Experts Urge State Dept. to Denounce Dirty Campaign in El Salvador

More than 140 Latin America experts criticize the campaign of fear being waged by the ruling party in El Salvador. In an open letter, they ask the Secretary of State to declare that the United States government stands ready to work with whichever candidate is democratically elected by the Salvadoran people, and publicly disavow the ruling party's dirty campaign, which has used President Obama's image in an attempt to coerce Salvadorans from voting for the opposition.

March 9, 2009

The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton,
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Madame Secretary,

We are a group of concerned academics who have closely followed various electoral processes in Latin America. In September of 2008 several colleagues traveled to El Salvador and consulted with various human rights groups, social and political organizations as well as the academic community. As a result of this visit we issued a report that was endorsed and signed by more than two-hundred academics who teach at various colleges and universities throughout the United States (see here). In the report, we expressed our fears concerning foreign intervention in the electoral process, increased levels of violence, pending reforms to the Salvadorian Electoral Code which could facilitate fraud and statements made by the Minister of Foreign Relations, Marisol Argueta, in Washington D.C. in September 2008 soliciting the intervention of the U.S. government in order to prevent the victory of the FMLN candidate.

Earlier this month (February 17-21), a follow-up delegation returned to El Salvador to monitor the electoral process with the hope that the problems we had highlighted would have been in some way addressed. Unfortunately, the problems we originally underscored not only failed to be addressed but on the contrary, have been exacerbated and new concerns have also surfaced. This finding reflects the delegation's studied judgment of issues raised in meetings with the Salvadoran Human Rights Ombudsman, the U.S. Embassy, the Observation Mission of the European Union, the legislative fractions of ARENA and the FMLN, the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, and organizations of civil society.

For practical purposes the delegation emphasized the following concerns:

1. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal, like almost all other Salvadoran institutions including the Supreme Court and the major news media, are highly politicized and unduly influenced by partisan interests, particularly in favor of the party holding executive office.

2. There are severe problems with the Electoral Registry that have been cited by the report issued by the Organization of American States (OAS), as well as by other national and international entities.

3. There has been a dramatic increase in violence that is reflected in the rise of the daily homicide rate from 8 to 13.5 between October 2008 and February 2009, which could negatively impact the electoral process and results by contributing to the climate of fear and social insecurity.

4. There is a complete lack of regulation and control over campaign funding that severely affects the conditions required for the normal development of a democratic electoral process. We note with particular alarm a study done by the Salvadoran National Foundation for Development funded by National Democratic Institute, which reports that "For every 100 campaign ads viewed by the public between January 2008 and January 2009, 71% came from ARENA and Fuerza Solidaria, 19% came from the FMLN and Amigos de Mauricio, and the remaining 10% from other political parties."

5. A large percentage of the ongoing publicity campaigns, primarily from ARENA and Fuerza Solidaria, are based on disinformation that foment a climate of fear and mistrust among the population and are aimed at suppression of voter turnout. In particular we note that many of these include the misrepresentation of the position of the United States government, including by individuals claiming to be official representatives to intimidate voters and prevent them from voting freely.

We cite for example the case of ads featuring Dan Restrepo, Senior Fellow and Director of The Americas Project, at the Center for American Progress and a top policy advisor to President Obama, which include images of President Obama suggesting that the U.S. president is fearful of an electoral victory by the FMLN presidential candidate.

In addition, the Salvadoran press has carried the statements of a U.S.-Nicaraguan evangelical minister Antonio Bolainez, representing himself as a religious adviser to President Obama who claimed that the U.S. would frown on a FMLN victory. The press has been complicit by carrying his messages without questioning his insinuation that he speaks for the Obama Administration:

Aggravating this situation is the U.S. embassy's tepid denial of these manipulations and their outright refusal of our delegation's request to issue a written public statement to make clear that these individuals' and their campaigns' positions do not represent the U.S. government.

6. Foreign intervention and highly suspect propaganda campaigns are being conducted by international and domestic organizations in direct violation of the Salvadoran electoral code, which stipulates that only political parties can conduct electoral publicity.

Several shadow organizations, are waging an active fear campaign that focus on Venezuela, President Hugo Chávez, and President Barack Obama. The centerpieces of this campaign are a group known as Fuerza Solidaria, as well as another group called the Cruzada Pro Paz y Trabajo (Crusade for Peace and Jobs). Their slogan is "Yo no entrego a El Salvador." This literally translates into "I will not hand over El Salvador." Several of these messages are available on YouTube:


Given these conditions, it is our assessment that:

The problems of the Salvadoran electoral system are structural and so severe that they tip the balance in favor of the party holding executive office. Combined with the Salvadoran population's lack of trust in the electoral system, any indication of fraud on Election Day could cause a severe crisis of governability in the highly polarized Salvadoran society.

