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El Salvador’s Democracy to be tested: History to be re-written in these election

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The small war-torn Central American country made history 5 years ago when the leftist guerrilla party FMLN ran as a political party for the presidency and won in a unprecedented and transparent election under the supervision of many international observers.

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El Salvador was devastated by a bloody civil war that lasted more than 12 years where the U.S backed government fought the guerrillas and was known for its notorious human rights abuses. Some estimate that over 72,000 people died and at least 14 thousands went missing. For many years, the ARENA party backed by the United States government ruled during most of the war and several years after. It wasn’t until 2009 that the Frente Farabundo Marti para La Liberacion Nacional (FMLN) defeated in a historical election the Republican ARENA party that was founded in the midst of the war by the alleged death squad leader Major Roberto D’abuison.

Vice-President Salvador Sanchez Ceren is a school teacher who fought with the guerrillas during the revolution and is the candidate for the FMLN; the leftist party that is characterized by choosing candidates from humble backgrounds unlike the rival party ARENA. This has prompted the support of the weary, working class and peasants of the masses in this small country. During the revolution, getting caught with a flag from the FMLN meant death, prior to their first victory 5 years ago, people in the countryside were flying the flags from tall bamboo trees atop of mango’s tree. I visited the country shortly after the first victory in 2009. I grew up in El Salvador and lived through the first 5 years of the civil war. During my visit in 2009, everywhere could be seen on the “tejas” (Spanish roof tiles) makeshift flag poles made of wooden sticks with the red flags that people displayed during the months of the campaign without any fear. Last Sunday, the streets of a prominent neighborhood in San Salvador were as if painted red by the estimated over 300 thousands supporters that showed up for the last day of the campaign. The ARENA party did multiple caravans throughout the country with a much less impact with the main one being lead by the candidate, current mayor of the city of San Salvador Norman Quijano.

Poll observers from around the world including Sweden and Salvadorans living in the U.S. started to arrive in El Salvador to ensure that this election just like the one of 5 years ago can be guaranteed as a transparent and fraud free one.

For the first time in history, Salvadoran citizens living in the U.S and Canada will be allowed to vote showing that the country’s democracy and its electoral process has drastically improved in the last 5 years. During the 80’s and 90’s, an estimated 1.5 million of Salvadorans fled the violence by coming to the United States and Canada. Refugees from the conflict zones fled to the neighbor country of Honduras. The FMLN has been very active in the U.S through the people that emigrated here, particularly in Southern California and more precisely the Los Angeles area were most Salvadorans settled during the conflict years.

“People were tired of human right abuses and aren’t afraid anymore to ask for changes” said a Salvadoran who asked not to be identified. “Nunca mas” said another referring to the abuses by the former government. 5 years ago, I witnessed the elderly, peasants, working class and the professionals proudly say that they had voted for the FMLN and happily displayed its flags in their pickup trucks and homes. The ARENA party has been working hard since to discredit the leftist party by several accusations. The country seems to be divided but surveys show that the FMLN has over 50% of the popular vote.

The fact that freedom of speech and transparent elections are now possible in this much suffered country show that those are fruits of a revolution whose victory was not won in the treacherous mountain poundings of the war nor was able to be stopped by the human rights abuses and crimes of the then government sponsored death squads, but the ultimate victory was won 5 years ago thru a democratic process that will be proven once again this Sunday.

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