This was just published today on Voices' blog.
Days before El Salvador’s recent presidential elections, a small chorus of Representatives from the U.S. Congress spoke out against the FMLN political party and their presidential candidate Mauricio Funes. Of those that spoke out, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) was one of the most vociferous.
In a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives, Rep. Rohrabacher labeled the FMLN a pro-terrorist political party that has links to Iran, al-Qaeda, the FARC, Cuba, and Hugo Chavez. He added that while Salvadorans are free to vote for whomever they like, if they elect the FMLN, the U.S. should end the temporary protective status (TPS) for Salvadorans in the U.S., and cut off the flow of remittances to El Salvador. Rep. Rohrabacher and officials from the State Department made similar threats during the 2004 presidential elections in El Salvador, contributing to the ARENA’s victory over the FMLN.
Despite the last minute threats, on March 15, 2009 Salvadorans elected Mauricio Funes as their next president. While Rep. Rohrabacher’s comments on the House Floor caused a stir the week before the elections, the media has largely ignored them in their coverage of the Funes victory. Rep. Rohrabacher on the other hand posted a C-SPAN video of his speech from the House floor on the front page of his official website - http://rohrabacher.house.gov/.
Contrary to Rep. Rohrabacher’s threats, El Salvador’s relationship with the U.S. remains strong. President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton both called to congratulate Funes on his victory, and to schedule meetings with him at an upcoming summit. Funes –a moderate and party outsider– has reiterated that he will respect trade agreements and international law, seek to stem the flow immigration, and maintain strong ties with the U.S.
Within hours of Rep. Rohrabacher and others inserting themselves into the Salvadoran presidential campaigns, thousands of U.S. citizens were calling the State Department to demand a statement of neutrality from the Obama Administration. State Department officials readily obliged by restating their neutrality and willingness to work with the next Salvadoran president. The statements made by Rep. Rohrabacher and others beg the question – do these Congressmen have intelligence or information on the FMLN that the State Department and President do not have, or were other interests in the balance? We propose that the answer may lie in Rep. Rohrabacher’s connections with the Pacific Rim Mining Corporation’s struggle to secure mining permits in El Salvador. (Click here for background information on Pacific Rim)
Early in his career on Capitol Hill, Rep. Rohrabacher had two aides of interest. From 1990-1997, Paul Behrends was a national security aide to the Congressman, before moving on to become a lobbyist. Erik Prince was also an aide to the Congressman before founding Blackwater USA, the private military company famous for, among other things, providing security to State Department officials in Iraq and Afghanistan. The two former aides have maintained a close relationship over the years. Mr. Behrends has been one of Blackwater’s top lobbyists since its conception in 1996, and Blackwater has followed Mr. Behrends to three different lobbying firms, including C&M Capitolink where he is now employed.
C&M Capitolink is a subsidiary of Crowell and Moring, the Washington DC-based law firm representing Pacific Rim, which recently filed notice of intent to pursue arbitration against El Salvador over the mining permits. In 2008, Pacific Rim also hired C&M Capitolink to represent their El Salvador mining interest on Capitol Hill, as well as at the State Department, and National Security Council. Among the three lobbyists that worked on Pacific Rim’s account was Mr. Behrends, Rep. Rohrabacher’s former aide. At first glance, it may seem odd for Pacific Rim, a Canadian mining company, to hire an expert in international security to lobby on their behalf in the U.S., in order to overcome permitting hurdles in El Salvador. In light of the 2009 Presidential Elections in El Salvador, however, Mr. Behrends becomes a more logical choice.
FMLN presidential candidate, Mauricio Funes made it clear that, if elected, he would not grant Pacific Rim mining permits. In fact, those leading the anti-mining movement are some of Funes’ most ardent supporters, and granting the permits would cost him the support of his base. Though President Saca (ARENA) did not have the political capital to grant the mining permits, Pacific Rim has strong allies in the pro-business ARENA party, including former Finance Minister Manuel E. Hinds who serves as the mining company’s economic advisor. ARENA presidential candidate Rodrigo Avila remained silent on the mining issues, leaving the door open for him to grant the permits once elected.
One of the ARENA party’s central campaign strategies throughout the election was to paint the FMLN as a pro-terrorist party that is a threat to international security. The ARENA candidate and government made numerous charges that the FMLN had ties to or supported al-Qaeda, Iran, FARC, Cuba, and Hugo Chavez, the same charges that Rep. Rohrabacher summarized in his March 12th statements on the House Floor. In 2008, the Salvadoran Foreign Minister even visited the U.S. and publically requested that the U.S. government openly support the ARENA, claiming that the FMLN’s ties to Iran would be a threat to U.S. national security.
We propose that Pacific Rim’s primary goal in lobbying Capitol Hill, the State Department, and the National Security Council was likely similar to the Salvadoran Foreign Minister’s request – that the U.S. government openly support the ARENA and help them defeat the FMLN. Mr. Behrends has the connections necessary to make such an appeal. His experience on Capitol Hill gave him access to Rep. Rohrabacher and others who had spoken out against the FMLN in previous elections. His success lobbying for Blackwater gave him strong ties in the State Department and National Security Council, and the officials with the credibility to denounce the FMLN as a pro-terrorist political party and a threat to U.S. national security.
The FMLN candidate maintained a double-digit lead in the polls for most of 2008, and the ARENA seemed to have little chance of catching up. With the FMLN candidate openly opposed to the mining permits, U.S. intervention in the Salvadoran elections against the FMLN would be the clearest path for Pacific Rim to secure their mining permits. Of all the lobbyists in Washington DC, Mr. Behrends was perhaps the one with the experience and contacts to get the U.S. involved.
In the end, only Rep. Rohrabacher and a few others were the only members of the U.S. government to speak out against the FMLN. The ARENA, Pacific Rim, and Mr. Behrends failed to convince the State Department, the National Security Council, Presidents Bush and Obama, and at least 51.3% of Salvadoran voters that the FMLN is an international security threat. Now that the FMLN has won the elections, Rep. Rohrabacher’s threats to end the TPS and flow of remittances seem a bit empty; and unless President Saca somehow grants permits before Funes takes office on June 1st, it is unlikely that Pacific Rim will be mining in El Salvador within the next five years.