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Election Monitoring in El Salvador: Fraud Prevention


Election Monitoring in El Salvador: Part 1

Pat Thornburg, Tommie Jackson and me in our monitoring vests. Photo courtesy of SHARE Foundation - El Salvador
Cathy Stripe LesterA lot of the election procedure in El Salvador is a result of elections having seen so much fraud and corruption in the past. Along with my fellow monitors, I found it fascinating to see how each stage was a counter to a specific abuse.
Overview of one of the urban voting centers. Photo courtesy of SHARE Foundation - El Salvador.
Problem: Voters were unable to get to the polls to vote. Solution: This year saw “residential voting,” whereby polling stations were set up in every municipality and village so campesinos (country people) could get there. This may not sound like a big thing to Americans, but ask yourself: if Kingsley, Grawn and Acme were up in steep mountains without bus service, how many people from there would walk to Traverse City to vote?
Problem: People voting more than once, and/or people from neighboring countries being paid to come in and vote as Salvadoreans. Solution: Everyone had to vote in their specific neighborhood, and they had to have their National ID card. At each polling station, voters had to go to a designated table. The urban center my group was monitoring had 69 tables with their own voting booths. Each table had a list of 500 voters. The voter showed their ID, found their name on the list, and an official put a stamp by their name.
Voters have to dip their thumb into a pot of indelible ink AFTER voting, so officials inspected people’s hands beforehand. One guy who’d been working had to dust his hands off on his pants twice or thrice before the officials were satisfied he didn’t have any ink on them. Only after all that did the voter get their mitts on a ballot paper.
The officials were really suspicious of one woman with a stain on her index finger. Eventually they smelled her finger and finally let her have a ballot. I asked if the ink had a particular smell. Yes. Could I smell it? Yes, but be careful. The “careful” came a second too late as I got a noseful of pungent, stinging smelling salts!
Problem: Ballot-stuffing. Solution: Each table had a pad of 500 numbered ballots. As each voter got their ballot, the official tore off the numbered corner and put it into a plastic bag. Afterward, during the counting, they first counted ALL the leftover ballots (which were then stamped “UNUSED”), then counted the torn-off corners, and added them to make sure there were 500. After the counting, the marked ballots were counted to make sure they tallied with the total.
Counting the ballot papers BEFORE voting started, to make sure there were exactly 500 in the pad.
Problem: Miscellaneous chicanery. Solution: All the parties watched a) each other, and b) each stage of the process. Each table had three officials: one from each of the two big parties and one from one a small party (there were five parties in all). In addition, each table had watchers, or “vigilantes” (vigilant ones) from all the parties. Vigilantes were allowed to wear vests showing which party they were from, but the officials weren’t allowed to wear anything that showed their affiliation, not even a colored wrist band. (In practice, you could guess that the whitest, tallest official who had an air of what I can only call “rulers’ assurance” was from the oligarchs’ party; the one who looked most Indian or mestizo was from the workers’ party, and the third one was from one of the other parties.)
Some of the younger officials, happy to be doing their bit.
The thing is, NOTHING happened without representatives from all the parties seeing it. In case of a dispute, all the parties argued it out. In case a dispute wasn’t solved then and there, a Higher Official was called in. Everything was out in the open.
The big cheese from the Municipal Election Board (JEM) weighing in on a dispute.
Problem: Buying votes. Solution: Making sure no one knows how the voter voted. (If you want to rig an election, you don’t want to buy 100 votes and have only 12 “vote right”!) Voters were absolutely prohibited from showing their ballot to anybody, and there were cases where votes were disputed because of it. One mother wanted to include her little son in the process and had him mark her ballot for her. Then the son proudly showed Mama the ballot in full view of everyone. Aww, sweet! … BIG kerfuffle.
The voting booths were made of cardboard, cunningly constructed so the voter had to stand OUTSIDE and put the ballot in through a little paper flap, then peer over the top of the paper in order to mark it. The vigilantes kept a beady eye on them to make sure the voter didn’t pull a cellphone out of his pocket and stick it inside to photograph the ballot, because one way of telling how someone voted was to see a picture of it.
Voting booth. Notice that wheelchair voters can use the lower flap.
Problem: Illiterate/blind/disabled voters. Solutions: Since this election was ONLY for the president, the ballot papers simply had pictures of the parties’ flags on them. Voters had to mark the flag they wanted with an X. When signing afterward, illiterate voters could make a thumbprint. The center I saw was wheelchair friendly, and a troop of Boy Scouts was on hand to assist anyone who needed assistance.
Blind people could use a template with Braille markings, or they could request someone to help them mark the ballot. I was amused to see an old woman wearing a red FMLN hatband choose an FMLN vigilante to mark her ballot for her. This was allowed.
Making double-sure of everything: To get around the possibility that someone could subvert part of the process, a lot of steps were repeated. The list I mentioned was only the FIRST list. When they put the completed ballot into the ballot box, they had to sign ANOTHER list. At the end, the officials counted both lists. At the table I watched, there was a discrepancy of one, and they had to go through the names one by one to find the glitch.
After the voter signed list no. 2, they dipped their thumb in that pot of ink I mentioned. (Ewww-oogh!)
Counting: When the polling place was declared officially closed, first all the materials were accounted for. Only then was the ballot box opened. In full view of everyone, the chief official pulled out one ballot at a time, read the result, and held it up for all to see.
Showing the ballot. Photo by Anna Fuqua-Smith
Any disputed ballots were argued over by all the participants. No one was allowed to disqualify a ballot on his or her own. If the officials and vigilantes couldn´t agree on a ballot, it was voided. Our table had one voided ballot.
This one was disputed because ARENA claimed the ink squiggle on the right meant the voter's intention was unclear. However, it was given to FMLN
When the box was empty, each party counted their ballots and reported the total. The results were entered onto a form with multiple copies, signed, stamped, and a copy given to each of the parties, the officials and the National Electoral Commission. The numbers were finally reported to the electoral recorder, and all the unused materials, stamps, ink, etc., sealed into the box they came in, and returned.
Salvadorean law demands a majority of 51% to declare a winner. FMLN got nearly 49%, ARENA got about 38%, UNIDAD got 11% and the last two parties had to content themselves with the remaining 2%. Now there will be a run-off on Mar. 9.
All us monitors had the feeling “we weren’t in Kansas any more.” Some of us noticed how cheap it all was – cardboard voting booths, hordes of volunteers – and yet how they trusted the count-the-papers-in-the-open more than the expensive computers the U.S.A. uses.
This one was voided because the X was not on top of the flag.
Others commented on the lack of long lines. There was a line outside at 7:30 a.m. when the center opened (half an hour late because of delays setting up, because the person with the keys wasn’t there on time), but thanks to the voting being split into groups of no more than 500 each, I never saw a table with a line more than half a dozen people long.
The whole process was highly labor-intensive with its constant checks and counter-checks. Yet it achieved what it set out to: It delivered an election that was fair and transparent enough that the Salvadoreños themselves believed it. In comparison to past elections, THAT is a major accomplishment.
Unless otherwise noted, all photos are by my fellow Michigander volunteer, Patricia Thornburg. (My camera was out of order.)
Next time: Local color, and the role of the monitors.


