The presidential election in El Salvador last week marked the first time that a left-wing political party has been in power, and a Goshen College student was there to help officiate.Bethany Loberg, a senior peace, justice and conflict studies major and Spanish minor, was in El Salvador during the elections on March 8-17.
A week was a short stay for Loberg, who prior to the start of this semester, spent eight months in El Salvador working with Christians for Peace. Upon her return to the States, Loberg connected with Share Foundation, which is based in El Salvador. Through the foundation, Loberg joined nine people from her hometown of Salem, Ore., as members of a delegation of 150 international official observers to the Salvadoran election.
Loberg spent her first few days in meetings that provided general training for her job as an observer and educated her about the current political context in El Salvador and the country’s electoral system.
Two political parties competed in the presidential election: F.M.L.N. and Arena.
Originally, there were four parties in the race. According to Loberg, two parties withdrew their candidates one month before the election as a result of an agreement with Arena. Their removal gave Arena less competition.
During the 1980s, El Salvador was in the midst of a civil war, and the F.M.L.N., which stands for Farabundo Martí Liberation Front, was a coalition of guerrilla groups. Through the peace accords signed in 1991 and 1992, it expanded into a political party.
Arena is a right-wing party that represents the business elites and has been in office for the past 20 years. Since the peace accords, F.M.L.N. has been Arena’s strongest opposition, but the F.M.L.N. has not previously been able to take power due to fraud.
According to Loberg, her job as an international observer was to “help ensure that the election was free, fair and transparent.”
On election day, her group traveled to a variety of different voting centers in various municipalities. From 5 a.m. to 7 a.m., they monitored the officials setting up, and then from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. the polls were open.
The team of international observers was to remain unbiased and ensure that the voting was carried out correctly. “We were accredited by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, which is the organization that oversees the whole election process,” Loberg said.
Loberg said that the U.S. Embassy declared a statement of neutrality towards the Salvadoran election, which has never happened before. The United States has always played a large role in the politics of El Salvador.
Loberg said that this official position of neutrality marked an exciting step. “Part of my role was to ensure that the will of the Salvadoran people gets carried out, rather than the influence of the politics from ‘my’ country,” Loberg said.
The F.M.L.N. party won the presidential election. According to Loberg, this is important. “For many, it’s a moment of real hope and excitement,” Loberg said.
“The country is facing all sorts of challenges,” Loberg said, “and while it’s not like the F.M.L.N. can change everything or make things instantly better, it’s a big step for [the Salvadoran people] to have the opportunity to participate fully in the government. It was a privilege to be there.”