However, it is our firm belief that the Government of the United States can play an important and constructive role in safeguarding the democratic process in El Salvador by correcting and clarifying the doubts, confusion, and fear that the dirty campaign tactics documented above have generated among the Salvadoran people regarding the free exercise of their vote.


We urge you in the strongest possible terms, Madame Secretary, to make a public declaration prior to the March 15th Salvadoran Presidential Elections, which clarifies the official policy of the U.S. Government regarding El Salvador. Specifically, it is imperative that such a declaration:

1. Clearly state that neither ARENA, Fuerza Solidaria, Cruzada Pro Paz y Trabajo nor any private U.S. citizen speaks on behalf of the Government of the United States

2. Categorically disavow the allegations made in the above-mentioned fear campaigns

3. Emphasize that the Government of the United States is committed to working with any political party that wins the Salvadoran Presidency through the exercise of a democratic electoral process and fully intends to work towards maintaining friendly relations with El Salvador regardless of which political party is in government.

Such a public declaration would mark a clear break from U.S. foreign policy towards El Salvador under the previous administration. In fact, a statement condemning any attempts to manipulate the position of the U.S. government to intimidate or coerce Salvadorans from the free exercise of their sovereign democratic rights for partisan political ends would signal the United States' vision for a new era of U.S. foreign policy based on the Administration's commitment to democracy and respect for sovereignty. Moreover, it would send a clear message reassuring other countries of the region of this commitment.

The United States of America is at a critical juncture in its relations with Latin America. The same spirit of hope and transformation that marked the historic victory of President Obama raises hope for a new relationship between the United States and Latin America. The hemisphere is ripe for such an era of cooperation, friendship and shared values around democracy, transparency, human and civil rights. We believe that no nation in the hemisphere is more ready to receive this new era than the people of El Salvador.

CC: Mr. Thomas A. Shannon, Jr, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs and Mr. Robert Blau, Charge d'Affairs US Embassy in El Salvador


Héctor Perla Jr., University of California, Santa Cruz

Miguel Tinker Salas, Pomona College

Sonja Wolf, Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM)

Manuel Rozental, Algoma University

Mark Roessler, Orange Coast College

Mary Beth Duffey, Mount Mary College

William I. Robinson, University of California, Santa Barbara

Mark Weisbrot, Center for Economic and Policy Research, Washington, D.C.

Tom Hayden, Author, Pitzer College (Former California State Senator)

Jocelyn S. Viterna, Harvard University

Mario D. Fenyo, Bowie State University, President-elect of Third World Studies Association

Mark Sawyer, University of California, Los Angeles

Alfonso Gonzales, New York University

Lisa Garcia Bedolla, University of California, Berkeley

Nick Copeland, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville

Richard Stahler-Sholk, Eastern Michigan University

Lorraine Bayard de Volo, University of Colorado, Boulder

Greg Grandin, New York University

Daniel Hellinger, Webster University

Gilbert Gonzalez, University of California, Irvine

Karen Kampwirth, Knox College

Luis Martin-Cabrera, University of California, San Diego

Andrea Dyrness, Trinity College,

Enrique Sepulveda, St. Joseph College,

Cindy Forster, Scripps College

Mark Overmyer-Velázquez, University of Connecticut

Felix Salvador Kury, San Francisco State University

T.M. Scruggs, University of Iowa

Ronald H. Chilcote University of California, Riverside

Rosaura Sanchez, University of California, San Diego

Vijay Prashad, International Studies, Trinity College

Frederick Mills, Bowie State University

Leonel Flores MD, University of Maryland, School of Medicine

Steven Topik, University of California, Irvine

John Womack, Jr., Harvard University

Cecilia Menjivar, Arizona State University

Samuel Farber, Brooklyn College of CUNY

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, California State University

John L. Hammond, City University of New York

Rodolfo Rosales, University of Texas at San Antonio

Margarita B. Melville, University of California, Berkeley

Sinclair Thomson, New York University

Richard L. Harris, California State University, Monterey Bay

James D. Cockcroft, State University of New York SUNY

Ingrid Lagos, University of California, Davis

Aldo Lauria Santiago, Rutgers University

William S. Stewart, California State University, Chico

María Elena Díaz, University of California, Santa Cruz

Arturo Escobar, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Jonathan Fox, University of California, Santa Cruz