JVP Shares Education Video about Palestine/Israel

Check out this educational animated short film (only about 6 minutes) from JVP for an introduction to the conflict!

From JVP: "With the massive storm of media coverage about Israel, Palestine, the occupation, and BDS generated by the Scarlett Johansson/SodaStream affair, we have a terrific opening to educate members of the public who are hearing about these issues for the first time. It's also an opening to reach those with only a very basic awareness, but whose interest has suddenly been piqued.

One of our most successful educational tools has been our short video, 'Israel and Palestine: An Animated Introduction.' "


Former MPT Teamer Denied Access to Israel & West Bank for Current Peacework

On February 3rd, 2014, I was denied entry into Israel after being interrogated by over a dozen different Israeli security officials and agents and kept in a holding cell in the Tel Aviv airport for two days before being escorted by security onto a plane headed for JFK.

During interrogation processes, a man who told me (more like screamed at me, red-faced) that he was an Israeli secret service agent and that he knew everything about me and my "terrorist" intentions in Israel. He than read to me emails I had sent to loved ones a year ago while I was in the West Bank, he read to me reports I had written, and than proceeded to show me pictures taken of me by Israeli soldiers preventing an old man from being arrested for planting an olive tree.

Here is a little background...

One year ago, in February 2013, I spent one month in the Israel-occupied West Bank of Palestine. I worked in a peace team under the umbrella of the DMCW Rachel Corrie Project http://rc.dmcatholicworker.org/ and Meta Peace Team http://www.mptinpalestine.blogspot.com/ doing third-party non-violent intervention work in the West Bank. During my stay our team was asked one morning by local Palestinians to accompany them as they planted trees on their property. The trees they had planted a few months prior had been burned down by Israeli soldiers, who claimed the land was a "closed military zone" even though UN maps proved clearly that the land belonged to the Palestinian Authority.

Our team accompanied a small group of Palestinian farmers, along with a handful of additional international peace activists, and as we began planting olive trees we were met by soldiers. At this point our entire team was detained in an illegal Israel settlement holding facility and questioned by soldiers.

See full report regarding the 2013 detention here:


Once detained at the Airport on February 3rd, 2014 all individual rights were suspended. I was given a full body search because I was a 'bomb threat' and might have 'bomb making materials on my body". I was not give a chance to make a phone call or right to an attorney. After being escorted onto the plane by Israeli security from a separate entrance for all to see, after all other passengers were boarded, seated and belted in, My passport was passed on to be held in the cockpit until deboarding the plane at JFK.

