Oscar Ortiz, vice-presidential candidate for the FMLN, at the Good Samaritan Church on Potrero Avenue on March 17. Photo Jorge Lopez

Thanks to a recent amendment to voting laws, for the first time ever, Salvadorans living abroad will be able to participate in the Salvadoran presidential election.

During the civil war of El Salvador in the 1980s and mid-1990s, masses of Salvadoran citizens fled to Canada, Sweden, Mexico, Australia and the United States.

One-third of the Salvadoran population today lives outside of El Salvador, said Fatima Duran, an organizer with Tambien Yo, Soy Salvadoreno (TYSS).

TYSS is a campaign organized to provide opportunity for youth who identify as Salvadoran to legitimize their identity by having El Salvador recognize them legally, according to Duran.

El Salvador receives almost $3.8 billion in remittances a year from Salvadorans living out of the country.
That’s about equal to the amount the Salvadoran government gets in tax revenues, said Luis Sanchez, a U.C. Berkeley student and member of Union Salvadorena de Estudiantes Universitarios (USEU).

“With that much power of influence, we have a responsibility to try to involve ourselves [with Salvadoran politics],” said Sanchez, who was born in El Salvador but has lived in the United States most of his life.

Salvadoran activist groups like TYSS and USEU are working to inform people about the exterior voting right.
Recently, they helped host a visit by El Salvadoran vice presidential candidate Oscar Ortiz.

Ortiz, who is the running with Salvador Sanchez Ceren, spoke before a crowd of about 200 people with Salvadoran backgrounds at St. Mary’s Cathedral on March 17.

Ortiz is a member of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), a “leftist, democratic” party in El Salvador.

He and other members of the FMLN looked to spread the word of exterior voting rights for Salvadorans in foreign countries.

In his address, Ortiz referenced Article I of the Salvadoran constitution, which states the objective and end of all government activity is the human being.

“[It is] not just the people in El Salvador,” he said.

If the constitution is to serve Salvadorans, then it serves every Salvadoran no matter where they are, he continued.
“You didn’t ‘decide’ to leave,” he said. “You didn’t ‘decide’ to give up your rights [as a Salvadoran].”

The group of FMLN members will continue to tour the United States, stopping in Washington D.C., New Jersey, New York, Texas and Massachusetts.

TYSS and USEU are also working to help eligible people through the process of qualifying for the absentee vote.
“Our objective is to inform young Salvadorans in the Bay Area who are able to vote in the next Salvadoran presidential election,” said Jennifer Covarrubias, a member of TYSS. “We want to mobilize our youth and facilitate information on the steps and the requirements to register to vote.”

One of the biggest obstacles is that the requisites to nationalize oneself as a Salvadoran are difficult for second generation Salvadorans to obtain, explained TYSS member Iris De Miles.

People who want to vote need to get a Unique Document of Identity of El Salvador(DUI) and provide the applicant’s original birth certificate and that of their parents.

Karina Sosa, president of the ministry of foreign relations of El Salvador, said that requirement could greatly affect people’s ability to vote, for they might not be in touch with their parents or have access to those original documents.
Sosa is adamant about getting Salvadoran-Americans to vote.

“People here are informed and educated and know how El Salvador will be affected,” she said. “We will fight to solidify your right to vote.”

Those looking to qualify should to go to the Salvadoran consulate with all the requirements and be prepared to spend at least half a day there.

For further information on how to register to vote, contact the FMLN Secretary of Education of Northern California: 2161 Shattuck Ave. Suite 236, Berkeley, CA 94704 (415) 309-4813 or fmlneduca@gmail.com