chavalos the opportunities they never had? Considering the “truce” a dialogue with marginalized instead of a pact with criminals? Why does international aid have to discuss with left and right about the most obvious? Social reforms, deep social reforms? And where everyone gains?

No, I don´ t see it as a conflict between left and right, but as a vision which parts from – human rights. A national vision, with all actors involved.

As Linda Garrett puts it in her report on the political context: “However, the President has not used his popularity to build consensus for the controversial gang truce or to unite the nation around a vision that includes an end to impunity for both war crimes and organized crime”. Access the report here.

But it is not easy. As Steven Dudley from InSight Crime, very correctly, I think, analyses it: Without the support of the US government, it is a difficult task. The same is the case with the Catholic Church: “Without the Catholic Church hierarchy, public support for a negotiated solution will be impossible”, he writes. Read the whole article here

Dudley also states: “The irony is that the president cannot have it both ways: taking credit when murder rates drop, then running away”.

That is the real challenge for the future president. And I cannot but totally agree with Dudley´s final words: “The truce is not perfect, but this is an opportunity that may not come again“.

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