- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 14, 2009

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Salvadorans who live in the United States cannot vote in their native country, but they could impact the results of Sunday’s presidential election because of the influence they wield over their relatives who value both their experience and the money they send.

“Potentially, the people who send remittances have a privileged status over those who receive the remittances, who could listen to the political message that their family members want to give them,” said sociologist Gaspar Rivera-Salgado, professor of immigration and labor at the University of California, Los Angeles. “It’s an interesting political exercise _ an indirect influence.”

Concepcion Guerrero of San Salvador has a son in Los Angeles who sends her about $100 a month. Although she said she makes her own decisions on how to vote, she acknowledged she listens to her son’s opinion.

“We value what he sends to us, for the sacrifice that he made to emigrate and get work over there,” Guerrero told the AP by phone from her home.

She said she plans on voting for the candidate of leftist party FMLN, Mauricio Funes, because she wants a change. Her son is also a staunch member of the FMLN.

Some experts believe a huge number of other voters will be influenced by the people who send money back home. El Salvador received $3.787 billion in remittances from the United States last year, according to the Central Reserve Bank of El Salvador. That represents 17.1 percent of the Central American nation’s gross domestic product.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 474,342 Salvadorans live in the United States, with 394,107 living in Los Angeles. But Carlos Hinojosa, administrator of the Americas program at the Washington, D.C.-based International Foundation for Electoral Systems, estimates the total number of Salvadorans in the US is about 3.2 million _ equivalent to about 45 percent of El Salvador’s population of 6.6 million.

Both Funes, who polls have indicated is in the lead, and his main rival Rodrigo Avila, of the incumbent Arena party, have campaigned in the United States seeking that “boomerang vote.” Funes has visited the U.S. four times, Avila twice.

“Salvadoran politics has moved beyond the borders of the country,” said Rivera-Salgado, who is also researcher and project director of UCLA’s Labor Center. “This is a reflection of the Salvadoran diaspora. The candidates come to say that they will govern not only for Salvadorans in their country, but also for those in the diaspora.”

El Salvador has been a close U.S. ally and rightists say a leftist victory could affect the country’s relationship with Washington. The FMLN has tried to allay any such fear.

“People want change in the United States and they want change in El Salvador,” said Jose Magin Parada, FMLN’s coordinator for Southern California.

It’s noteworthy, nevertheless, that the Salvadoran diaspora includes numerous leftists who fled their country during its civil war.

The possible influence of U.S. Salvadorans in the elections is a singular phenomenon, which probably does not occur with immigrants from any other Latin American country.

Presidential candidates throughout the region are increasingly paying more attention to their overseas compatriots, especially those in the United States, but none has given their expatriates as much weight as Salvadorans, including Mexico, which has many more emigrants than El Salvador.

“You can’t compare El Salvador to Mexico, which has a population of 105 million and some 12 million here (around 11 percent of the population), while El Salvador has a greater proportion,” said Rivera-Salgado. In Mexico, remittances represent approximately 2 percent of gross domestic product.

To attract Salvadorans who send remittances, the FMLN campaign in Los Angeles held events, phone campaigns and gave away phone cards for people to call their relatives and tell them they had sent money and recommend voting for Funes.

The Arena party in Los Angeles also carried out a phone campaign to Salvadoran immigrants, according to one of its leaders Erick Munoz.

“Our focus is not only the people who send remittances but all Salvadorans. It would be unfair to focus just on them,” he said.

Both parties said they carried out similar campaigns in Washington, D.C., the U.S. city with the second largest Salvadoran population _ 196,747 people _ after Los Angeles.

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