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Mount student Silvia Martinez (right) helps watch over an election site in El Salvador. Martinez and five other Mount students joined two Mount professors as trained election observers to help bring legitimacy to the country's March presidential contest.

Students Play Key Role in El Salvador's Historic Election

April 27, 2009 -- The scene was set for a historic election day in El Salvador this March, and six Mount students served as polling observers on the ground. The students, who traveled with assistant professors Lia Roberts of political science and Laurie Wright-Garry of religious studies, fanned out to three spots in the Central American country: San Salvador, San Pedro, and Sensuntepeque.

They took on the impartial roles of trained observers — a critical part of any legitimate democratic election. “The people of El Salvador had a special type of passion for this election,” says Alyce Gabriel, a junior political science major stationed in San Salvador. “They really felt like the outcome of the election would impact their lives, and to be a part of that process was incredible.”

Like the other Mount students on this trip, Gabriel had never been to El Salvador before. It was an entirely new experience that began as a competitive application process earlier this year. The experience was made possible through a program enhancement grant the professors had applied for and received through the president’s office.

The election brought a change in leadership to the country when the former guerilla group at the height of the fighting, now known as the political party Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), beat out the conservative Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party, which had been in control for two decades.

Although the trip was not tied to a particular class, Roberts and Wright-Garry asked the selected students to read about the country’s civil wars and to study the impact of Catholic teachings on political mobilization in El Salvador. Roberts says she wanted to show the students how some countries struggle with managing a just election. “The entire point of this trip is for students to recognize the importance of elections and handovers of presidential power,” Roberts says. “If you don’t have an election that people believe in, then your democracy has a tendency not to have legitimacy.”

Being a part of the history-making experience was invaluable to Crystal Milo, a junior majoring in political science with an international relations minor. “To have been in El Salvador when history was being made was just an amazing experience,” she says. “Everyone, young and old, had a lot invested in this election.”

The other student travelers were Adriana Garrido, Karina Macias, Silvia Martinez, and Karina Gallardo.

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