My biggest disappointment not being able to join DMCW'ers Julie Brown and Aaron Jorgensen who are in the middle of a war zone taking in tear gas, dodging rubber bullets and live ammunition. Please keep them in your thoughts and hearts, as well as the Palestinians, who are resisting the horrendous occupation conditions created by Israel. And the folks at ISM http://palsolidarity.org/ doing a great job with way too few people.

As for me, my future plans are uncertain at the moment. I am regrouping and refocusing my efforts toward other areas of international peace work.

Jessica Reznicek (Meta Peace Team member since 2012)


Election Day Observation - El Salvador Peace Team February 2014

"So we were there to be witnesses to an election that may go against the oligarchs, and indirectly, against American politicians. But countless Salvadorans want fairness and clean elections. And ... we were there because the Salvadoran Election Tribunal invited us. To be witnesses not to the success of one party, but to the success of the system."

As one of our SHARE monitors, Robert LeLeux, said, 'You can´t quantify the power of witness. Our tax dollars are already sending a message to this community. We have a moral obligation to counter that message.'"

ELECTION DAY - El Salvador Peace Team 2014
The observers´day started with a wake-up call at 3:45 a.m. so we could straggle down to a boxed breakfast and bus to the CIFCO Convention center in the capital city of San Salvador.

The doors were supposed to pen for setup at 5:00, but they didn´t get going until 5:30. Inside there were 69 tables with corresponding voting booths. Each table had an administrative team who were from different parties. They received a sealed box of voting materials which was only to be opened in the presence of all three. In addition they had "vigilantes" or "watchers" from each party.

Because past elections saw so much fraud and corruption, the system has been set up to be as foolproof as possible. Each table has two lists of the same 500 names, each name with a picture of the voter. Voters find their table (alphabetical order and their National ID is matched to the 1st list. Illiterate voters are assisted.

One of the officials asks the voter to show their hands, because when someone has voted they get indelible ink on their thumb. Then he or she stamps the space next to their name on the 1st list. Another official signs and stamps a numbered ballot and gives it to the voter. The voter goes to a booth, marks it and puts it in the ballot box. Then they sign list number two and dip their thumb in the ink. 

Safeguards, Accommodations and Risks at the Polls
Blind voters are given a template with braille so they can identify where to make their mark. The ballots are illiterate-friendly. Instead of names,they had five colored flags of the five parties,and the voters just make a big X over the flag they wanted to vote for. (This election was only for the president, so it didn´t have to be long and complicated.)

While I was watching, a woman came up who had some sort of stain on her index finger. The officials were really suspicious. Eventually they smelled her finger and finally let her vote. I asked if the ink had a particular smell. Yes. Could I smell it? Yes, but be careful. The"careful" came a second too late as I got a noseful of pungent, stinging smelling salts!

A few problems occurred because people showed their vote to others after leaving the booth.  The reason this is strictly forbidden is because, when vote-buying occurred in the past, the buyers wanted proof that the voter had actually voted for the one he was paid to vote for. The booths were sort of funny - they had a paper curtain with a little flap in it, so the voter stood outside, stuck the ballot inside, peered over the top of the curtain and marked it that way. We had to watch to make sure no one slipped a phone out of their pocket to photograph the ballot paper (another way of proving who they´d voted for).

Counting, Wrap Up and Observations
At the end of the day, the two lists were counted (my table had a discrepancy of one,and they had to go through them one by one to find the glitch). Then the unused ballots were counted and stamped "unused."

Finally the ballot box was opened, and in the presence of all the officials and "vigilantes" the ballot papers were taken out one by one, the vote read out, the paper shown to all and then handed to the head vigilante of the relevant party. Disputed ballots were argued over and only handed over when the vigilantes and officials all agreed. If they couldn´t agree, it was voided. Our table had one voided ballot.

When the box was empty, each party counted their ballots and reported the total, which was tallied against the number of unused ballots. The results were entered onto multiple copies, for all the parties, the electoral commission and it almost seemed, the chief commissioner´s cat. The numbers were finally reported to the electoral recorder and all the unused materials, stamps, etc., sealed into the box they came in and returned.

It was a labor-intensive process with constant checks and counter-checks. Nothing could be decided by any one person, or even any one party. But it pretty much guaranteed that everyone knew what had happened at that particular table, and what the results were, and even how disputes had been resolved.

Waiting times? At CIFCO, there was never a line waiting to get in, except at the beginning. Voters came in a steady stream, all day long. People at the door directed them in the general direction of their table. Those in wheelchairs were helped by the Boy Scouts. There were 69 tables in the Center, with an average of 250 voters at each during the day, so about 17,250 people voted in the course of the day. I never saw a line at a table longer than about 6 people.

