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LAS AMERICAS EL Salvador Elections Don’t Guarantee Democracy Voters in El Salvador, braving what observers termed “widespread fraud and intimidation” by the ruling Nationalist Republican March 10 legislative and municipal elections. ARENA lost its outright control of the National Legislature, but retained a working majority through alliances with two other right-wing splinter parties. While elections come and go, El Salvador remains plagued by persistent poverty and U.S.-sponsored repression. Adding to the tension, negotiations between the Salvadoran Army and the rebel forces of the Farabundo pear deadlocked. Negotiating teams from both sides of this bloody, eleven-year civil war are meeting this month in Mexico City for an extended round of talks as a last effort to achieve a ceasefire. Despite pressure for negotiation both from within El Salvador and from abroad, military conflict is likely to return to El Salvador in full force during 1991. ARENA’s Plan: Winning through Intimidation In early March, the international spotlight focused on the first round of elections in El Salvador since the right-wing ARENA party took office in June 1989. The March 10 elections selected members of the expanded 84seat unicameral National Assembly as well as local governments in the 262 municipalities of Central America’s most densely populated country. As results became known, ARENA lost its majority in the National Assembly. In addition, a three-party social democratic coalition, the Democratic Converthe country and was second in at least two provinces, San Salvador and La Libertad. The erosion of ARENA’s dominance in the legislative branch came amid accusations by opposition parties of pre-election intimidation and election day fraud by the ruling party. Three days before the election, ARENA activists fired upon a poster and leaflet crew of the opposition party, the Democratic Nationtwice in the head. On February 21st, another UDN candidate was shot and killed by death squad members only two blocks from the U.S. Embassy. The CD coalition had two campaign offices blown up in the weeks leading up to March 10. In measured words of understatement, a German observer delegation pronounced “their dissatisfaction over the climate” leading up to the elections. The independent, Costa Rica-based Central American Comlinked the pre-election violence to government statements in February which accused human rights groups, trade unions and civic groups of being “fronts for the FMLN” \(El Diario de Hoy, Mixed Interpretations The battle over the election’s meaning proved to be as fierce as the debate over the exact vote count. “ARENA’s objective is to consolidate the legitimacy of its rule,” observed one Salvadoran trade union leader. ARENA party leader and El Salvador’s Vice President, Francisco Merino, commented on February 26 that a vote for ARENA would demonstrate that Salvadorans “demand authority, and that law and order should reestablish its reign in our country.” To guarantee this interpretation, ARENA claimed victory although its electoral majority fell to simply a plurality in the National Assembly. In contrast, through its gains, the electoral opposition, which includes the Christian socialist UDN, hopes to make the National Assembly a forum to pressure a negotiated solution to the war. Political space for opposition parties remains tenuous in an El Salvador torn by military conflict. The relatively stable environment of negotiations would allow the electoral opposition to build their respective bases before the presidential election in 1994. For the United States, the March 10 elections are an enigma. For the past ten years, elections in El Salvador have been key evidence for Republican administrations that U.S. military assistance builds democracy. But with electoral advances for the opposition, a set-back could occur for what Salvadoran opposition leaders describe as the real U.S. objective: defeat of the FMLN. “Peace is not the first priority of the North Americans,” contends Democratic Convergence coalition leader Ruben Zamora. “Their first priority is that the FMLN does not win the war.” Beyond Procedural Democracy For Salvadoran trade unionists, rural campesinos, and urban slum dwellers, elec tions have never been a solution to the pov erty and repression which underlie their country’s decade-long civil war. Barely 50 percent of the electorate turned out for the March 10 vote, continuing an eight-year de cline in voter participation. The current strat egy for rank-and-file Salvadoran organizers employs the tactics of concertacion \(Spanish_ Concertacion manifests itself through formations such as the Permanent Committee for of over 1.5 million Salvadorans which hopes to promote a national solution to the civil war by’ isolating the most recalcitrant elements within the Armed Forces. The March 10 gains by the electoral opposition complement this strategy with the increased isolation of ARENA in the National Assembly. Strikes are tactics employed by trade unions to wrestle concessions from both government ministries and private corporations. On Friday, March 15, the same day U.S. military aid to El Salvador was released from restrictions set in 1990, Salvadoran Army soldiers attacked a work-site of striking government workers. Soldiers attacked with tear-gas and automatic weapons, “capturing” leaders of the strike. One striking worker I spoke with on the phone assured me these were “captures,” not arrests. “When an arrest happens,” he said, “the authorities charge you with a crime and you are brought before a judge.” This is not the case with the extralegal measures used in El Salvador, he added. Leaders of El Salvador’s opposition distinguish between procedural and organizational democracy. “Yes, one can vote in El Salvador,” Mario Flores, a student leader noted. “But that’s just procedural, a formality. Democracy means I am safe in my home after I vote and that I can join the organization of my choice. That’s organizational democracy.” Flores was killed by death squads just days after we spoke in January 1989. His killers extracted his fingernails and applied other tortures before leaving him dead on a r?adside near Sonsonate. Prospects for Peace in ’91 Optimism for a negotiated solution to El Salvador’s civil war is increasingly hard to muster. February negotiations broke down as the Salvadoran Army pulled away from U.N. proposals to review the human rights records of top Army generals and colonels. Human rights monitors report that the Army receives little encouragement from Washington. A March 25 report from the New York-based Lawyers Committee for Human Rights describes the U.S.-funded Special Ininvestigating the Jesuits’ killing in November 1989, as lacking “competence, zeal, and good faith.” The report implicates both the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador and the FedSee El Salvador page 16 14 APRIL 19, 1991