31 Oct 2008

Election 'Sí, se puede'

Obama, I am a sceptic who backs the great Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney but 'yes we can' means something in El Salvador:

El Salvador: ‘Central America is changing’

Federico Fuentes Green Left Weekly
25 October 2008

“Its not only South America that is changing, but also Central America”, Margarita Lopez, a deputy in the El Salvadorian National Assembly and political commission member of the left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), told Green Left Weekly.

“With Nicaragua and Honduras’s incorporation into [the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), the solidarity-trading bloc promoted by Cuba and Venezuela], we are seeing a totally different context to what existed before in Central America”, Lopez said.

This changing scenario helps explain the large lead in the polls for the FMLN and their presidential candidate, Mauricio Funes, with the January municipal and legislative elections and March presidential elections approaching.

Funes has an almost 15% lead over his rival from the governing right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance party (Arena).

While Arena has been in power since 1989, growing discontent over rising fuel and food prices, skyrocketing violence, and economic woes resulting from neoliberal policies like the Central American Free Trade Agreement on the economy, has resulted in many turning to the FMLN as a vehicle for progressive change.

Lopez explained that the FMLN’s election platform unites the “long list of demands” that the social movements of the country “have been raising for 19 years and that have never been taken into consideration by previous governments”.

“We are focusing on social aspects: pensions, minimum wage, against the elimination of subsidies on electricity, for the elimination of Value Added Tax on basic goods, medicine, the elimination of costs incurred for education, an integral fiscal reform so that those who have more pay more and those that have less pay less.”

Explaining the need for more social investment, Lopez said that hospitals in El Salvador today have no resources: “If you get sick you have to buy the string to be stitched up or buy gloves for the doctor to operate, even though [the Arena government] claims its has invested several million in the area of health.”

Another crucial issue for the FMLN is agriculture. “The neoliberal model demanded the elimination of funding for agriculture and support for [free trade agreements] where products for consumption came from the US, eliminating the production of basic grain in El Salvador.”

As a result of these policies, there are more than 640,000 hectares underutilised in El Salvador — despite the world food crisis.

“How is it possible that we have a food crisis and yet we have not been able to give to farmers the possibility to help us turn this situation around?”

Asked whether an FMLN government would join ALBA, Lopez responded that “given the right time, we will begin to raise the issue of joining ALBA”. FMLN-controlled municipal councils have signed numerous agreements with ALBA countries “that have saved us approximately $1.5 million in diesel consumption via agreements with [Venezuelan state-owned oil company] PDVSA, agreements with Nicaragua to provide fertiliser to help agricultural production and cooperatives.

“We have 800 students studying medicine in Venezuela, and 5000 El Salvadorians have had free [eye] operations via Mission Miracle.”

Lopez added that the issue of ALBA had been constantly used “against us in the campaign” and was a large part of the reason why the FMLN had not raised it as an issue in the campaign.

“But we are clear on where we are going.”

Despite these attacks, and US intervention against the FMLN during the campaign, Lopez explained that “due to the work we are doing day to day, through the ‘Caravans of Hope’ that we are organising, we are counteracting the anti-FMLN campaign”.

“Regardless, we are conscious that they will use all the resources they can to avoid an FMLN victory, which would change the conditions of the country and, of course, be part of all this change occurring in the South.”

Sending a message to friends and supporters in Australia, Lopez stated “that we all need to be on our toes not only on election day but from now”.

Crucial to this would be ensuring the presence of observers on the day of the election to guarantee transparency.

Lopez finished off by saying everyone should be confident that “starting from June 1, we will have a new government that will govern in favour of and for the benefit of the people of El Salvador”.

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