One thing that surprised the observers was the almost carnival-like atmosphere. Outside the center, there was a constant stream of cars honking, and music playing. The sidewalks were crowded with vendors calling their wares. Cookies, cookies! Pop! Party souvenirs, best prices! Mango-mango-mango! Inside, whole families came to accompany a voter. The vendors didn´t make as much noise inside but they were still there. I spoke to some Finns from a group of election monitors from Europe, and they were saying, "In Finland, when we vote we´re so silent, it´s like going to church!"

At 5:00 a.m., when the center was supposed to open, both the major parties already had tents up and were making lots of noise.

I have to say the party of the Right had a lot more money to spend on tents, balloons, signs, drums, banners, food, etc. Their music had a triumphal, bouncy, we´ve-already-won air. I also noticed a certain racial divide: none of the right-wingers had "Indian" features, most of them had a middle-or-upper class air, and a lot of them were tall, fat and/or had big booming voices. (I think the reps were chosen partly for that.)

The workers´ / ex-guerrilla party had more country people, and more that looked Indian, and none that were fat. Or tall or overbearing. Their music was strong, serious, and determined - in a minor key but very upbeat.

Though I´d been prepared for some disorder, people were enthusiastic but purposeful. There were only one or two fights that had to be prevented that I know of. I was almost wondering why the election monitors were needed in the first place, when I got to talking to some who had been there for previous elections, when ballot destruction was wanton and voter intimidation was totally out in the open. In every year, the voting has gotten more and more fair and transparent.

The USA has for many years supported one party in Salvador: the right-wingers. Our government has validated the Right´s use of blatant electoral fraud and recognized the Right as the "legal" government of El Salvador even when the other party won. As Robert Leleux, one of our fellow SHARE monitors said, "You can´t quantify the power of witnessing. Our tax dollars are already sending a message to the Salvadorean community. We have a moral obligation to counter that." 

The Value of Election Monitors 
The thing is, Election Monitors are a part of the process. Our witness has in the past forced electoral reform, little by little, until now it seems to produce a more honest and transparent result.

For years, the USA has supported the Right wing party and accepted the results of fraudulent elections. I even met one guy who told me if we "LET" the other party win, we´re helping the communists.

The trouble is, the USA has confused Nationalism with Communism. The left is only "left" because they´re against having their land taken away, their freedoms taken away and their countrymen killed by the ones who identify themselves as "Right" and as "Friends of America" even though their actions are profoundly un-American. The oligarchs in El Salvador have duped America into supporting them, and our country hasn´t gone into the nitty-gritty deeply enough to tell the difference.

So we were there to be witnesses to an election that may go against the oligarchs, and indirectly against American politicians. But countless Salvadorans want fairness and clean elections. And if we help them have it, they´re one step closer to being the kind of country we SHOULD want to create. The "American Dream" is a dream many Salvadoreños have - a country that gives everyone a chance even if they´re on the bottom of the heap, and a country that plays by the rules.

Lastly, we were there because the Salvadoran Election Tribunal invited us. To be witnesses not to the success of one party, but to the success of the system.

As one of our SHARE monitors, Robert LeLeux, said, "You can´t quantify the power of witness. Our tax dollars are already sending a message to this community. We have a moral obligation to counter that message."

MPT Featured by Metta Center, and Part of the National Shanti Sena

 “When something big (violent) was happening, we wanted to be able to deploy peace teams as quickly and as effectively as the military deploys their troops and as the police deploys officers.”  - Mary Hanna, MPT

