Ali Boyd '11
International Election Observer
Ali Boyd graduated from Furman University in 2011. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science with minors in both Poverty Studies and Latin American Studies. She participated as an international election observer in the first round of the Salvadoran presidential election in February 2014. The sixty-person delegation was organized by CISPES (The Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador) and constituted a coalition of over 4,000 observers countrywide. After a runoff election on March 9th, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal confirmed Sanchéz Cerén of the FMLN as the next president of El Salvador, with 50.11% of the vote.
My First Time on the Frontlines: Reflections from an International Election Observer
“This is all we have to do to avoid war.” And with that subtle, but significant joke, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) official concluded our marathon training for Election Day. I never imagined I would find myself among sixty other delegates learning the mechanics of an election. Yet, there I was, part of the CISPES delegation to monitor the February presidential election in El Salvador. Casually referencing war two days before a tight election lends profound insight into just how far the country has come since 1992.
As a student, I was irrevocably politicized by the history of El Salvador. My Furman curriculum was saturated with facts and figures of the war: the infamous one million dollars a day in U.S. aid, November 16, 1989 - the Jesuit massacre at the UCA, the 75, 000 dead. In the wake of such destruction, my conceptualization of El Salvador was pre-peace accords, not post-conflict.
The 2014 election was in many ways, a catalyst for my understanding of El Salvador. Participating in the CISPES election delegation revealed a country that has resurrected itself. The men and women that suffered unspeakable violence have reconciled the past and started constructing the future they fought twelve years for. In the many meetings and site visits leading up to Election Day, I was exposed to many of these inspiring leaders.
For me, the highlight of the delegation was to witness the political roles women hold. Not surprisingly, it is these once marginalized voices that are now the most prophetic. One of the strongest voices was that of Mirna Perla, a human rights attorney and former Supreme Court Justice. She did not mince words in sharing her analysis on the state of human rights in her country. She reflected on the amnesty and impunity that still reigns, most recently demonstrated with the attack on Tutela Legal. Yet through tears and a quick wit, the loyalty she has to El Salvador was evident.
But the most memorable woman of the delegation was not a featured speaker or a recognizable name. In fact, I never learned her name. She was one of the many poll workers ready to work that Sunday of Election Day. I would later find out she was a FMLN representative, but my introduction to her came at 4:58 am. I heard her before I saw her. She was leading dozens of people in a cheer as they marched to the polling site. “El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido.” (The people united, will never be defeated). The litany of chants exchanged between ARENA and the FMLN revealed a vibrant and evolving democracy, not a country defined by conflict.
We were on sacred ground that day because as observers we were allowed an intimate look into the body politic. At one point during our training, the TSE official explained “because our electoral system is built on distrust … it is assumed that you are not there to exercise their right to suffrage, but to break the law.” But what I saw was the tedious but successful process underway, one where the historical memory of fraud, violence, and manipulation is being converted into a political imagination that celebrates a citizenry exercising their right to vote.
The memory of the call and response outside the polling center, echoing in the early morning hours, is my favorite souvenir from El Salvador. That woman came to defend the vote. She personified the fight of the FMLN Women´s Secretariat to have visible female leaders in the party. She monitored, protested, and advocated. And while it is certainly an important role that international election observers play, we were just complementary. The Salvadoran people own their elections. They fought for the right to elect a civilian government, and they will ensure its viability. Ultimately, the international observers that participated on February 2nd constituted something very simple; we were an audience of over 4,000 people who had come to witness history in the making.
This article was originally written for CISPES, The Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador.