With the leftist FMLN party soaring in the polls as the March 9th presidential runoff election rapidly approaches, right-wing opposition party ARENA and its allies have been amping up their red-baiting scare tactics.
Following ARENA’s historic loss on February 2nd, the party’s official campaign took a jolly turn away from its traditional fear-mongering, Cold War style, instead promising “more and better social programs” begun under the current FMLN government and employing a softer, centrist tone. In the wake of ongoing right-wing destabilization and violence in Venezuela, however, the party has returned to its comfort zone, airing television spots perpetuating the misinformation campaign around Venezuela and threatening “21st century socialism,” violence and shortages of basic goods should the FMLN be elected to the presidency. The ad was so provocative that the Venezuelan ambassador to El Salvador wrote to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, calling the ad an inappropriate “intervention into the affairs of our country” and asking for its removal.
While ARENA has been more cautious in its formal campaign, forces allied with the right-wing party have been less scrupulous. Earlier this month, a chilling statement addressed to members of the Salvadoran armed forces and signed by Colonel Alfonso Eusebio Cotto, warned that the “fatherland is in danger, the governing party and its presidential ticket want to co-opt all the state institutions and align us with Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, [and] Nicaragua.” The document, which circulated online, called on the armed forces to cast their votes for ARENA, asking: “Why do they want us to submit to 21st century socialism, which is the same as communism?” and adding sinisterly that, “We have already defended the fatherland with blood and fire.”
In addition to menacing rhetoric, the ARENA party also faces serious allegations of using allied death squads to pump up El Salvador’s homicide rate for electoral gain. On Sunday, February 23, Attorney General Luis Martinez revealed that his office was investigating multiple instances of individuals caught offering money to gang members in exchange for increasing the nation’s murder rate. “We hope that [those apprehended] are not members of a political party, because if so we will denounce it publicly,” said the Attorney General.