The following is an excerpt, read the full article by the Metta Center for Nonviolence, featuring MPT, here: http://mettacenter.org/blog/building-movement-peace-teams-training-coming-city-near.
[MPT] follows a unique model of short-term deployments to both domestic and international situations. Domestic deployments, she describes, are typically very short (1-3 days) and often revolve around single events—past examples have included everything from Ku Klux Klan rallies to Gay Pride parades. Participants in domestic teams need to have attended at least eight hours of training with MPT, and larger deployments are often broken up into smaller autonomous teams for increased flexibility. International deployments are longer, ranging from roughly three weeks to about three months. Preparation for these team members is much more intensive and includes regionally specific training, strategy-building and personal/team awareness exercises, and even simulated experiences such as those one might encounter during the deployment. Mary explains that the goal of all this is to send people who are personally centered, able to work together cohesively, and aware of the general dynamics (at the very least) of the situation they’re about to enter – the hope being that such a team could be a help rather than a hindrance to the local community.
I was curious about the three-month upper limit to international deployments, and Mary helpfully points out that the most common site for MPT international deployments has been the West Bank—and that three months is the longest duration for which one can obtain a visa to travel to the West Bank. This deployment length may shift as MPT engages with communities in different parts of the world, but it is likely to remain relatively short in comparison to the international peace team deployments of other organizations. Mary recognizes that this (the shorter duration) poses certain challenges to the way peace teams operate on the ground, but she argues that the more condensed timeframe also lowers some of the barriers to participation in a team and thus allows for broader investment in the concept. She adds that in this context the capacity for continuity, relationship-building, and on-the-ground familiarity comes from peace team members called “anchors” who return to a region repeatedly (and at overlapping times)—allowing MPT to maintain a constant presence in the community over the course of different peace team deployments.
Efforts to scale up this concept of peace teams have brought MPT to the next stage of its journey as a founding member of the Shanti Sena Network of North American peace teams. This network is composed of a variety of organizations across the U.S. and Canada, and it was inspired by Gandhi’s idea of a shanti sena, or ‘peace army.’ Mary explains that “when something big (violent) was happening, we wanted to be able to deploy peace teams as quickly and as effectively as the military deploys their troops and as the police deploys officers.” To do this, the groups need to develop a standardized training and a network to mobilize people in response to violence—to get those trained teams to the places where they are needed, and to do it quickly. They are beginning by coordinating their curricula to include a basic training that all agree is foundational for peace team work, and they hope that this coordination and cooperation in training will also start to build up the networks of relationships that can later be used to mobilize and dispatch trained teams to situations where violence threatens. Over the long haul, they hope to bring Gandhi’s vision of a ‘peace army’ to life in North America.

- Published Posted on February 5, 2014 by the Metta Center for Nonviolence 
Note: If you are interested in getting trained the skills and strategies for building a national movement of local peace teams, we have good news: MPT Is going to be going on a nationwide tour to do just that. 
You can find out more about where they will be at this link, and contact them if you would like to host them in your town.


Meta Peace Team - National Nonviolence Skills Training Tour

Thanks to the amazing generosity of the Sisters of Mercy - West Midwest, Meta Peace Team is able to offer nonviolence skills training across the U.S. Below is our current schedule - It will be updated as more sites are secured. Please let your friends know - - This is a wonderful opportunity!

Please "share" and help us spread the word!

Click on the photo for site details.

Read more here: http://www.metapeaceteam.org/#!national-training-tour/cjlr


Team Photos from the Polls/Polling Day - El Salvador

As you may know, national elections were completed in El Salvador this week (and our team was on site). A second round of voting is scheduled for March, the run off will be between FMLA (who received 49% of ) and ARENA (received 38%). SHARE is looking for election observer delegates for this second round of voting; if you are interested in a possible Peace Team for this event, please contact Nicole (MPT) at NicoleR.mpt@gmail.com.

We (the MPT Election Monitoring Peace Team) were stationed at the polling station when the current president of El Salvador cast his vote, and captured this video.

During our orientation to election observation, we learned the specifics of the process of the processes used at the voting stations...everything from checking IDs with pictures from the official lists, to the way unused ballots are counted and returned in taped boxes. We saw these methods implemented at the polls on polling day.

We'd like to share some of the photography/documentation we collected.

Notably, see below photos of unclear ballots that are in dispute, and also a small 'drone' flying machine that dropped illegal party-specific confetti inside the polling place.

As we arrived early morning, national news were already on site at polling stations. 
An image of exuberance/nationalism at the polls.

Election Monitors/SHARE gather at polling station - before dawn!

Setting up inside the polling station.

Setting up inside the polling station.
Polling equipment. 
Checking ID's at the polling place.

Polling supplies.

Setting up inside the polling station.

Checking ID's and following procedure at the polling station.

Support for a certain party.

Small 'drone aircraft' presumedly deployed to get attention for a certain party, that dropped illegal FMLN confetti on the polling station.

Outside the polling place, later in the day.

Voters lined up.

Unclear ballots are in dispute.

Unclear ballots are in dispute.


Election Monitoring Completed in El Salvador

An update to MPT readers, friends, family:  Yesterday MPT's election monitors completed their observation work at polling stations.

Everyone on the Team is safe and well.

They are working on reports and documentation about their work, and more will be posted here on this blog shortly.  Please watch out for the next Team Report.



Report #4 From El Salvador - Election Information & Why We're Monitoring

Watch for our report on Polling Day next!  In the meantime, here is some basic information about elections in El Salvador this year.

Presidential Elections are held every five years with one term limits. Citizens (at home and abroad) may vote in two rounds depending on the results of the first round on February 2, 2014. If one candidate fails to win with more than 50% of the votes, there will be a second round. The second round will be between the two candidates who received the most votes in the first round. The second round will occur within 30 days of the first round.   (via SHARE)

The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) oversees the electoral process. They need only a simple majority of 3 of the 5 judges to make a decision.

