Thursday, March 18, 2004

"Unremitting" distortions

This from Catherine Elton in today's Houston Chronicle, describing how the issue of remittances--money sent by Salvadorans in the U.S. to family members in El Salvador, and which comprises 16 percent of the gross domestic product--has been manipulated by the governing party:

"...the ruling party's candidate, Tony Saca -- who polls show is favored to win -- has made a campaign issue of payments from Salvadorans working abroad. Using his party's close relations with the Bush administration, Saca has played on the fears of a nation whose economy is dependent on what are popularly called remittances.

'The message is designed to make people afraid, and it is clearly not true,' says Geoff Thale of the Washington Office on Latin America, a private lobby group. 'The legal status of Salvadorans in the U.S. is tied up with complicated domestic issues and isn't dependent on who is in government in El Salvador.'

...According to [Economist Roberto] Rubio, ARENA began stressing the remittance issue at the beginning of the year, when most polls showed Handal and Saca in a neck-and-neck race.

Rubio and pollsters like Miguel Cruz, director of the public opinion institute at the University of Central America in San Salvador, believe the message is working, especially among undecided voters and those who planned to vote for the first time for the FMLN.

Some analysts believe the ruling party's campaign was buoyed by recent statements from high-level U.S. officials...."

This morning I talked to someone who makes an extremely modest living keeping an eye on cars parked on the street in a residential neighborhood. Throughout most of the 1980s he'd been in the elite Arce Battalion, one of several quick-strike forces trained by the U.S. during the war. I asked him which party he was planning to vote for this Sunday. For the first time ever, he said, the FMLN. Why? Because the current government is full of corruptos.

But, then again, he doesn't receive a dime from remittances.

AFTERNOTE: Tom Long wrote me after posting this, with the following comment, well-taken:

"For the quibble-file record, the "elite" battalions were not really quick-strike in practice, but were generally pretty slow-moving columns of several hundred soldiers. A battalion operation was almost always known about in advance. They relied on superior numbers and firepower, not so much on surprise. Their main job seemed to be to draw fire and engage, and then call in air strikes and/or artillery fire on the enemy once located. They weren't really so elite, either, as they were manned mostly by normal recruits, same as the brigades. My own favorite "elite" battalion was the Bracamonte, which was of course re-dubbed for all eternity as "Brincamonte," when the officer in charge abandoned his post and the troops ended up high-tailing it into Honduras, creating a minor diplomatic incident, and pretty much destroying morale and effectiveness forever. After that, every time the Brincamonte went into Chalatenango it was a bloodbath that would make a strong man weep to see. Once a guerrilla nun in Las Flores told me: "Pobrecitos, los del Bracamonte. Aqui no se les respeta." The mojo of the bad-luck battalion or company is apparently real among armies: once you get that reputation, it tends to just spiral downward from there. For my part, I always knew that a Bracamonte operation was a good time to be in the zone, from a reporter and photographer's very selfish perspective. Lots of good material. As for quick-strike, that was mostly effected by Lurps and/or heli-transport troops after the enemy had been previously located by electronic surveillance or other intelligence. And the latter was counter-acted when the rebel commanders decided to change to guerrilla tactics, from the early years' strategy of conventional batallion-strength insurgent forces. As for the army's different units, it was generally accepted that the best-trained fighters overall were in the air force: the paratroopers and the long-range re-con patrols."

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