U.S. Needs to Call Foul on Salvadoran Election Dirty Trick

U.S. Needs to Call Foul on Salvadoran Election Dirty Trick

Salvadoran voters go to the polls next Feb. 2 to choose between former guerrilla Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the ruling FMLN and San Salvador Mayor Norman Quijano of the ARENA party as their next president. By all accounts, it will be a rough-and-tumble showdown between two parties with starkly different views for El Salvador’s future.

Now, dirty tricks are dirty tricks, but last week President Mauricio Funes, in a bid to boost the electoral prospects of Sánchez Cerén, crossed the line by releasing to the press what he claims are sensitive U.S. Treasury Department documents attempting to damage former President Francisco Flores, who just happens to be Quijano’s campaign manager.

Funes alleges the documents "prove" that Flores misappropriated a $10 million donation from the Taiwanese government while in office, a charge Flores vehemently denies.

First of all, it is impossible, as surely the FMLN knows, to prove or disprove the authenticity of the documents and whether they have been doctored. A subject matter expert I forwarded copies of the published documents to said that they had a "cut-and-paste feel" to them. That said, any statement as to their validity would have to come from the U.S. side, and it is unlikely anyone will comment on confidential correspondence between the two governments.

Secondly, and more importantly, releasing such documents to the press — in the middle of a presidential election no less — is an egregious abuse of power by Funes and a violation of the protocols governing sensitive law-enforcement cooperation between the United States and El Salvador (or any other country for that matter).

Moreover, the documents in question, alleged to be from the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, are much like FBI background investigations in that they record anything and everything on the matter of financial transactions across borders, whereupon investigators then begin the meticulous work of sorting through the accumulated information to determine whether there is indeed any suspicious activity worth investigating further. In short, the documents prove and disprove nothing.

That a foreign government would feel unencumbered in publicly parading purported confidential U.S.-provided information for political purposes is beyond the pale. U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration certainly does not need to address the specifics of any allegations, spurious or not. But it does need to unmistakably call out Funes for his gross abuse of standing procedures that govern such confidential communications between the two countries. And if it is to have an appropriate deterrent effect on other governments that may see the value of using the imprimatur of supposed U.S.-supplied information to discredit political opponents, then the administration ought to leaven its condemnation with a healthy dose of sanctions.