Digesting the Salvadoran VP’s Controversial Visit to Long Island

When Salvadoran Vice President Salvador Sanchez Cerén recently visited Long Island, home to a large Savadoran community, protesters greeted him in Freeport, after word got out of Cerén’s reported participation in demonstrations after 9/11 that involved burning the American flag. La Tribuna Hispana ran a series of pieces analyzing the furor over the visit of a man widely considered a presidential contender for 2014. What follows are translated excerpts of an article questioning the motives of the protesters, an interview with Cerén himself, and an editorial.

A delegation of the New York City Fire Department presented Salvador Sanchez Cerén, vice president of El Salvador, with a flag adorned with the names of deceased fire fighters. (Vicepresidencia de El Salvador via Tribuna Hispana)

What the protesters targeted was the fact that the elected officials were meeting a former Comandante of the revolutionary organization FMLN, which had fought for a dozen years in a bloody civil war against US-supported oligarchic regimes, and specifically the story that Sánchez Cerén had burned a US flag at a protest in 2001 – or at least stood by and allowed the flag to be burned, and that his visit and official reception was therefore an insult to this country.

LTH points out that the protesters were mostly white, and that Mayor Hardwick, who is African-American, may well seek re-election next year.

“In other words, common sense indicates that the Salvadoran Vice President’s visit was merely an excuse to attack the mayor of Freeport.   His political opponents are apparently using any little thing to tarnish Mayor Hardwick’s image in the eyes of the town’s voters, in spite of the fact that he has increased the presence of Hispanics in the town government and bureaucracy, for example Fredy Pereira, the first police officer of Salvadoran origin, as well as Freeport’s first Hispanic Chief of Police, Miguel Bermudez.”

LTH also interviewed Cerén. Topics included mail-in ballots for elections in El Salvador, and Cerén’s reasons for visiting Long Island. The translated excerpt below has been condensed.

LTH: What was the goal of your visit?

Sánchez Cerén: It is our duty to look out for all our citizens, whether they live in El Salvador or abroad; it is also part of the goal, visiting during such an important celebration as the Salvadoran-American Day festival, to take part not only in the festivities but also to meet with the authorities who, one way or another, have to do with our community in this country.

LTH: One of the greatest hopes of Salvadorans living in this country is to be able to vote from here [in Salvadoran elections].

Sánchez Cerén: Our administration is working not only to guarantee the vote from abroad, but we also recently approved a law to protect immigrants and their families. … We have established the National Immigrant Commission to guarantee the rights of families, of the children who remain in the country, to give them the opportunity to pursue their studies, and for employment and the chance to develop themselves in a harmonious society.

In addition, LTH ran an op-ed by Eduardo Aldeano arguing for civility. For his own part, Sánchez Cerén said he didn’t allow flag-burning to happen under his watch.

Regarding the story, Vice President Sánchez Cerén himself, who received a United States travel visa from the State Department, said, “I think the truth is stronger and will prevail, because what they said of me is that I burned flags, but there is no proof of that… as the FMLN in our turn, we suppressed such actions,” he noted. And he added, “The communications media need to grow up.”  And we add, in the words of Jean Jacques Rousseau, “Insults are the arguments employed by those who are in the wrong.”

Aldeano also notes the wrongs committed by all sides in El Salvador’s civil war, including U.S.-backed atrocities, and concludes with a call for empathy and understanding.

So, what must be made clear here are two things.  First, if we are going to undertake the task of digging up the past, then we should also dig up the other side’s atrocities – from the Death Squads to the El Mozote massacre and so many other horror stories of the past Salvadoran civil war.  And after all is said and done, as one of Jesus Christ’s aphorisms urges us, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

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