COHA Responds to its Readership: An Open Letter on El Salvador

COHA received the following response to its January 27 article “Mixed Results In Salvadoran Elections” from Carlos Colorado. Below, the COHA staff responds in an open letter:

Kira Vinke’s analysis, “Mixed Results In Salvadoran Elections” was hopelessly bereft of substance and should probably be withdrawn. To wit, Vinke asserts as a central premise of her analysis that, “Despite their agenda of crimes, corruption, fraud and murder, the United States embassy in San Salvador continues until this day to support ARENA and the rightist extremist authorities in El Salvador.” However, Vinke does not cite a single action by the United States embassy in San Salvador that evidences such support, “this day.” Instead, Vinke cites Feb. 2008 comments by the National Intelligence director that Hugo Chavez would help the FMLN. First, comments made a year before the elections are not evidence of conduct sustained “until this day.” More importantly, the comments of the NSC director are not fairly imputed to “the United States embassy in San Salvador.” The same is true for the actions of John McCain in 2007 — the only other example cited by Vinke that post-dates the previous election cycle. Simply put, John McCain is not “the United States embassy in San Salvador.” An award he may have given to President Saca in 2007 on behalf of Congressional Republicans is not evidence of the Embassy continuing to support ARENA to “this day.”

If Vinke had simply neglected to substantiate an otherwise valid premise, her piece would consitute a flawed analysis that should be retracted on the basis of its flimsiness. In fact, Vinke plain got it wrong. A piece posted in the respected Tim’s El Salvador Blog on the same day that Vinke’s piece was published reaches exactly the opposite conclusion as Vinke: “Although the ARENA government pleaded for the US to jump into the fray on the side of ARENA, the U.S. and Ambassador Glazer did not.” The blogger, a Lutheran lawyer and Salvador-watcher who provides almost daily analyses on Salvadoran politics, took pains to refute the Vinke report, noting that it was “based on events which took place in 2004 and earlier.” Having posted over 30 dispatches just on the subject of U.S. relations witn El Salvador, he concluded that, “My own observation is that the U.S. did a reasonably good job so far in the 2009 elections in staying on the sidelines and not taking a public stance which would influence the outcome of the elections.” If the Council on Hemispheric Affairs takes seriously its responsibility to offer the highest quality of analysis of the U.S. role in El Salvador, then you must correct the implications of this sloppy report.

Respectfully yours,

Carlos Colorado
Los Angeles, Calif.



Below is COHA’s response to Mr. Colorado:

Regarding Carlos Colorado’s Communication to COHA

Greetings to him and our thanks for his writing to us about the COHA research piece “Mixed Results In Salvadoran Elections” by COHA Research Associate Kira Vinke, to which we are writing an open letter in response.

Dear Mr. Colorado,

We acknowledge that the traditional status of the U.S. embassy in San Salvador, as an ally waiting on the hill to be hailed to do battle against the dark forces of the left on ARENA’s behalf, has slightly altered. But this does not mean that we should forget the role of that embassy during the 1980s, nor that the role played by the U.S. shouldn’t be closely examined even at this late date. Nor should more recent incidents be brushed aside since conditions are not as bad as they were several years ago. Until Tom Shannon took over as the Assistant Secretary of the State Department’s Western Hemisphere Bureau and a spirit of professionalism began to be exhibited in some of the region’s embassies, Washington’s shenanigans flourished not only in the U.S. embassy in El Salvador, but characterized a number of its other diplomatic establishments throughout Latin America.

The above observation is important, but it doesn’t seem to seize Mr. Colorado’s imagination. His language seems to tell us that he comes to this issue as someone who insufficiently comprehends ARENA’s brutal history against a backdrop of its heinous human rights abuses which to a large extent were responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent Salvadoran civilians during the country’s civil war – someone who might even genuinely feel that the U.S. embassy played a constructive role throughout the 1990s into this millennium. His website doesn’t throw any further light on the subject.

In fact, Washington’s interventionist role in El Salvador appeared to involve much of the daily energy of the outgoing U.S. Ambassador Charles Glazer, and only differed in degrees from the official line being pushed by the administration during the Bush years. The prime polemics during this period were being produced by the then Assistant-Secretaries of State for Inter-American affairs Otto Reich, and his successor, Roger Noriega. During the period comprehending most of the Bush presidency, maybe as many as half of the U.S. ambassadors posted throughout the hemisphere appeared to be directly tasked to intervene in the internal affairs of the country to which they were posted. In the case of El Salvador, this specifically meant espousing the policies that favored the ruling ARENA party in power as well as, at times, issuing resident U.S. visas to controversial but pro-U.S. Salvadoran senior military officers and political officials who had been charged with human rights violations in their own country.

