After mounting pressure from more than 140 experts on Latin America and solidarity groups, the Obama administration issued an official announcement through the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador that the U.S. does not support either candidate running for office in that country’s close presidential election scheduled Sunday, March 15.

On the website of the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador a recent statement follows:

“The government of the United States reiterates its official position that it does not support either candidate in the upcoming presidential election. The Embassy of the United States in El Salvador has stated this position publicly and repeatedly. The separation of powers and freedoms in the United States allows the debate in which members of the U.S. Legislature have expressed their opinions, which do not necessarily reflect the official position of the United States. The U.S. Embassy will field an observation team on Sunday to monitor the elections, which we expect will be free and fair. The U.S. Government will respect the will of the Salvadoran people and will seek to work constructively with whoever wins.”

Prior to this a signed letter by the team of scholars had urged Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration to distance themselves from dirty campaigning and fear tactics being employed by the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party.

For months reliable polls had indicated that voters in El Salvador were on the verge of making history showing Mauricio Funes with the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) held a steady double-digit lead over ARENA’s nominee Rodrigo Avila.

Yet days before the election, polls now show both candidates are in a virtual tie and many believe this is a direct result of fraud, voter manipulation, fear tactics, and political coercion on the part of ARENA and their supporters.

The group of scholars had asked that the U.S. officially disavow unfounded dirty campaign allegations made by ARENA and supporters against the FMLN.

Meanwhile on March 11, two conservative Republican U.S. Congressmen, Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Dan Burton (R-Ind.) made public statements calling for the U.S. to punish Salvadoran immigrants in the U.S. if Funes wins. They also wish to remove the “temporary protected status” that allows otherwise undocumented Salvadoran immigrants to stay and work in the U.S. Further they wish to somehow block the remittances of cash which Salvadoran immigrants send back to their relatives in El Salvador.

An estimated one-quarter of El Salvadorans live in the U.S., and the remittances they send back to support their family’s account for 18 percent of El Salvador’s gross domestic product. Over half of Salvadorans live in poverty.

Reports and threats like these are being used by ARENA activists in El Salvador who are telling voters there that if they vote for Funes and the FMLN, the U.S. will cut off remittances. Under the Bush administration the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador engaged in threats and interventions, which directly influenced El Salvador’s 2004 presidential election.

Today, recent statements by the Obama administration and the State Department make it clear that the views of the above mentioned GOP legislators do not reflect the thinking of President Obama or the U.S. government as a whole.

Critics charge there is an uneven playing field due to ARENA’s grip on the national media and state institutions that have historically been backed by Washington. ARENA has held executive power in El Salvador for the last 20 years. The ARENA party draws its main support from big business, free trade policies, privatization of social services and public utilities and neoliberal economics. All of which were backed by Washington under President Bush. An accused infamous death squad commander founded ARENA in 1981.

The election in El Salvador will be the first Latin American presidential election to take place since President Obama was sworn into office. The team of scholars hoped that the U.S. would clearly state that neither ARENA nor other Salvadoran groups doing campaign work for ARENA nor any private citizen in El Salvador speak on behalf of the U.S. government. Many television ads in support of ARENA had aired false threats against voters if the FMLN were to win. Some even included pictures of Obama.

Furthermore the group and others like it continue to call on the U.S. to work with any political party that wins the Salvadoran presidency through a democratic electoral process, and work toward maintaining friendly relations with El Salvador regardless of which political party is in government.

The FMLN and ARENA were born in opposition to each other dating back to the 12-year brutal civil war during the 1980s between FMLN guerillas and El Salvador’s U.S.-backed military including ARENA.

Peace accords were signed in 1992 and the FMLN demobilized and became a legal political party. In January the FMLN won a majority of seats in the country’s national assembly. However the winners of those elections do not take office until June.