Monday, March 02, 2015

El Salvador's elections -- what we know now

Here is a round up of what we know about the results of Sunday's elections in El Salvador for mayors and legislators:

The official computer system of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) for compiling and disseminating preliminary results completely broke down.  The TSE has announced that it is giving up on the process of even having preliminary results.   The process of the final scrutiny of some 31,000 vote tally sheets (actas) will begin Tuesday afternoon in San Salvador.   That process could reportedly take two weeks.

Although the TSE has not published any results, the major political parties, through their networks of vigilantes and poll workers at every polling table, have their own vote tallies.   Based on those tallies, we know who won the race for mayor in several cities after the losers conceded.

The biggest prize was the capital San Salvador which was captured, as expected, by the FMLN's Nayib Bukele, the current mayor of Nuevo Cuscatlan.   ARENA and its candidate Edwin Zamora graciously conceded on Monday evening.   Bukele's vote total may have been much closer than most of the recent polls were predicting, however.

In Santa Tecla, the upcoming beatification of Oscar Romero was not enough to prevent the son of the man who ordered Romero's assassination from becoming mayor.   Roberto D'Aubuisson, Jr. won Santa Tecla for ARENA after years of rule by the FMLN.

Another city which changed hands was San Miguel in the east of the country.   Long time mayor Will Salgado of GANA lost to Miguel Pereira of the FMLN.

There is much less information about the deputies in the National Assembly and even less about deputies to PARLACEN.   Sources from the FMLN and ARENA each claimed their party had won 36 spots in the 84 seat National Assembly, but I think it is too early to put much faith in such numbers yet.

The real heroes were the more than 100,000 poll workers on Sunday who arrived at their tasks at 5 in the morning and had to work into the wee hours of the next morning counting ballots.   Their hard work will produce election results which are trustworthy and transparent in El Salvador.  We may just have to wait several days to learn what all those results are.

Nayib Bukele claims victory as mayor of San Salvador

Government unable to produce preliminary election results in El Salvador

Salvadorans are waking up this morning to find there are not yet any election results.   The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) finally announced at 2 in the morning, that a computer system for tabulating the results from each individual voting table had failed to work.   The TSE urged parties not to proclaim themselves the winners, although certain candidates did so anyways.  The TSE indicated that it would be uploading images of the vote tallies from each voting center onto the web, and that a final vote count would commence on Tuesday.

The new voting process created lengthy delays in counting the votes during the night.   The number of candidates, cross-party voting and the ability to choose individual candidates rather than parties meant there was a lot to count, and vote counters who had never had to count votes in quite this fashion before.  The TSE indicated it had received approximately 135,000 out of 277,000 vote tallies (actas) by 2AM.   It was not immediately clear what percentage of the voting centers had actually counted all their votes by early Monday morning.

Election day generally developed in a peaceful and orderly fashion as has been typical for elections in El Salvador in recent years. The elections lived up to their billing as the "fiesta civica" of the country. There were some arrests for election fraud. El Salvador's Human Rights Ombudsman (PDDH), whose office had deployed 600 observers across the country, said the elections had been clean, transparent, and tranquil. A member of a United Nations delegation said El Salvador should be proud of its electoral system.

With the FMLN in control of the executive branch in the country, the election determines how difficult it will be for President Salvador Sanchez Ceren and the FMLN to advance their agenda.   The newly elected legislature will be responsible for selecting one third of the judges on the country's Supreme Court and for selecting a new attorney general.   

Turnout was similar to the turnout in the 2012 elections when mayors and deputies were last elected, but slightly down from the presidential elections in 2014.

One group which was not heard from in the vote total was the community of Salvadorans living outside of the country.    Since they don't live in a municipality or a department, they did not get a vote for mayors or the deputies who are elected on a departmental basis.

There did not appear to be any gang-related activity aimed at the elections.

See a photo gallery of images from Sunday's elections from ContraPunto at this link.