Polls indicate that this could be a close race among Ceren (FMLN), Quijano (ARENA), and Saca (GANA/UNIDAD), therefore a second round of the election is possible.

Mauricio Funes, the current president, is the first FMLN nominee to win a presidential election.  In prior elections since the Civil War ended in 1992, ARENA won 4 times by as much as 2/3 of the vote. Voter turnout dropped, perhaps due to the feeling their vote did not matter and difficulty getting to the voting centers. This year there are two changes: voting will occur in the municipalities where people live and there will be absentee ballots for those citizens living in other countries, such as the USA. Voting closer to home is expected to decrease fraud because officials from the municipalities are more likely to know the people voting.

There have been reforms under Funes. Some inequalities based on gender and poverty have been addressed, and there have been truces with the gangs. With over 1500 Voting Centers in a country with close to 7,000,000 million people and the size of Mass., it should be easier for people to vote, however, it is reported that not all have been able to register.

To increase the transparency of the electoral process and present evidence whether or not there is respect of the wishes of the people. Meta Peace Team (MPT) has joined the other 80 some SHARE delegates (ages 18 and over), both experienced observers and first timers, from various parts of the Americas.

Our day will start early when we leave for the Voting Centers very early in the morning at 4:30am (before darn).  The polls are open from 7:00am to 5:00pm, with vote counting that may continue as late as 10:00pm.  We are to observe: how the officials complete their tasks; how the voting centers function; how the political parties and others behave; and how the citizens behave.

Report #3 From El Salvador - Understanding the Parties/Candidates


Five political parties are competing in El Salvador´s 2014 Presidential Election: Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN); Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA); UNIDAD;  Fratenidad Patriota Salvadoreña (FPS); and Partido Salvadoreño Progresista (PSP).

Salvador Sanchez Ceren (FMLN candidate), the current Vice President, proposes to increase employment; via a public bank and industries; improve security through police technologies and anti-drug abuse activities; and increase educational opportunities. (SHARE)

Norman Quijano (ARENA candidate), the current mayor of San Salvador.  He indicates he plans to reform the economy to increase employment; decrease poverty; and increase security. He would use government investment in public/private partnerships and use the military to counter gang activity. He advocates “fuersa con fuersa”,  and a no truce “tregura” approach. He says everyone will have access to potable water and electricity; and El Salvador will be “an ideal place for investment.”

Antonio “Tony” Saca (GANA candidate with UNIDAD support), a former president, indicates he plans to increase international investment in El Salvador and increase the quality of education.  Because of his work there are now UNIDAD Clinics for the poor. He says he will support dairy and livestock industries; cut pesticide regulations; and increase the use of farm equipment.

Oscar Lemus (FPS candidate) indicates that his priority is security and Rene Rodriquez (PSP candidate) has security; social wellbeing; and development as priorities.

Meta Peace Team - Team Report #2 from El Salvador, With Photos

I didn´t see the connection between a group monitoring the election, and an organic farm, until the phrase "Food Sovereignty" floated past.

People can't be free to live a decent life if they´re hungry and/or malnourished, until they themselves have control over where their food is coming from.

I personally get my dough out of an ATM and then go trawling the week´s bargains at the local food outlets. For the the Salvadorean campesinos (country people), that isn´t an option.

Land is the first issue; then the quality of the land, and finally the food value of the the crops.
The instability that led to various insurrections and, most recently, to the awful 1981-92 civil war, started in 1882, when government parceled out all the land to a few big families so they could grow coffee, which was hailed as a cash crop that would turn El Salvador into an earthly paradise. Unfortunately, the campesinos had only a few months´ work each year on the coffee plantations, and no place to grow corn or beans. Governments in general, take note: creating a starving underclass is not an effective way to promote national stability.

After the civil war there was land reform, but a string of governments allied to the "oligarchs" - the plutocratic families that still own most of the land and businesses - delayed giving people the titles to their new land. Between 1992 and 2009, there were only 4000 titles granted. The current government has given out 40,000.

SHARE doesn´t just do election monitoring. They´ve been in El Salvador since the civil war years. They started out giving aid to victims of the violence, then branched out to other forms of aid such as defending civil rights, giving literacy classes, micro-loans to start small businesses, and promoting sustainable agriculture.

The cooperatives we visited yesterday were some of the few that have been around for a while. The main one was CIETTA, the Center for Investigation, Experimentation and Transfer of Eco-agricultural Technology. They´ve been partnering with SHARE for over 15 years.

Land quality. This is related to farming practices on the one hand, and bigger issues such as deforestation and global warming, on the other. One of the SHARE staff, Mike (Miguelito), an expert on trees and climate, shocked me when he said that El Salvador is the 2nd most deforested country in Latin America. (Haiti is the 1st.) It´s so green! But the coffee bushes, pasture and weeds that make it so lush-looking provide a fraction of the carbon sequestering that a tree would have done. Now nine of ten Salvadoreños are at risk from climate change, either because their crops will fail if temperatures get past the optimal growing limits, or because they´ll be flooded due to fewer trees not being able to hold water in the soil, or because they live in the cities and the farmers won´t be able to get enough food into the mercados.

