El Salvador lacks democratic substance

Regarding the opinion-page column "El Salvador's Cristiani Deserves Praise - and Backing," July 5: The author conveniently overlooks the fact not only that the country's military has murdered most of the 75,000 Salvadorans killed since 1980, but that El Salvador today is a pseudo-democracy with some of the forms but hardly any of the substance of a Western-style democracy.For example, last March's legislative elections were saturated with tainted procedures. The armed forces, closely aligned with the right-wing ruling ARENA party, broke the 100-meter free-zone law around electoral polling places. Equally illegal, ARENA posted many of its supporters at voting booths, handing out food and money to bribe voters. The Jesuit University of Central America estimates that 100,000 to 150,000 people were unable to vote because of electoral tampering, such as stalling the arrival of ballots in areas known to be anti-Cristiani. The claim that reforms have brought significant economic growth is valid only from the perspective of the nation's traditional ruling families. Government figures indicate that 85 percent of Salvadorans presently are living at or below the poverty level. Meanwhile, the US is building a 26-acre, $70 million embassy complex in San Salvador, unprecedented for a tiny nation with only minor investments by US nationals. In contrast, 60 percent of "housing" in the capital is made of cardboard, plastic, and disc arded metal sheeting. No matter how you juggle language, one cannot disguise the maintenance of the status quo by presenting it as reform, or repression as liberty. Marc Siegel, Washington, Council on Hemispheric Affairs

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