1:15 PM Monday update -- still no official results.  Will Salgado concedes defeat in mayor's race in San Miguel to FMLN candidate.   Roberto D'Aubuisson, Jr. wins in Santa Tecla.  

Sunday, March 01, 2015

El Salvador's elections today

El Salvador is voting on Sunday March 1 for:

  • 262 mayors
  • 84 deputies to the National Assembly
  • 20 deputies to the Central America Parliament (PARLACEN)

There are

  • 4.9 million eligible voters, voting at
  • 1595 voting centers across the country, assisted by
  • 278,125 poll workers, and watched by,
  • 1800 international election observers
  • 1900 Salvadoran election observers

according to statistics from the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE)

During election day,  I will be tweeting @TimMuth, and then check back to the blog to see the election results and analysis.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

El Mozote and Bill O'Reilly

Recent stories in The Nation and Huffington Post have criticized Fox News personality Bill O'Reilly, then a young TV reporter for CBS News, for his role when the US government and US mass media turned a blind eye to the 1981 massacre at El Mozote.

The focus is on O'Reilley's  1982 CBS News report from Merenguera in Morazan department. 
Greg Grandin in The Nation describes the problem with the report:
O’Reilly was sent by CBS Evening News to El Salvador. In his words, he was sent “to check out an alleged massacre in the dangerous Morazán Territory.” This had to have been the El Mozote massacre. No other massacre was being reported on in the press that would have caught the attention of CBS news editors.

O’Reilly went to El Salvador. But he didn’t go to El Mozote. Instead, he went to the next town over, a fairly large municipal seat. In his memoir, O’Reilly writes: Meanguera “was leveled to the ground and fires were still smoldering. But even though the carnage was obviously recent, we saw no one live or dead. There was absolutely nobody around who could tell us what happened. I quickly did a stand-up amid the rubble and we got the hell out of there.”

This is all a lie, as O’Reilly’s own report—broadcast on CBS on May 20, 1982—clearly shows. Meanguera is not leveled; there are no fires; at least eight people can be seen, going about their business. O’Reilly also writes that he arrived at Meanguera by car in a harrowing journey, but the clip reveals he travelled part of the way in a Salvadoran helicopter.

But these lies—however fun they are to catch O’Reilly in—are not important. It should be no surprise to anyone that O’Reilly exaggerates and distorts. What is important is that O’Reilly was asked to investigate the El Mozote massacre. He didn’t. O’Reilly was sent to follow up reports (by Bonner and Guillermoprieto) of a major atrocity committed by US allies that would have had implications for Ronald Reagan’s hardline Central America policy. He didn’t.
O'Reilly's report is filled with images of Salvadoran soldiers and comments that they should be able to resist any guerrilla offensives with new troops who had just been trained in the US. There is no mention of the reports from Ray Bonner of the New York Times and Alma Guillermoprieto of the Washington Post that troops trained in the US had massacred 900 civilians in the same zone where he was reporting just months before.  

O'Reilly wrote in his book that he was sent to check out reports of a massacre. He didn't fulfill that assignment. Instead, his reporting just mirrored the party line of the Reagan administration. The massacre got buried, and the truth would only be acknowledged years later.

O'Reilly was not the only one, however, as Roque Planas in the Huffington Post points out.
Historian Virginia Garrard-Burnett, who specializes in Central America, likewise viewed O’Reilly’s failure to mention the allegations of a massacre at El Mozote as a major lapse. But she also said it was common at the time for foreign journalists to over-rely on sources in the U.S. government and Salvadoran military, leading to what she described as superficial or inaccurate reporting.

“There were some very brave journalists at the time in El Salvador, but there were others that were not as brave,” Garrard-Burnett told HuffPost. “They weren’t all the same kind of free and independent thinkers that you might wish. They weren’t all questioning government sources ... I don’t want to make it sound like I’m giving Bill O’Reilly a walk, but there were a lot of people there who were lazy back then, or scared.”

