Voters in El Salvador head to the polls Sunday for a historic presidential election. The leftist FMLN party is projected to win, ending two decades of rule by the ARENA party. Thirty Congress members have sent President Obama a letter calling for US neutrality in Sunday’s election. Five years ago, the Bush administration was accused of threatening to cut off aid to El Salvador if voters supported the FMLN. We speak to Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, co-author of the letter to President Obama. [includes rush transcript]
Voters in El Salvador are heading to the polls Sunday for a historic presidential election. Polls project the leftist FMLN party will take power for the first time, ending two decades of conservative rule by the ARENA party. The FMLN is a former guerilla group that fought El Salvador’s US-backed military government in a civil war from 1980 to ’92.
Last week, thirty members of the US House of Representatives sent President Obama a letter calling for US neutrality in Sunday’s election. Historically, the right-wing ARENA party has had close ties to Washington. Five years ago, the Bush administration was accused of threatening to cut off aid to El Salvador if voters supported the FMLN.
We’re joined now from the Capitol Rotunda by Democratic Congress member Raul Grijalva of Arizona. He co-authored the letter to President Obama. He’s co-chair of the Progressive Caucus.
We don’t have much time, Congress member Grijalva, but explain why — what you’re calling for right now, what you asked President Obama to do.
REP. RAUL GRIJALVA: Well, thank you, Amy. Essentially, we’re asking the administration not only for neutrality, but for a word about — a public statement about the intent of this government and this administration to refrain from the activities of the Bush administration in the 2004 election, where we threatened Salvadoran immigrants here, which 20 percent of the population of El Salvador, Salvadorenos, are here in the United States. We threatened them with their immigration status. We threatened not to allow them to send remittances back home to their families, which is 25 percent of the gross national product in El Salvador. And those threats had an effect on the election in 2004.
We’re asking the Obama administration for some real consistency. If we’re going to export democracy, it’s done by supporting the sovereignty of a nation, allowing the people in that nation to make the choice that they want, in terms of who’s going to be their leadership. And in this election on the 15th in El Salvador, where the left has an opportunity to take control of a government, it’s a trend that’s going on in Latin America. And we’re asking the administration for neutrality, just as we want elections here in this country not interfered by any other foreign power.
And what response have you gotten from President Obama?
REP. RAUL GRIJALVA: The indications are that they’re going to hold to neutrality. Public statements from some lower administration people have been that that’s going to be the policy. We’re urging that it come from higher up, from somebody at a cabinet level or, more importantly, from the President himself, saying that — to the El Salvadoran people, “It’s your election. It’s your decision; it’s not ours. And we respect that, the vote that you have coming up.”
Congressman Raul Grijalva, we just have thirty seconds. We just spent the hour talking about single payer. It’s not discussed very much on Capitol Hill. Do you support single-payer healthcare?
REP. RAUL GRIJALVA: Absolutely do. And I think it needs to be on the table in the discussion that’s coming up. I was glad that Congressman Conyers and other single-payer advocates were invited to the health summit. It’s important that it remain on the table. I think the American people support the concept. If we’re going to talk about realistic and real access and real affordability in this country for healthcare for people that don’t have it or people that are underserved with healthcare, then single payer has to be on the table.
Congress member Raul Grijalva, I want to thank you for being with us. He heads back to his district in Tucson, Arizona this weekend.