Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

El Salvador Vote Recalls Cold-War Power Play ; Salvadorans Choose a New President on Sunday

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

El Salvador Vote Recalls Cold-War Power Play ; Salvadorans Choose a New President on Sunday

Article excerpt

On the stump the right-wing presidential candidate touts his tight relations with the United States government and warns of a communist threat. The left-wing party is running a former guerrilla commander and avowed communist. The US is taking sides.

Twelve years have passed since a peace accord ended El Salvador's bitter civil war and closed the curtain on one of the US's hottest cold-war theaters. But Friday, on the eve of Sunday's presidential elections, this tiny Central American nation seems to have gone back in time. Its relationship with the US is at the center of the country's political debate once again.

US officials are even making highly controversial statements that hint that relations, including immigration policy, could be affected if the leftist candidate wins.

"A lot of the [US] State Department's high-level people concerned with Latin America came out of the cold-war era, and they continue to see Latin America through that lens," says Geoff Thale of the Washington Office on Latin America, a nongovernmental organization. "From the Central America perspective, relations with the United States are important, not because they need to fight off guerrilla insurgencies or negotiate a peace accord, but because, among other reasons, Central America survives on migration."

Indeed, one of the cornerstones of the campaign by the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), the ruling party, is immigration and the remittances migrants send home. More than a quarter of El Salvador's 6.5 million citizens live in the US, and Salvadoran economist Robert Rubio estimates that remittances account for 16 percent of the country's economy. He likens the flow of remittances to a life-support system for the country's poor economy.

At a rally in San Miguel - in the eastern part of the country where emigration rates are high - right-wing ARENA candidate Tony Saca, a sportscaster turned radio magnate who is leading in opinion polls, asked the crowd to think about what a win by the leftist Faribundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) and its candidate, Schafik Handal, a former guerrilla commander, would mean for remittances.

"The administration that assures tranquility for our brothers in the United States is ARENA and Mr. …

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