Despite polls suggesting that a former Marxist guerrilla group-turned-political party was cruising to an easy victory, Sunday’s elections in El Salvador turned into a nail-biter. In fact, the results are unclear, and the country’s electoral commission is yet to make an announcement. The latest tally has the former guerrillas, the FMLN, leading the pro-American opposition, ARENA, by a mere 6,000 votes.
The integrity of these elections has been compromised by a number of factors. For example, the ruling FMLN party controls the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE). Consequently, the FMLN candidate, and current vice president of El Salvador, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, entered the contest with an almost prohibitive advantage over this rival, ARENA’s Norman Quijano. Indeed, four of the five TSE magistrates are either members, or supporters, of the FMLN, and the commission’s head, Eugenio Chicas, is also a close ally of the party.
With the deck stacked against the pro-American ARENA, now is the time for friends of Salvadoran democracy to speak out against electoral fraud and interference. Cuba and Venezuela are sure to intervene on the FMLN’s behalf, and the latter wields the kind of oil money that can buy a great deal of influence in a small country. (After almost 55 years of communism, Cuba, once rich, is now impoverished and also dependent on Venezuela’s oil money.)
This election matters. El Salvador is a drug-trafficking haven, and the country boasts some of the region’s most violent street gangs—organizations that are now being vertically integrated in America’s major cities. These gangs are indebted to the FMLN and President Muricio Funes, as the FMLN government secretly brokered a truce between the rival MS-13 and M-18. Recently uncovered documents exposed how, as part of this process, the government offered jailed gang-leaders cash payments, flat-screen TVs, prostitutes and even evening furloughs. Now, the FMLN has incorporated the gangs into its electoral machinery.
Concerns surrounding the FMLN’s Sánchez Cerén emanate from his ideological position; however, his connections to criminality and corruption are even more troubling. Spanish newspaper ABC recently published an article directly implicating his close confidant and high-ranking member of the FMLN, José Luis Merino, in a number of international criminal activities. As the FMLN’s liaison to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Merino has facilitated arms procurement for the terrorist organization and engaged in narcotrafficking.
The Obama Administration’s neutrality is no longer an option. The United States cannot allow for an election to potentially be stolen in El Salvador. The country is falling victim to the larger political shift sweeping the region of corrupt leftist movements: Abandoning the pretense of fighting for equality, these groups have morphed into corrupt political parties and criminal organizations.
Members of Congress should issue firm statements calling for the Supreme Electoral Tribunal to comply with electoral law. They must also urge the TSE to hold President Funes accountable for violating El Salvador’s electoral code. In order to ensure the results of the election reflect the will of the Salvadoran people, the TSE must conduct a transparent and full recount of the vote.