Resurrection in El Salvador:
Bonsai Democracy in the Quarries of Capitalism
Democracy in countries that function as the quarries of capitalism is like a bonsai tree. You keep it in the window for others to see and when it grows too big, you cut it back.
That's the case in El Salvador. The negotiated settlement ending the Civil War meant the guerilla forces would trade their guns in for a spot in the government. They are welcome...as long as they don't get too powerful. After the FMLN gained more support in the recent election, the news on the only TV station with any credibility among the poor was dropped.
In the 2004 presidential elections, the FMLN candidate drew the attention of the White House. It must be frustrating for the Bush administration (which has so much on its plate these days). I can imagine a scene similar to the one Poland caused the Kremlin during another people's struggle. Khrushchev, exasperated by the spirit of the Polish people, famously complained, "Making Poland communist is like trying to saddle a cow."
Needing to saddle El Salvador, President Bush dispatched his brother. Jeb came through in Florida and he did in El Salvador too. In the heat of the campaign, Jeb flew in, shared the spotlight with the ARENA party candidate, and fed the rumor that the US would expel the two million Salvadorans living in America (that send El Salvador a third of its GDP) if the FMLN won. The TV ad showed a woman opening an envelope from the USA and reading a letter from her son, "Sorry mom, if the FMLN wins, this will be your last money coming from the USA." More evil, fear-mongering advertising from the Republicans. The US ambassador said that this was untrue...a week after ARENA won big. Good work, Jeb.
The FMLN does better in local elections because it is more personal and TV ads can't influence people so much. El Salvador legislators are paid an (astronomical on local terms) salary of $5,000 a month. Cynical as I've become lately, my hunch is that this is a clever and cheap way to corrupt idealistic guerillas trying to represent in the peoples' interest.
I asked an FMLN deputy about this. He answered, "In the war you didn't have time to consider your future. You didn't know if you'd be alive the next day. After the war, some FMLN leaders became more materialistic. While legislators are paid very well, FMLN legislators must contribute 30 percent of that to the party fund. Still, we make a lot of money."
|The US Embassy, the most fortified building in El Salvador, is called simply "the Embassy."|
In Nicaragua, the US ambassador was at the side of the right wing candidate as he campaigned. Throughout the developing world, the USA makes it clear that if the liberal candidates win, "relations will suffer." It's no wonder right wing pro-globalization parties representing the interests of international corporations keep defeating left wing people's parties. In 2004, after the Bush-friendly ARENA candidate won, Jon Sobrino (the leading Jesuit priest and scholar at the University of Central America) said, "When I hear the word, democracy, my bowels move."
Throughout the developing world, the biggest and most heavily fortified building in the land is the US embassy. When asked "Who really runs El Salvador?" most Salvadorans would say simply "the Embassy" (as the American Embassy is called here). As an American who can get in, the best thing about American Embassy — one of the most imposing embassies in the world — is its bathroom. You have to listen to the party line, but the air-con is great. And you can put paper in the toilet. You can't miss it. It's just outside of town, built upon the ruins of the old Indian capital.