A representative of CIETTA talked about the "Green Revolution" in less than complimentary terms because they created plants that are dependent on chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Those fertilizers feed a) the plants and b) the chemical companies, who in turn use their profits to influence governments.

After 50 years of "Green Revolution" crops and chemicals, the land has been denuded of biological activity because of being bombarded with toxic chemical input. The land has got so it simply can´t respond without the chemicals. Salvadoreños say the land is "Fatigado," or fatigued. This means that farmers HAVE to buy chemical fertilizer and pesticides, or their crops don´t grow. It´s gotten so that production costs for farmers are HIGHER than for US agribusinesses. Then, because of the CAFTA free trade agreement (no tarriffs) US agribusinesses can flood the Salvadorean market. Local farmers simply can´t compete. Many of them move to the city, where they fill up the shanty towns you can see from your bus (but are discouraged from venturing into). Many others look for jobs -- where? Well, in the USA, for one place.

Eco-agriculture, or organic farming, on the other hand, "feeds the land itself," so it´s not only able re-establish a natural balance to the land, but to nourish people more safely, along with bees, birds, alternative crops, and everything.

SHARE and CIETTA are into education in a big way. They work with schools and the agronomy department of the National University, but more importantly they work with other farmers, in a "campesino to campesino" program to promote organic practices like creating organic fertilizers, inter-planting (having large fruit trees provide shelter for shade-dependent crops like cacao), and using native seeds which require less water than hybrids.

SHARE´s objective is to plant 10,000 fruit trees in the next few years, and they´re looking for varieties of native trees that are most resistant to climate change, that will have the best market value, and provide the best eating. Avocados fit the bill; so does Guanábana, a big fruit that provides the MOST refreshing juice I´ve ever tasted, AND has anti-cancer properties. The biggest hurdle to its popularity in the USA is that no one can pronounce it, and the English name (Soursop) doesn´t sound that tempting. So learn to say it (Gwa-NA-ba-na) and pester your local Quikki-Mart to get you some.

A big surprise was the bread-nut tree, or ojushte (oh-HOOSH-tay). It was known to the Maya, but totally ignored by the Spaniards when they came. A few Indians continued to make flour from the nuts, but it wasn´t until very recently that anyone thought to see if the flour was anything more than "poor people´s stuff they only ate if they couldn´t get anything else." Surprise! It has more protein than practically any other plant product, plus more calcium than a glass of milk and a load of vitamins and minerals. PLUS it tastesdelicioso, muy delicioso! Clever ol´ Indians!

Americans are afraid of cancer; the Salvadorean peasant farmer is afraid of kidney failure. It´s equally painful and just as terminal for a poor campesino who can´t afford dialysis or a transplant. And there has been an epidemic of kidney failure among farmers which has been directly tied to the use of agricultural chemicals.

Recently, CIETTA has gone to the National Assembly with a list of 53 toxic chemicals that have been shown to damage people´s health. They want these banned. Unfortunately, a lot of them are imported, and a lot of fat cats make a lotta moolah off them. The import value of just ONE of them was $500 MILLION. Not surprisingly, the cats with the fattest pockets pressured the President of El Salvador to take 11 of the worst ones off the list. There is fear among the farmers that if the fat-cat´s party wins this election, even the remaining 42 will never get regulated.

The campesinos are confident that, if their votes are counted, they´ll win. It´s the counting they´re worried about.

More Information on El Salvador Elections from SHARE

Written by SHARE: Who Will be the Next President of El Salvador? Open-Forum with Presidential Candidates

Background and information about Election Monitoring in El Salvador 2014.

February 2, 2014

Tomorrow, eighty SHARE delegates will travel throughout El Salvador to participate as international observers in the 2014 Salvadoran Presidential elections.

Yesterday, these delegates had the privilege of meeting the Vice Presidential candidate for the three largest political parties in this elections: FMLN, UNIDAD, and ARENA. While the political campaigns officially ended on Wednesday and political parties can no longer promote their candidate, the vice presidential candidates answered a series of questions covering the economy, security, and education.

To open the forum the first presenter, FMLN Vice Presidential candidate Oscar Ortiz began, “I want to thank CIS and SHARE for bringing you here to help the Democratic process. Thank you for accompanying us at this historic moment. I won’t ask you to vote, but I will tell you that we will win.”

