Elections mark a change in history of El Salvador

Cindy Von Quednow

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The streets of San Salvador were red on the night of March 15. Not from blood, which was shed during the 12-year civil war, but from the victory of the revolutionary party that defeated the 20-year rule of the right-wing government.

The Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) lead by Mauricio Funes, a former TV journalist, defeated the ruling Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), headed by the former police chief of El Salvador, Rodrigo Avila.’ According to the Supreme Tribunal Electorate, (TSE) out of the 2,630,137 valid votes, 51.2 percent went to FMLN and 48.7 percent went to ARENA.’

The roads were packed with thousands of FMLN supporters and sympathizers, as mortars sounded in the distance and firecrackers went off in the middle of huge crowds; horns were honking and the back of pick-up trucks were filled with people sporting the classic red paraphernalia of the Front.

‘This is the best thing that has happened in the history of our country,’ said Carlos Mendez, 23, of San Salvador, who was carrying a large red FMLN flag during the massive celebration in the streets of the capital.

‘We’re going to keep up with the change that Mauricio Funes has brought with all of our inspiration and hopes.’ ‘ We have to do away with the corruption and dirty politics of this government,’ he added.

The words change and historical are heard a lot here because the ARENA party had been in power for 20 years, since 1989. The country was in the middle of a brutal civil war, and harsh economic and social conditions have haunted the smallest Central American country for decades.

The founder of ARENA, Roberto D’buisson was also the leader of the death squads responsible for the death and disappearance of thousands of civilians during the civil war. The ARENA rule is characterized by the introduction of the civilian police, which Avila was in charge of, and a history of good relations with the Bush administration.’

‘This is an historic election because the FMLN and Salvadoran people have been fighting since 1970 to have power, but the ARENA party did not allow that space for almost 20 years,’ said Douglas Carranza, associate professor of Central American studies at CSUN.

Carranza came down to the Salvadoran elections to continue his research of the political participation of Salvadorans in Los Angeles. Through the Central American Research and Policy Institute (CARPI) at CSUN, Carranza and a group of students conducted a survey, which showed that 44.5 percent of Salvadorans living in Los Angeles that participated would vote for the FMLN. Carranza, who is the director of CARPI, noted that although Salvadoran immigrants are far away, they are still interested in the politics of their home country.

‘The support for a change in El Salvador from those living in Los Angeles is validated by the election of Maurico Funes as president,’ said Carranza, who left his native El Salvador in 1981.’ ‘

‘We’re happy for this victory because this is the first time that this has happened in the history of our country,’ said Nancy Camila Pichack, 35, who was out celebrating with her mother and daughter.

‘We hope that everything we have lived through and all the corruption that has taken place will disappear after this moment,’ said Pichack.

Even those who can’t vote in the country felt the excitement of this election.

Pichack’s daughter, Rebeca 11, said it was time for a change in her country.

‘As a student, I am really proud of what I have learned; the government that had been in power since I was a little girl was ARENA, and that has been really bad for El Salvador,’ said Rebeca, who was wearing an FMLN cap. ‘We hope that this change will be good for this country.”

Marianne Gulli, 24, an international observer came to El Salvador to observe and witness the election.

‘It is very exciting to participate in this historic moment,’ said the Norwegian native who is working on her thesis in neighboring Guatemala.’

‘This victory came right on time, when the Salvadoran people couldn’t take anymore,’ added Gulli, who lives and works in neighboring Guatemala. ‘The celebration in the streets, in the whole country, really defines the sentiment of the people; it defines the passion and happiness that has come from this historic moment.’

That voting euphoria was felt all day as whole families from both sides of the political spectrum went to their corresponding polling areas to exercise their vote. Even dogs dressed in party colors mulled around the city.

On the day of the election, the main building of the International Fair, the largest polling center in the country, exploded with noise as marchers from the rival parties filled the area with shouts and chants. ‘Arriba Mauricio, Abajo Avila: On with Mauricio, Down with Avila,’ ‘Patria s’iacute;, Comunismo no: Country yes, communism no,’ were some of the roaring chants.’ ‘ ‘

Miguel Antonio Leyva, 18, stood on the bridge outside overlooking traffic for hours, while waving a FMLN flag and shouting down on the incoming cars. Somehow, Leyva, managed to squeeze in some time to vote in his first election.

‘It felt really good to vote for the first time, to be able to participate in the elections,’ said the first year student at the National University of El Salvador. ‘The reality is that if students don’t fight, no one will, because we are the voice of the people.’

That passion was felt by a supporter of the opposite party at the M’aacute;gico Gonzalez Stadium, where Jesus Marlene Mejia waited for her brother, who lives in Maryland, to vote. Before flying in to El Salvador from a mission in Sudan, she made stops in Ethiopia, Amsterdam and Panama to vote for her candidate.’

‘It is my right to vote, with dignity, for the party I represent today,’ said the Cojutepeque, Cuscatl’aacute;n native, who was dressed in the highest of ARENA red, white and blue fashion.
Salvadorans who live outside the country can only vote in person, with a proper identification card, something that Mejia hoped Avila could change.

‘I would tell the future president, Rodrigo Avila that we would like to have voting centers for all those Salvadorans that live outside of the country, so I don’t have to fly for three days straight.’

But her candidate, who said that day that it would be very expensive and complicated to be able to facilitate outside Salvadorans to vote, lost the election.’

As shown in the CARPI study, a vast majority of Salvadorans living in Los Angeles, 87.33 percent, would also like to be able to vote from their city of residence in the elections of El Salvador. And although there are approximately 40,000 Salvadorans living outside the country that are eligible to vote, only 221 actually did so in this last election, according to the TSE.’ ‘

‘That obviously proves our estimates,’ said Carranza. He added that people from Funes’ transition team will try to make it possible for those living outside to vote in elections.
‘Although there are a lot of beaurocratic obstacles, which makes sense, there is a willingness on the FMLN’s part to be able to do that,’ he said.’ ‘

That is only one of the many obstacles that the president-elect’ faces as he assumes power, but there is an overwhelming sense of hope in this country that proved they were ready for a change as it’s’ heard in the chants before, during and after the elections: ‘Esta ves es difernente, con Mauricio Presidente:’ This time it’s different, with Mauricio as president.’