Charles Walker, University of California, Davis

Robin Broad, American University

Michael J. Lazzara, University of California, Davis

Dana Frank, University of California, Santa Cruz

Steve Ellner, University of Oriente

Thomas Walker, Ohio University

Susan Gzesh, University of Chicago

Patricia Balcom, L'Universite de Moncton, Moncton NB, Canada

Leisy Abrego, University of California at Irvine

Marc Zimmerman, University of Houston

Susanne Jonas, University of California, Santa Cruz

Teo Ballvé, North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA)

Armando Gonzalez Caban, Editorial Board Latin American Perspectives

Eugenia Wheelwright, Bowdoin College

Carlos Muñoz, Jr., University of California, Berkeley

Cristina Rojas, Carleton University

Steve Striffler, University of New Orleans

Ellen Moodie, University of Illinois

Antonia Darder, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Victor M. Rodriguez, California State University, Long Beach

Gary Y. Okihiro, Columbia University

Gary Hytrek, California State University, Long Beach

Misha Kokotovic, University of California, San Diego

Aaron Schneider, Tulane University

Miguel Carter, American University

Kelley Ready, Brandeis University

Jack Spence, University of Massachusetts, Boston

LaDawn Haglund, Arizona State University

Martha Scarpellino, University of Iowa

Carlos Enrique Zeisel, Franklin Pierce University

Christine J. Wade, Washington College

Deborah Levenson, Boston College

Christopher L. Chiappari, St. Olaf College

Susan Kellogg, University of Houston

Yajaira M. Padilla, The University of Kansas

Melissa Michelson, California State University East Bay

Otto Santa Ana, University of California, Los Angeles

Irene B. Hodgson, Xavier University

Sonia Ticas, Linfield College

Nora Hamilton, University of Southern California

Eliza Willis, Grinnell College

Eleonora Bertranou, St. John's University - College of St. Benedict

Fernando Coronil, Graduate Center, CUNY

Julie Skurski, Graduate Center, CUNY

Allen Wells, Bowdoin College

Leo J. Garofalo, Connecticut College

Sirena Pellarolo, California State University, Northridge

Karen L. Ito, UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine

Brandt Peterson, Michigan State University

Suyapa Portillo, Cornell University / CFD Fellow Pomona College

Suzanne Kent, Colorado State University

Karina Oliva Alvarado, University of California, Los Angeles

Robin Maria DeLugan, University of California-Merced

Linda J. Craft, North Park University

Ester Hernandez, California State University, Los Angeles

Héctor Cruz-Feliciano, Council on International Educational Exchange

Gary Prevost, St. John's University and the College of St. Benedict

Victor Silverman, Pomona College

Christopher I. Clement, Pomona College

Bruce Cohen, Worcester State College

Jose Zapata Calderon, Pitzer College

Susan Bibler Coutin, University of California, Irvine

Sidney Lemelle, Pomona College

Guillermo Delgado-P, University of California at Santa Cruz

Lesley Gill, Vanderbilt University

William Aviles, University of Nebraska, Kearney

Nathaniel Wheelwright, Bowdoin College

Tanalís Padilla, Dartmouth College

Sujatha Fernandes, Queens College, City University of New York

David I. Gandolfo, Furman University

Axel Montepeque, Ph.D. Candidate Literature, University of California, San Diego

Morelia Portillo Rivas, Graduate Student, University of California, San Diego

Forrest Hylton, Ph.D. Candidate, History, NYU

Chris Zepeda, Ph.D. Candidate, Political Science, Cornell University

Tehama Lopez, Ph.D. Candidate, Political Science, University of Chicago

Aquiles Magana, Ph.D. Candidate, Urban Planning, University of California, Los Angeles

Miranda Cady Hallett, Ph.D. Candidate, Anthropology, Cornell University

Cori Madrid, Ph.D. Candidate, Political Science, Graduate Center, City University of New York

Robert Austin, University of Melbourne

Peter Lambert, University of Bath, UK

Eleonora Quijada Cervoni, The Australian National University

Jean Grugel, University of Sheffield

Astvaldur Astvaldsson, University of Liverpool

Diego Sánchez-Ancochea, University of Oxford

Mo Hume, University of Glasgow, Scotland, UK

Evelyn Gonzalez, Montgomery College

Meredith Brown, Esq.
Past Chair and Current Executive Co. Member
Los Angeles County Bar Association
Immigration Section

Dr. Judith Prather, President
Rotary Club
Whittier, CA

Andres Jimenez, Director
California Program on Opportunity and Equity,
University of California Intercampus program

Donald L. Chery, PhD
Treasurer Latin America Taskforce Network
River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation
Bethesda, MD

Marina Henriquez (Administrator)
Assistant Director, Student and Enrollment Services
Columbia University, School of Social Work


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