Friday, February 27, 2015

March 1 elections -- things to watch for

Here are a list of some of the questions I'll be watching as El Salvador goes into national elections on Sunday to select mayors, and deputies to the National Assembly and Central American Parliament:

  • How challenging is this first election to allow "cross voting" where voters can choose legislators from multiple parties?    Two things to watch for:   delays in counting the ballots and an increased number of "impugned ballots" where the ballot is void because a citizen voted incorrectly.
  • Does the FMLN win back the cities surrounding San Salvador such as Apopa, Ilopango and Soyapango that it lost in the 2012 elections?  
  • Does the trash crisis in the streets of Mejicanos lead to a replacement of the City's ARENA mayor?
  • How does the percentage vote for Nayib Bukele as mayor for San Salvador under the FMLN banner, compare to the percentage of votes for deputies in the National Assembly which the FMLN receives? This will be an indication of just how much of Bukele's support came from his charismatic, youthful candidacy rather than a base of FMLN support in the capital city.   My sense is that Bukele will become the FMLN mayor of a city which increasingly votes for ARENA.
  • Does the FMLN's strategy work to urge people to vote "por bandera" -- a straight party vote -- or does it backfire?   For the most part, FMLN candidates for the National Assembly did not have individual campaign posters urging voters to select them.   In contrast,  the country was covered with posters of individual ARENA and GANA candidates with a big "X" over their faces -- the manner in which someone votes for an individual candidate.  
  • Does the FMLN retain the mayor's office in Santa Tecla formerly held by the popular Oscar Ortiz who is now vice president?    ARENA has put up Roberto D'Aubuisson, Jr. as its candidate.
  • Is there an election eve gang-related surprise?   On the weekend of the March 2012 elections, murders suddenly dropped by more than 50% and certain top gang leaders were transferred to lesser security prisons.   It was the start of the so-called "tregua" or truce declared by El Salvador's major gangs which led to a dramatic drop in homicides over two years.   Within the last few weeks before this election, those gang leaders have been transferred by Salvadoran authorities back to maximum security prison.  

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Beckham joins campaign against childhood violence

Global football star and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador David Beckham has lent his name and celebrity to UNICEF's "¿No te indigna?" campaign to end violence against children and adolescents in El Salvador.  Watch his video.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Gilberto Soto - 10 years later

When I began writing this blog ten years ago, one of the first stories which I covered regularly was the November 2004 murder of Gilberto Soto.   Soto was a Salvadoran born Teamster from New Jersey. While in El Salvador in 2004, he was gunned down outside his mother's home. The police called it a domestic dispute, arresting gang members allegedly hired by Soto's mother-in-law.  She was ultimately exonerated.  Others were sure that it was related to his union organizing efforts among truckers in El Salvador's ports. Other theories tied the killing to connections to drug-trafficking and a criminal cartel known as the Perrones.

Mauricio Funes ordered the Soto case be reopened in 2009,  but there has been no sign of forward movement on the case in the years since then.   This week the Teamsters issued a  press release stating the union had sent a letter to El Salvador's Attorney General, inviting him to Washington to discuss the case:

[T]he International Brotherhood of Teamsters announced that General President James P. Hoffa sent a letter to El Salvador Attorney General Luis Antonio Martinez inviting him to the union's headquarters in Washington D.C., to discuss re-opening the investigation into the assassination of Teamster official Gilberto Soto. 
Hoffa sent Martinez the correspondence after not receiving a response from him to a letter regarding the Soto murder he co-signed with 14 internationally-recognized human rights advocates nearly three months ago. The open letter was published in La Prensa Grafica on Nov. 5, 2014, the tenth anniversary of Soto's assassination. 
In the new letter, Hoffa reiterates that the human rights advocates were requesting that the attorney general "…work cooperatively with the PDDH and independent human rights organizations to identify those who ordered these crimes and those who covered them up." His letter specifically refers to reports "…that the cover-up included the sexual torture of gang members, while in police custody, in order to extract false and misleading confessions" in the Soto case.
Although the Teamsters and US Congressman James McGovern of Massachusetts are interested in seeing this case fully investigated and resolved, it's not clear to me that anyone in El Salvador has the same interests.  I'm afraid "who killed Gilberto Soto?" and "where is Jimmy Hoffa buried?"  will be unanswered questions for the Teamsters for many years to come.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Mauricio Funes Uncensored

First he was one of El Salvador's most popular and independent television journalists.   Then he became El Salvador's first president elected from the left wing FMLN.   Now, Mauricio Funes has taken to social media to express his opinions about politics and issues facing El Salvador.   And he's not mincing any words.

