Salvadorans Push for Right to Vote in Elections Back Home

Members of the Salvadoran diaspora gathered to ask their homeland’s Legislative Assembly to grant them the right to vote next year. (Photo by RCS via La Tribuna Hispana)

Various Salvadoran organizations of Long Island gathered at their country’s consulate in Brentwood to demand that the El Salvador’s National Assembly allow Salvadorans living abroad to vote in the country’s presidential elections being held in March of next year. Currently, Salvadorans who live abroad can vote only if they return to El Salvador to cast a ballot.

The meeting was organized by Red de Comunidades Salvadoreñas (Network of Salvadoran Communities) with the support of El Salvador’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Red de Comunidades Salvadoreñas was chosen in September 2012 to oversee the election process abroad, and is part of the official organization Conmigrantes, an acronym for Consejo Nacional para la protección de la persona migrante y su familia (National Council for the Protection of Immigrants and their Families).

Some community organizations also joined the event via Skype from California and Canada (Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto).

During the meeting, Elizabeth Oliveira, executive director of the Long Island branch of Red de Comunidades Salvadoreñas, emphasized the need for Salvadorans living abroad to have the right to vote. She said Salvadorans abroad deserved to have a voice in the nation’s major political decisions not only because they contribute more than 18 percent of the country’s GDP (gross domestic product), but also because they accounted for a third of the country’s population.

According to 2010 U.S. Census figures, there are 1.6 million Salvadorans in the United States, making them the fourth largest Latino group in the country.

A statement released by the participating organizations asserted: “El Salvador should recognize the contributions of Salvadorans living abroad, beyond the economic support that comes through remittances sent by family members.”

It continued: “It is necessary to be present during the country’s processes of development via participation in different initiatives, in areas like education, culture, health, the economy, and local infrastructure, among others.”

The statement stressed that the Salvadoran government should recognize the familial, community, economic, social, and political ties between the nation and Salvadorans throughout the world, given that such links impact the lives of their families back home. Therefore, “it’s strategic to generate mechanisms so that the impact is positive and favorable for the development of the immigrants’ families.”

They maintained that even though Salvadorans living abroad left their country, “as citizens, they still have rights which the constitution grants them. These include the right to political and civic participation.” They consider participation in the election process to be “a fair recognition, which has been demanded multiple times.”

In addition, the Salvadoran community organizations have started a petition, which they will send to El Salvador’s National Assembly, urging the members to grant the much-awaited right to vote to the Salvadorans abroad.

There’s almost 3 million Salvadoran living outside of their homeland, about half of them in the U.S. (Photo by Jorge Quinteros via Flickr, Creative Commons License)

Knots and Barriers

El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly is about to consider legislation that would give its citizens abroad the right to vote in the national elections. Though a majority of Salvadorans support the right to vote, there’s debate on how to implement it.

The government has proposed that Salvadoran citizens vote by mail; while the country’s opposition parties want the country’s expatriate community to vote in-person. President Mauricio Funes, a journalist-turned-politician, promised voting right to the Salvadorans abroad during his election campaign in 2009. His left-leaning FMNL (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front) supports voting by mail for the expatriates, while the opposition ARENA (National Republican Alliance) has remained silent on the matter, considering voting by mail to be an arduous process.

The cost of carrying out the right to vote from abroad is estimated at more than $20 million, which many believe will be the main stumbling block for the  government to get it off the ground. Those who disagree say it’s not a matter of cost, but of establishing a constitutional right.

Those who don’t think such legislation could be passed contend that out of the nearly 3 million Salvadorans living abroad, only 160,000 have a valid identity card and would be eligible to vote. People with this perspective underscore that the renewal of identity cards at Salvadoran consulates still hasn’t started, like the government promised.

Consul Torres: Identity cards will be issued starting January 25

Meanwhile, Consul General Dagoberto Torres told La Tribuna Hispana that identity cards will officially be distributed at the Long Island consulate starting January 25.

Torres said that on this day, the vice minister for Salvadorans Living Abroad, Juan José García, and Fernando Battle, president of the RNPN (National Registry of Natural Persons), will visit the consulate.

“Symbolically, they will begin the process of issuing identity cards throughout the entire network of consulates in the U.S. and Canada,” said Torres, “thereby guaranteeing that future voters will have this important document, which they’ll need to vote for the first time – if the Legislative Assembly passes the measure.”

Torres invited New York’s Salvadoran community to participate, as well as to come to the meetings that García and Battle will hold on January 24 with the organizations representing Salvadorans on Long Island, with the aim of addressing their concerns.

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