By Jacquie Turner, Spanish Major
Over Spring Break, I had the privilege of traveling, for the third time, to the tiny country of El Salvador to visit my boyfriend and his family. It is the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America, but most certainly, in my opinion, the most beautiful and fascinating of them all. Having previously spent a large amount of time there, I have gotten to know the people, customs, cities, food, culture, and the beautiful mountainous landscape. During my most recent stay, I got to learn about an aspect of the country that I had little previous knowledge of before: the politics.
I was fortunate enough to be there for the presidential elections and to experience them firsthand. I was nervous because I had been told that there were many demonstrations going on between the two main parties and that there was a high potential for violence. El Salvador had a civil war between the right-wing and left-wing parties from 1980 to 1992, but the tension between the two parties still exists today. There are two interesting movies which portray the civil war: “Innocent Voices (Voces Inocentes)” and “Surviving Guazapa (Sobreviviendo Guazapa)”. The former does not really reveal the true horror that truly went on as much as the latter.
I was also extremely excited to be able to be there during such a historical time and to see how everything worked in a different country. El Salvador has several political parties. From those parties, they have preliminary elections where they narrow it down to two main parties/candidates; almost always the left-wing (FLMN) and right-wing (Arena). This year, the candidate for the left-wing party was Mauricio Funes and for the right-wing party was Rodrigo Ávila.
There was an overwhelming amount of tension between the two parties during the days leading up to Election Day. There were signs for each party posted on every available space of wall on buildings, lamp posts, and cars. People wore t-shirts for the party that they supported. There were flags hanging from windows, out of car windows… just about anywhere you looked there was something political. There was nothing civil or calm about this election. I even witnessed, a couple of times, people defacing signs or flags of the opposing party by spray-painting or throwing buckets of black paint all over them.
On Election Day, March 15th, we all woke up early and drove to the designated voting area. Most voting locations were outside with big tents or set up in random schools. The one we went to was outside. There were thousands of people in the streets waving flags, holding up signs, wearing the colors of the different parties, shouting slogans of their party or insults towards the opposing one. The line to get into the voting area was enormous and stretched the length of the road. Once we were finally in, we had to look at a large list of names on the wall that told you which number tent to go to in order to vote. Once we got to the designated tent, they sign you in, you take the poll sheet and fill it out in this curtained cardboard area. Once you turn in your poll sheet, they stick your thumb into this type of pigmenting powder, which turns your skin a dark brownish/purple color. They do this so that you cannot go and vote again.
Once we arrived back to the house, we patiently awaited the results. They had all of the votes counted fairly early, around nine in the evening. The left-wing/FLMN candidate, Mauricio Funes, had won by a landslide. It was the first time in forty years that someone from the left-wing party had been elected president. Everyone was relieved but some were also a little disappointed. They were relieved because there had been much talk of a violent rebellion against the government by the supporters of FLMN if he was not elected. The people who support that party are extremely liberal and were willing to take harsh measures to get their candidate into power. They were also disappointed because with the new president-elect has ideas that some equate with socialism. Socialism is slowly spreading throughout Central and South America, most likely originating from all of the socialist commotion in Venezuela and from their president Hugo Chávez.
All in all, I am very happy to have witnessed such an exciting part of Salvadoran history. I strongly encourage all of you to travel and see the world while you have the opportunity. Traveling not only teaches you incredible things about the people, cultures, and languages around you, but about yourself as a person. Do not hold back because of fear, just go for it! It is worth the risk if it gains you memories of unique, worldly experiences that will last you a lifetime. You will not regret it!¦