Sunday, March 15, 2009

Election Day!

I have so much to talk about that I am not sure where to start. I wish they had blogs in 1995 when I moved to Havana. At the time, I just sent out these very long "Letters from Havana" to friends by E-mail in which I noted all the bizarre things that happened to me and all the cultural ironies that I ran across. I stopped writing those when a friend of mine said that he would print out the letters and stash them in the can but that he was getting too far behind and was feeling guilty. So onwards and upwards!

Today is election day in San Salvador. Yesterday, the streets were quite calm although I saw various law enforcement guys throughout San Benito, the neigbourhood where I live. There was a group of 10 cops (male and female) in their quasi-paramilitary outfits on foot going through the Zona Rosa (entertainment district), there were two different types of cops in the parking lot of my local supermarket, and I heard a lot of helicopters out and about (there is a landing pad between our condo and the Hotel Sheraton one street over). I also saw two Japanese scrutineers with their credentials walking around - only a few of the thousands who have descended on the city to ensure these elections are fair.

Helicopters flying in the early morning mist on election day

I heard that the border with Guatemala has been closed - I thought for security purposes but I also heard it might be to prevent either party from bringing in fake voters.

Last night was pretty quiet since the Ley Seca came into effect, prohibiting the sale of alcohol for 24 hours on either side of the polls being opened. This meant that the many bars in our neighbourhood were closed and you could find parking! Of course the Super Selectos chose Friday to have a sale selling booze at cost! So to stock up, I got a bottle of Stoli Gold for $8, a Smirnoff Silver (for cocktails) for $6, and some Campari (for Red Square martinis - equal parts of cranberry, vodka, and Campari) for $10. Now isnt the point of the law to prevent people from getting boozed up and hitting the streets? Oddly, (or perhaps not), this same chain has similar sales before Christmas and Easter.

I am hearing what sounds like the drums of a marching band practicing off in the distance - it is 4:00 a.m.

As I mentioned before, I can see pros and cons to both sides running in this election. I have spoken to a lot of Salvadorans and the basic consensus is that the right wing ruling party has governed for almost 20 years and the rich have gotten richer while the poor haven’t been helped properly. One of my richer friends would refute this strongly and has pointed out all the public works the current government has done - building hospitals and roads. The amount of good that has been done is debatable but most people want to see some change, to let the left wing party take over to see what they can do. The left would be a shoo-in but for the fact that they have some old school rebel guerillas in their midst and there is some fear that they will assassinate their moderate leader and then go hog wild partying with Farc, Chavez and their old friend Fidel.
Wow, now I am hearing the roar of voices chanting along with the marching drums. Sounds like a war party getting their jones on.

The campaign was quite interesting. There were a lot of TV spots, most of them showing crowds walking behind their respective leaders with sweeping emotional music playing. And only a very few talked about the platforms - which were basically the same, i.e. encourage foreign investment, create jobs, help the poor. Instead of going door-to-door (which wouldn’t be very practical or safe in a country with a lot of walls, razor wire and armed guards), their supporters will take over a roundabout or a stretch of road and will fly their colours and give away car flags, stickers, plastic cups, brochures and stick notes emblazoned with their party or leader.

There has been some violence but little humour except for the giant billboards throughout the country. One party will put up a billboard as high as 60' off the ground and the other party would then carry up buckets of "mud" coloured paint to throw on the faces.

Who doesn't like donuts?
The funniest billboard has to be this one, in honour of the right wing candidate who used to be the head of the police and, while he did a good job, isn’t considered to be the sharpest guy around.

The polls are open and there is a feeling of anticipation. This could be a shining moment in the history of this country where the democratic voice of the people rises above fear mongering and prejudice ... or it could spiral out of control until we are reduced to a 10 second video clip on CNN showing police firing at masked prootestors with smoke hanging over this beautiful city. I am keeping my fingers crossed.

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