Funes makes his comments available on Facebook and Twitter.   His Facebook page is titled Mauricio Funes Sin Censura -- Mauricio Funes Uncensored.   On Twitter his handle is @FunesCartagena.     In addition, Funes broadcasts weekly  60-75 minute long commentaries on his YouTube Channel.    

One subject Funes constantly returns to is the corruption case against former president Flores, accused of misappropriating $10 million in earthquake relief funds from the government of Taiwan.  Funes had initially revealed the allegations against Flores while Funes was still president.   Not surprisingly, much of Funes' invective is aimed at his old adversaries in ARENA, including a recent essay on his Facebook page titled "Why I am Not Voting for ARENA."

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Central American Parliament

DISCLAIMER -- I am about to write on a topic on which I know nothing: the Central American Parliament.   But according to a recent poll, 85% of Salvadorans don't know much about it either.  Still on March 1, voters will cast their votes for El Salvador's twenty deputies in the Central American Parliament, known by the acronym PARALACEN.

The member countries of PARLACEN are Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic and Panama. (Costa Rica has not joined). It is the political arm of the Central American Integration System (SICA), founded in the late 1980s to "strengthen the dialogue, the common development, democracy and pluralism as fundamental elements for peace in the region and for the integration of Central America."

From the website of the parliament:
Parlacen acts as the regional and permanent organ of political and democratic representation of the SICA with the aim of realizing the Central American integration.  It seeks to achieve a peaceful coexistence within the framework of security and social welfare, not only based on a representative and participative democracy, but also in pluralism, in respect for national legislation and International Law.... 
The PARLACEN is composed of 20 representatives of each member state....Furthermore, former presidents and vice-presidents of the Central American states remain members of the PARLACEN, even after their term of office, for a duration laid down in the constitutions of each individual country. 
Each member state elects its representatives and deputies in accordance with its national electoral law.
While the goals of participative democracy and Central American integration are fine ones, there is no real evidence of concrete progress which PARLACEN has achieved in the past 25 years.  An article titled Falling Out and Falling Apart? from 2009 by Daniel Zueras at IPS describes PARLACEN's role in the overall context of the ineffective efforts towards Central American integration.   

Sunday, February 15, 2015

El Salvador -- the 45 Minute Country

Lake Ilopango

For a small country, El Salvador has a lot to offer visitors.   El Salvador's tourism ministry has been working to package this up and attract visitors from throughout the world.  According to government officials, tourism has grown 27.3% from 2009-2014 with 1.9 million international visitors in 2014.   Tourism revenue in 2014 was $1.1 billion, or 3.9% of GDP.

The country has a slick new tourism website at   The slogan "El Salvador -- the 45 Minute Country" is a little odd   (really -- that's the slogan), but I get the point.   Because the country is so small, everything from mountain ranges to coconut palm-lined beaches is within driving distance.  (Although many of those drives are going to be longer than 45 minutes).

Some of those international visitors to El Salvador blog about their great experiences in the country.  For example, Sam and Amanda from Canada recently wrote Drop What You're Doing and Go To El Salvador.    Researcher Elizabeth Kennedy, who has done important work on child migration, has added a section to her website titled Querido El Salvador where she shares many sites and experiences throughout the country.

Perhaps my favorite El Salvador travel blogging comes from Linda, whose "Off the Beaten Path" series of blog posts takes you both to well known tourist sites as well as locations not written up in any of the guidebooks.  

View from mountains of Chalatenango near Dulce Nombre de Maria