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Laundromat politics

Last week, on a quest to complete a school assignment, I found myself inside the Maquina Loca Laundromat engrossed in…

By Magally Zelaya , in Latin American encounters of a Canadian kind , on January 26, 2009

Last week, on a quest to complete a school assignment, I found myself inside the Maquina Loca Laundromat engrossed in a fascinating conversation about Latin American politics.

As it turns out, the two kindly Salvadorian co-owners still have a firm hold on the politics of a country they left over two decades ago. And with the Salvadorian legislative assembly and municipal elections recently held on January 18, they had a lot to say.

In agreement with last week’s international headlines my new friends told me that the FMLN (Farabundo Marti Liberation Front), the country’s leftist party, made major strides in the elections.

The party won 35 of 84 seats in the legislative assembly — 3 more than ARENA, the governing right-wing party. However, ARENA won the key municipality of San Salvador, the country’s capital, for the first time in 12 years.

The FMLN grew from the revolutionary group of the same name that fought the US-backed, right-wing government during the civil war of the 1980s and 90s. They gained official party status in 1992, but have never won the presidential election.

Predictions are that this might be the year that the FMLN ends ARENA’s 20-year reign with their presidential candidate Mauricio Funes. From Chavez, to Morales, to Lula, an FMLN win on March 15 would coincide with the string of leftist governments that are rising across Latin America.

My new friends lost no time in sharing with me their excitement over this prospect of change. They also shared their concerns over the likelihood that election fraud might impede the impending left turn in El Salvador’s political path.

They told me of the allegations (also found on various blogs) that ARENA paid people from other districts and from surrounding countries to come in to the capital, San Salvador, and vote for ARENA; of allegations of people using false identification; and of allegations of ARENA candidates displaying their votes to the public.

That is why the two co-owners are hoping to find people who would be willing to go to El Salvador for the March presidential elections to serve as international election observers and monitor the electoral process — a position I didn’t even know existed!

Alas, as nice as it would be to go to El Salvador and play a part in ensuring that democracy is upheld, I think I’ll likely be here reading the headlines in yet another Latin American encounter of the Canadian kind.