On March 16 the Supreme Electoral Tribunal proclaimed Salvador Sánchez Cerén as the winner of the presidential elections in El Salvador. The candidate of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) received 50.1 percent of the votes, while Norman Quijano, of the right-wing ARENA, received 49.9 percent. Ask President Obama to join other nations in the hemisphere in congratulating Sanchez Ceren on his victory.
El Salvador’s right-wing vowed not to accept the victory of the FMLN, and tried to delay the declaration of the winner by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal. ARENA candidate Norman Quijano even called on the armed forces to intervene to stop the FMLN electoral victory, calling it a ‘fraud’ committed by a ‘dictatorship’. The Salvadoran armed forces, however, stated publicly that they will respect the election results.
Quijano’s suggestion of military intervention had called up echoes of the US-funded and supported 1980-1992 civil war, in which 76,000 people were killed, many on orders of graduates of the School of the Americas. Ask President Obama to attend Sanchez Ceren’s inauguration as a sign that the U.S. sincerely desires a new chapter of relations with Latin America, in which democracy is supported rather than undermined.
Echoes of an interventionist past are also evident in recent statements from Secretary of State Kerry and Vice President Biden, calling the Venezuelan government dictatorial and terrorist. Such inflamed rhetoric is based on a distorted version of Venezuela’s current crisis and deeply threatens the fragile relationship with a Latin America that is increasingly integrated as a region.
Indeed, Venezuela has been facing political and social turmoil in the past month, in which legitimate citizen concerns about security and inflation have been co-opted by violent extreme elements of the opposition whose only goal is regime change, leaving a tragic toll of 30 deaths. Statements by the US government portray all protesters as peaceful and hold the government responsible for all deaths, ignoring the violent nature of many of the protests that 75% of Venezuelans reject.
They also ignore the fact that well over half of the deaths are related to the barricades themselves, including the gruesome beheading of a motorcyclist from razor wire strung by protesters, the deaths of four National Guard and other citizens who were shot for clearing away barricades.
Five people have been killed by government security forces and this is to be abhorred. However, it is to be noted that action has been taken by the Venezuelan judicial system and there have been arrests and investigations against 25 security agents, something that statements from congress ignore.
The recently passed House Resolution 488 makes what would appear to be an honorable call to end to violence in Venezuela and promote dialog. But the details of the resolution point erroneously to the Venezuelan government as the sole source of violence and fail to acknowledge that President Maduro has already initiated a peace dialog in which key business, religious and opposition leaders are participating. Congress might make better use of resolutions to encourage the extreme elements of the opposition – many of whom have benefited from the more than $90 million sent to Venezuelan opposition groups by the US – to sit at the dialog table they are boycotting.
While the US has been pushing for outside intervention, the rest of Latin America has stepped forward to show support for Venezuela’s democracy and express concern for threats to its sovereignty. The OAS rejected a push from the US to take steps towards intervention, and the Union of South American nations (UNASUR) has offered to support Venezuela’s ongoing peace process. Although President Maduro has taken steps to renew dialog with the U.S., members of congress are putting forth a new congressional resolution, HR-4229 calling for targeted sanctions against Venezuela.
The US embrace of the 2002 and 2009 coups in Venezuela and Honduras are still fresh in the minds of many in Latin America. Today’s Latin America is a region that increasingly is working together and will not take well to any perceived intervention from the U.S. Call your member of Congress to ask then to turn the page in regard to US-Latin American relations, and to respect democracy in El Salvador and Venezuela.