Thousands Of Miles From Home, Salvadoran Candidates Woo Local Voters (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Thousands Of Miles From Home, Salvadoran Candidates Woo Local Voters

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:08
I’m Rebecca Sheir. And welcome back to "Metro Connection." This week our theme is Latino D.C. And we've been hearing quite a bit about the role Latinos play in our local politics. Well, we're gonna stay on the campaign trail for just a bit longer and turn to an election taking place far, far away. Roughly one in three Hispanics in D.C., Maryland and Virginia come from the tiny Central American nation of El Salvador, where, next year, residents will be choosing a new president.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:35
And as Martin Austermuhle tells us, the local diaspora will, for the first time, play a role in selecting the winner.

MR. MARTIN AUSTERMUHLE

00:00:43
Washington, D.C. is thousands of miles away from El Salvador -- 1,887 miles, to be exact. But in May, that’s how far Salvadoran presidential candidate Norman Quijano found himself from the country he one day hopes to govern.

MR. MARTIN AUSTERMUHLE

00:01:00
Quijano was speaking to supporters from D.C., Maryland and Virginia, hoping to turn their support into victory in the presidential election scheduled for Feb. 2, 2014. The conservative candidate isn’t alone. His left-leaning challenger, Salvador Sanchez Ceren, has made similar trips north, hitting D.C., Los Angeles and other U.S. cities.

MR. MARTIN AUSTERMUHLE

00:01:19
That’s because this is the first year U.S.-based Salvadorans are being given the chance to fully exercise their democratic rights by casting ballots from abroad. And that change adds up to a lot of potential new voters. Close to two million Salvadorans currently call the U.S. home. Locally, there are nearly a quarter-million Salvadorans, and they make up the highest proportion of foreign-born residents in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

MS. ANA SOL GUTIERREZ

00:01:40
After L.A., the Washington, D.C. area is the second-largest in the United States. And so you’ll see that presidential candidates are going to come here, you know, if not only for the vote, but also for donations and for the support. And what they want to be able to say is that they do support the Salvadoran living abroad.

AUSTERMUHLE

00:02:02
Ana Sol Gutierrez, who was born in El Salvador, and since 2003 has represented a portion of Montgomery County in the Maryland House of Delegates. For her, it’s not just the number of potential voters that attract hopeful candidates to our region, but also what they’re worth to their home country’s economy.

GUTIERREZ

00:02:18
Remittances -- remesas -- are a huge part of our gross national product, you know, down in El Salvador.

AUSTERMUHLE

00:02:24
How huge a part? In 2012 Salvadorans abroad sent back just shy of $4 billion -- or fully 10 percent of the country’s economy. That money adds weight to persona and political relationships that span the two countries. Ruben Zamora is El Salvador’s ambassador to the U.S. In 1994, he ran for president as a candidate of the leftist FMLN party, though he didn’t win. Zamora says economic ties between Salvadoran towns and the diaspora abroad are so closely intertwined that when U.S.-based immigrants offer political insight, their friends and family in El Salvador listen.

MR. RUBEN ZAMORA

00:02:57
(Through interpreter) Since they’re always in touch, using everything from letters to Skype, those here that recommend a candidate carry weight, because underneath that advice is the remittance.

AUSTERMUHLE

00:03:15
Ambassador Zamora also points out that the country’s biggest political parties, FMLN and ARENA, have satellite offices in various U.S. cities. They organize events for candidates and provide money and resources to struggling campaigns. He recalls that during one of his runs for office, U.S.-based supporters wanted to offer his campaign some American flair, so they tried to send him a campaign bus. And yet, despite those sorts of close political ties, Zamora expects very few Salvadorans will actually cast ballots in the presidential election, a reality that Zamora blames on the complexities of registering to vote outside of El Salvador.

ZAMORA

00:03:48
(Through interpreter) The complications of registering, along with a relatively short window to do so, have made it so that while Salvadorans can, for the first time, cast ballots from abroad, the number that will is relatively low.

AUSTERMUHLE

00:04:12
How low? He says only 10,000 U.S.-based Salvadorans will be able to cast ballots. Ana Sol Gutierrez, for her part, won't be one of them. Instead, she'll do what she's always done to vote, go home.

GUTIERREZ

00:04:23
My only way to vote, which is the way I voted in previous elections, is to go to El Salvador to cast my vote.

AUSTERMUHLE

00:04:31
Zamora hopes more Salvadorans will register to vote in upcoming elections. But even if they don't, presidential candidates like Norman Quijano will keep coming up to the area to campaign. The local Salvadoran community may be far from home, but members aren't missing a chance to have their voices heard. I'm Martin Austermuhle.
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