A letter from Tracey King in Nicaragua
April 6, 2009
Monday morning’s headlines read “The People Have Spoken,” “FMLN Wins Elections,” “El Salvador’s Left Wins with the Ballot, Not the Bullet.” I was there to witness this historic and emotional event; democratic change has come to El Salvador.
Through our partner denomination, the Calvinist Reformed Church of El Salvador (IRCES) and as part of a larger call from the World Council of Churches, I was invited to participate as an observer for the presidential elections that took place March 15. I was part of an ecumenical team of election observers representing over eight denominations worldwide. In total, we were 272 credentialed observers sent to 34 municipalities, motivated by our Christian conviction to give testimony to our solidarity and support the Salvadoran people in their democratic process.
During the days leading up to the elections, we met with representatives from the European Union, the Organization of American States, and representatives from the parties in contention. This gave me a sense of the environment in which these elections would be taking place. We learned of concerns about campaign financing and media access. It was clear that the playing field was not level. The right used fear as a major tool of their campaign, and they increased their use of this tool as the left gained momentum. Everyone we spoke with emphasized the important role observers play as guarantors of transparency. Our presence said, “You are not alone, the world is watching.”
Early Sunday morning, I went to visit several polling places in the capital, San Salvador, but by mid-morning I returned to team headquarters for the remainder of the day to help process reports from the field and write up press releases.
Although there were 4,000 accredited observers, I felt I wasn’t a part of just any observation team; I was there as part of an ecumenical effort, representing the church. As the church, I believe we are called to show our concern and speak out for the people. We understood our role as looking out for the dignity of each person and their right to choose for themselves who they want to govern. We were there to lend confidence to the democratic process that values dignity, peace, and justice.
Our last press release came out before the election results were final. We commented on certain anomalies we had observed, urged electoral reform that could make El Salvador’s democracy even more robust, and asked that the final results be accepted and respected, knowing that these elections represent the sovereign will of the people. We said that, “the presidential elections on the 15th of March have marked a historic act in El Salvador. The principal winner of these elections has been citizen participation and the strengthening of democracy in El Salvador. We believe that the challenges of change and of transformation towards genuine democracy begin today with the results of this electoral process and we congratulate the Salvadoran people for being involved in making the dream and triumph of democracy a reality.”
Several hours later, once it was clear that Mauricio Funes, the candidate for the FMLN, would be the next president of El Salvador, our group gathered to reflect on what had happened and to pray together. It was a moving experience. Pastor Miguel Tomas Castro of the Emmanuel Baptist Church of San Salvador gave a powerful reflection, drawing parallels between the FMLN’s victory there that night and Barack Obama’s historical win in November. He recalled a Thursday in December 1955 when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus. She was one in a long line made Obama’s victory possible. Change doesn’t come overnight, but over years. It’s made by those who have a vision and fight for something different. Likewise, Funes did not win the presidency on his own. He got there because of the blood of thousands of Salvadoran martyrs who gave their lives to change an unjust situation, most notable among them, Monsignor Oscar Romero.
El Salvador has been marked by a bloody and violent history. I have witnessed the continued struggle of the Salvadoran people for dignity and the inclusion of the poor and marginalized. I am grateful for our partner church, which has been a prophetic voice for the people of God. I was in El Salvador in 1994 to observe the first democratic elections to take place there. Fifteen years later, I can say that democracy has indeed taken hold in this tiny Central American country, and there is hope.
The day after the elections, I received a message from Pastor Santiago Flores of IRCES to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
THE SALVADORAN PEOPLE ARE CELEBRATING THE HOPE
We share with you a joy that overwhelms us, that for the first time in the history of the country a peaceful and democratic process of transformation has begun. You all have formed a part of this hope with your prayers and your presence, for despite the great difficulties that we have lived, you have never left us alone.
Come and celebrate with us this blessing, joy and happiness.
But we have to say that this is just the beginning, therefore, let’s continue together for our brothers and sisters of El Salvador.
Blessings and peace,
The 2009 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 274