Ada Recinos is EcoViva’s Impact and Engagement Director. Ada was born and raised in Los Angeles to parents who emigrated from El Salvador in the 80s. In January she signed on to become an elections observer through CIS, an organization EcoViva partners with to bring you EcoViva Tours. Ada’s goal was to use the opportunity to learn more about this important election and the historical context leading up to it.
On February 3rd, 2019, Salvadorans went to the polls to choose their next democratically elected president. This was an election that the Salvadoran people should be proud of, regardless of the outcome. After decades of military dictatorships and corrupt oligarchies, transparent election processes are very important to the Salvadoran people. The Supreme Election Tribunal, the government entity responsible for the presidential election, oversaw a peaceful vote that left little doubt that democracy had prevailed and that the people’s voices had indeed been heard.
As election observers, we received a session from a local professor about the sociopolitical context of the Salvadoran elections. What stuck with me from his lecture is that the process of counting the votes, carried out by the citizen poll workers, is based on mutual mistrust. Every step of the way, from setting up the voting centers, to counting the votes, provided multiple opportunities for checks and balances. Representatives from each political party on the ballot were present during vote counts. Due to the complicated set-up and take down processes, human errors were bound to occur, and we saw plenty on election day, but they did not cause us to question the integrity of the votes. All of the volunteers at the voting tables took their roles on with pride and party observers worked together with mutual respect around the electoral process.
I was observing at an election center in the town of Tamanique, a community that historically votes for the conservative ARENA party. It was fascinating to see citizen poll workers show up at 4:00 am, wearing pastel turquoise shirts. For many people, this was their first time stepping out in public as supporters of Nayib Bukele, who campaigned under a pastel turquoise flag adorned with a white swallow known as the “golondrina.” What surprised me the most is that logos for GANA, the actual party Bukele ran under, were nowhere to be found at the voting centers. While Bukele’s supporters were shy in the morning, by the time the polls closed, the shyness turned to cheerful grinning and whispering amongst each other. During the vote count shortly after 6pm, citizen poll worker leaders began frantically running in and out of voting rooms sharing results from the other tables at the voting center. In the neighboring town of Buenos Aires where I observed the closing vote counts, the president of the voting table held up ballot after ballot, proclaiming, “GANA. GANA. GANA.”
An estimated 59.6% of the population turned out to vote and 53% of El Salvador voters chose Nayib Bukele. Salvadorans decided that this millennial politician will be the one to move the country into its next phase. What remains to be seen is whether Nayib Bukele can build a government that the Salvadoran people believe in: one that is committed to ending corruption and one where there really is “enough money if nobody steals.” We are optimistic that this new presidential administration will work with us and our partners in El Salvador as we to continue to make progress on environmental conservation, maintain the ban on metallic mining, ensure the human right to water, and invest in the restoration and protection of critical ecosystems.
My mother and I visited our family in San Salvador shortly after the elections, and everyone kept asking her who she voted for. She said, “Only the people of El Salvador, who live in El Salvador, know what and who is needed to move the country forward.”