To check out comparable behavior in another U.S. embassy in the region, examine the conduct at the time of U.S. Ambassador Manuel Rocha in Bolivia. With him you will encounter a waterboy for this interventionist policy. Rocha insisted that if the Bolivian left wingers even fairly won a completely democratic election, Bolivia would risk facing a cutoff of U.S. economic aid and other manifestations of U.S. chagrin.

As for the embassy’s partisan role in El Salvador, Ambassador Charles Glazer and “Tim’s El Salvador Blog,” – who are cited by Colorado as his sources – are not the issue. Even though the ambassador worked for the Bush administration until the end of his assignment, he has not been an object of particular scrutiny by this office, although he may well deserve it. And we do not have any fix on “Tim” except Mr. Colorado’s information that he apparently was a Lutheran lawyer who had a connection with the church but wasn’t a minister. But we would like to know more about him: for example, what has been his historic stand on the record regarding the FMLN and ARENA and whether at any time he has spoken out on U.S. acts of intimidation by threatening to call off the Salvadoran Parole status, or close down remittances back home and freedom of travel to their country, at any time, if the wrong candidate was elected. What else was he doing within a Salvadoran context? While “Tim” must have enjoyed his visit with Ambassador Glazer, he may not have been aware of another Glazer meeting, that one with a delegation of the perfectly respectable pro-FMLN organization, CISPES. Members of a delegation of that group which recently visited the U.S. embassy in San Salvador got a less warm reception from Glazer. They reported that he was “aggressive” to them, and that he seemed to have arrived at the meeting with him last July “with the idea of attacking our delegation and rudely countering everything we put forward, to the point of being verbally abusive to at least two of the delegates,” according to the account of one of the delegation members. The group had met with the ambassador to discuss its concerns about possible U.S. acts of intervention in El Salvador’s upcoming elections.

However, because of the challenging nature of the Colorado letter, we have assigned another COHA scholar to assess the relationship between the U.S. embassy and the ARENA and FMLN political parties, dating back to the Clinton presidency. This will include the uniquely intimate relationship between President Tony Saca and the U.S. embassy during this period and the controversial nature of the U.S. embassy under ex-ambassador Rose Likins in the prime time of U.S. embassy intervention in the country. The results of this inquiry will be reported here in a few weeks time.

One thought on “COHA Responds to its Readership: An Open Letter on El Salvador

  • February 5, 2009 at 12:06 pm
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    To whom this may concern,

    I was gratified to see that my critique of the COHA research piece “Mixed Results In Salvadoran Elections” was taken seriously enough to be given a public response. I was especially glad to hear that COHA will assign another scholar to assess the relationship between the U.S. embassy and the ARENA and FMLN political parties. I take the response and the new undertaking as a reiteration of COHA’s commitment to critically sound scholarship and analysis.

    It was in that spirit that I offered my admittedly strong critique — not because I “come[] to this issue as someone who insufficiently comprehends ARENA’s brutal history,” as your response posits, but precisely because I understand that the serious abuses of the past deserve to be denounced in factually unassailable terms. I do believe that I “sufficiently” comprehend the brutality of my native country’s past. That brutality was the subject of my piece, “Justice and the Generals: Holding Foreign Military Officers Accountable for Rape and Extrajudicial Killing; The Case of the U.S. Churchwomen Killed in El Salvador,” published in the Southern California Review of Law and Women’s Studies, Fall 2002. That piece analyzed the brutal repression against the civilian Salvadoran population and their defenders, including the strategic development of targeted rape as a weapon of war. Although you call into question my “imagination,” I take the view that what we need here are hard facts and not much “imagination,” at all.

    Finally, I remain at a loss as to why your staff would not be familiar with “Tim,” when he is so well known. Even the Lonely Planet Guide identifies his blog as a resource for people who want to learn more about El Salvador. The story about the Salvadoran elections in the current edition of the NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER contains the following blurb, along with extensive quotations from Tim: “Tim’s El Salvador Blog, which started in 2004 as a link between a Lutheran church in Milwaukee and its sister parish in El Salvador, has emerged as one of the most reliable sources of news for those who follow events in Central America.” (Which I think is, almost verbatim, what I said about Tim. ELECTIONS IN EL SALVADOR YIELD AMBIGUOUS RESULTS, February 6, 2009 edition, NCR.) It’s a good blog. The lack of familiarity makes me wonder whether there is a significant blind spot that needs to be resolved.

    Respectfully yours,
    Carlos Colorado

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