Local Rep. sought anti-corruption push in El Salvador democratic election

July 16, 2021
In The News

Congressional leaders, led by local U.S. Rep. Jimmy Panetta, sought “broad denouncement and swift condemnation” from the Biden Administration regarding reported political violence, intimidation and corruption in El Salvador ahead of its midterm legislative elections Sunday.


“In advance of El Salvador’s February 28, 2021 legislative elections, the political dialogue has devolved into themes of intolerance, violence, bribery, and corruption,” Panetta’s letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken reads. “Such tactics may have contributed to the January 31, 2021 attack on El Salvador’s main opposition party, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front. Gunmen opened fire on political activists killing two people and injuring five others. In the event’s aftermath, the vitriol has continued unabated.”


While applauding President Joe Biden’s intention to work with Central and South American neighbors on issues such as immigration, human rights, corruption and the rule of law, Panetta’s latter said “we cannot ignore violent tendencies and tactics in pursuit of political gain.” The letter asks that the president encourage a peaceful electoral process, denounce attacks against the democratic achievements of the Salvadoran Peace Accord, and affirm the United States’ “commitment to defending human rights, peace, and democracy in the region.”


“President Joe Biden has a comprehensive strategy of U.S. support for regional initiatives and engagement that directly advances our democratic interests,” the legislators’ letter, dated Feb. 24, reads. “However, it must not inadvertently bolster undemocratic or corrupt individuals or systems.”


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This is not the first time the Carmel Valley democrat has taken up the cause of El Salvador’s threatened democracy. In February 2020, Panetta cosigned a similar letter to then-Secretary of State Mike Pomeo, decrying Bukele for his alleged “authoritarian tendencies and tactics in pursuit of policy outcomes.” Some 18 fellow members of Congress joined Panetta in his appeal at the time. This time, 14 Congressional legislators, including district neighbor U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Menlo Park, signed the missive.


Panetta’s 20th legislative district includes a large Latino population in Santa Cruz County including those with heavy ties to the Salvadoran community. According to the U.S. Census, Santa Cruz County’s Salvadoran population reached nearly 1,700 in 2010, representing .6% of the county’s overall population at the time.


Panetta’s latest letter comes in the wake of an appeal, obtained by the Sentinel, that was sent to him last month from the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front parliamentary group, signed by 27 members. The letter accuses the Trump Administration of turning a “blind eye to [Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele’s] abuses,” as long as he cooperated with U.S. immigration policies. The stance, the letter charges, left Bukele “greatly emboldened.”


“The stakes are high for your country, as well,” the parliamentary group’s letter states. “Your new president has proposed $4 million for our region. The money will be quite a gift to President Bukele, his family, his friends and allies if he succeeds.”


The Associated Press was reporting Monday that preliminary results of Sunday’s elections showed Bukele’s New Ideas party and a coalition partner “won several times as many votes as the established political parties, the conservative National Republican Alliance and the leftist Farabundo Marti Liberation Front,” and was likely to have won control of El Salvador’s congress.