The Salvadoran right-wing has launched a new smear campaign against the governing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) party with outlandish accusations about ALBA Petroleum.
A joint venture between FMLN municipalities and the government of Venezuela, ALBA Petroleum gas stations sell subsidized Venezuelan petroleum products and channel the profits into popular social projects. These range from municipal water projects and youth scholarship programs to the ALBA Foods agricultural program, which provides low-interest loans to rural farmers, and Your Financier, which provides micro-credit to small businesses unable to access bank loans.
For several weeks, headlines and columns in El Salvador’s main newspapers have falsely charged the FMLN leadership with using the ALBA initiatives for personal enrichment, money laundering and the financing of its political campaigns, along with claims that ALBA is undermining the free-market system.
Adding to the press panic, US Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte was widely quoted in Salvadoran media saying that any charges of money laundering were very serious and ought to be investigated. She later claimed that her comments were taken out of context.
In a recent TV interview, José Luis Merino, the FMLN Political Commission member responsible for overseeing ALBA Petroleum, refuted the accusations, pointing to the yearly public reports by State auditors as evidence of legal and transparent financial management. He cited a document distributed by the leadership of the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party to its activists that outlines a strategy to discredit and defame the ALBA initiatives. Merino claimed that ALBA offers an alternative economic vision focusing on social welfare that threatens the country’s right wing and economic elite who depend on their current monopolies to maintain their wealth and power.
The FMLN has filed a defamation suit against the President of the National Association for Private Enterprise (ANEP), the business organization of the nation’s economic elite, for his unfounded claims that ALBA Petroleum is involved in money laundering. Supporters of the ALBA programs then marched to the ANEP headquarters, calling for an end to the attacks. In a recent opinion piece, the FMLN Mayor of Nuevo Custcatlán Nayib Bukele, a wealthy businessman himself, pointed out the hypocrisy of the right-wing condemnations. Their historic hold on the national economy under threat, he wrote, the right-wing’s love of market competition appears to be crumbling.
The attacks against ALBA are best understood in the context of a pre-electoral year that has seen the FMLN’s rise in the polls. Desperate to win back the executive office, ARENA and its economic allies hope to undermine the population’s positive perception of the ALBA programs and, by extension, the FMLN.