Ortiz explained the FMLN’s top five priorities:

1. Grow the economy to both improve jobs and create more jobs

2. Education, invest more in the people of El Salvador

3. Security,guarantee greater safety for families and entire communities
Continue to lower the homicide rate
Reign in extortion
Reform the prison system in El Salvador

4. Continue with social inclusion programs

5. Strengthen the democratic system in El Salvador

Ortiz recognized that though the homicide rate in El Salvador has decreased from 83 per 100,000 in 2009 to 42 per 100,000 in 2013, too many Salvadorans continue to suffer from high levels of violence. The mass immigration to the United States has torn families apart and the FMLN will invest in children, art, community programs that will reconstruct the social fabric of Salvadoran society.

“We don’t want our biggest export to be people. We are grateful for the way people in the U.S. have received our people, but we need to ensure that our people can stay here.” said Ortiz.

As the former mayor of Santa Tecla, Ortiz piloted a similar model where the local government invested in marginalized communities to include them in society through art and educational programs. In the past five years Santa Tecla went from one of the eight most dangerous municipalities to one of the safest municipalities in San Salvador.

In regards to the economy Ortiz explained that exports from El Salvador grew by 45% in the last five years as well as increasing the connectivity of the country through investing in highways and roadways.

Ortiz also expanded on the educational policies of the FMLN. In the past five years the illiteracy rate in the U.S. decreased from 17% to 12% through the National Literacy Program. In the next five years the FMLN will invest in increasing the technology that is made available for students.

The second Vice Presidential Candidate to present, Francisco Laínez, started his presentation by discussing the UNIDAD party’s commitment to gender equality. The UNIDAD party is the only political party in El Salvador with a women in charge of their political campaign. Laínez also discussed the UNIDAD party’s plans for their Allianza Mujeres program that will provide access to business loans for low income women. As part of this program the party is committed to launching a daycare program on June 1st that will be coordinated by local churches and will provide children with food, clothing, and where they can learn to read and write, as well as learn morals and values from the church.

On the issue of national security Laínez stated that the country needs to, “Invest more in poor people so the children can be children and have opportunities to learn and to plan.”

The UNIDAD party has a three step plan to address national security:
Rehabilitation of gang members
Strong police force to investigate

In his response to a question regarding the economy of El Salvador Laínez mentioned that both he and Saca came from the business world and understand how to create jobs. The educational programs of UNIDAD will also contribute to the development of the economy by promoting degrees in English and engineering as well as the development of “morals and values” by reading the bible in schools.

The final candidate to present was René Portillo Cuadra, a former university professor, and member of the ARENA party. Cuadra stated that reducing violence is the top priority for the ARENA party and explained ARENA’s two step approach:
Prevention through better educational programs and more opportunities to support themselves
Develop respect for the laws

In regards to the economy Cuadra stated that the only way for the economy to grow is to encourage foreign investments and to have a government that generates confidence and judicial security.

In response to a question regarding the President Flores’ attempts to illegally leave El Salvador in the past week Cuadra explained that a political party is no more than the people who are in it and that, “All citizens are under the law. We are not covering up corruption.”

Cuadra also mentioned that Quijano and Cuadra are the only candidates who have not served in the national government.

- See more at: http://www.share-elsalvador.org/2014/02/who-will-be-the-next-president-of-el-salvador-open-forum-with-presidential-candidates.html#sthash.3NWrnGFl.dpuf

International Election Monitoring in El Salvador with SHARE

Electoral Delegation 2014

January 31, 2014

(Update from SHARE organization.)

Delegate Michelle Hannahs giving a literacy circle in Nueva Concepción, San Vicente school supplies.
Delegate Michelle Hannahs.
Garnered by a frenzy of democratically charged delegates, SHARE and several other solidarity organizations have been busy at work educating more than 200 International Observers on issues such as; democracy, food sovereignty, literacy, human and LGBTQI rights. 

Delegates have spent time learning about the history of SHARE as well as its current projects and focuses via various mediums, for example: a group of young people, from MPR-12(connect info) put on a short skit depicting SHARE´s role in accompanying the Salvadoran people while they struggled during the armed conflict. This morning, SHARE delegates attended a forum with the three primary Vice Presidential candidates from the FMLN, ARENA and UNIDAD. Later this afternoon, the delegates will begin their in-depth elections observation training. 

But the most exciting and significant is yet to come: Election Day. The delegates will disperse throughout the country to assure a fair and democratic process. They will observe various sites in San Salvador, including two of the largest voting centers in the city. Other groups will go to Ahuachapán, San Jorge, and Tacachico to monitor the voting process. All observers will make frequent call-ins to SHARE´s office team who will then consolidate the information into a report for the TSE (The Supreme Electoral Tribunal) just twenty-four hours after Election Day. On February 4th, SHARE and the other solidarity organizations will present their findings to the public at a press conference.

Over 200 International Observers this morning, at an open-forum with the three primary Presidential Candidates. (Photo Credit to Anna Fuqua-Smith)