A PDF version of the El Salvador Update is available here.
Versión en formato PDF aquí.
If you would like to receive the Monthly El Salvador Update via email, contact:ElSalvadorUpdate@democracyinamericas.org.
*Note to readers: As we publish this update, news of cabinet appointments for the incoming FMLN government is being announced. For a summary thus far, please see page 12 of the PDF version or scroll further down.
Update: On April 2, El Salvador’s Ambassador Rubén Zamora wrote an Op-ed in the Miami Herald on Salvador Sánchez Cerén’s election, available here.
Two weeks of tension and uncertainty followed El Salvador’s shockingly close March 9thpresidential runoff election. The ARENA party refused to accept the results, charging systematic fraud and bias on the part of election officials. The party mounted a series of street demonstrations and filed multiple legal appeals before the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) and the Supreme Court, demanding a total recount. With one case still pending before the Court, on March 25th the TSE officially credentialed Salvador Sánchez Cerén and Óscar Ortiz of the FMLN as President and Vice-President-elect. For their part,ARENA leaders insisted the President-elect “lacks legitimacy” and continued to pursue an allegation – to date, with no credible corroboration – that thousands of inmates were allowed out of prison to vote and then returned to their respective cells.
Finally, on March 26th the Constitutional Chamber rejected ARENA’s appeal by a 3-2 vote. The party issued a communique accepting defeat and promising to be “an intelligent opposition.”
Sánchez Cerén and Óscar Ortiz won the February 2nd first round by 10% – 266,000 votes – falling just short of the 50.1% required under Salvadoran law. Polls taken after the first round led to predictions of a landslide victory on March 9th, but in the five weeks between the first- and second-round ballots, ARENA mobilized an unprecedented get-out-the-vote effort and what many viewed as a “fear campaign” that very nearly won them the election. FMLN leaders were still predicting a 10-13% margin of victory in the days just before the vote. How did the party miss the massive organizing that resulted in 477,000 new voters for ARENA?
In the immediate aftermath of the second round balloting, ARENA’s refusal to accept the results was triggered in part by that huge surge in voter turnout for Norman Quijano, the party’s presidential candidate and the slim margin of defeat: just 6,374 votes of the almost three million cast. The torrent of voter support in the second round was not necessarily indicative of ideological belief, according to one ARENA mayor, but of a conviction that the country was in danger: “We are going to defend the country and the system.”
So, in the end, is it ideology that divides the country nearly 50-50, or campaign and media-driven fear? Following the first round victory, Salvador Sánchez Cerén argued that the people are no longer afraid of the FMLN. In past elections, he said, “They (ARENA) said we would burn Bibles, close churches, take children from their families, but that was part of their campaign. Now the people know the FMLN.” People may know the FMLN, but the coincidence of violent protests in Venezuela during the weeks of the second round campaign and the continual television coverage the protests received stoked fears that El Salvador could be “another Venezuela,” as predicted by ARENA.
The Venezuela opposition encouraged ARENA to continue with its resistance to the electoral outcome. In a video conference call with party leaders on March 21st, Venezuelan Deputy María Corina Machado said, “don’t give up” on “the struggle to delegitimize” the victory of the FMLN and Salvador Sánchez Cerén.
Sixteen days after the second round, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry congratulated Salvador Sánchez Cerén on his victory and affirmed, “Our longstanding partnership and commitment to El Salvador and the Salvadoran people continues.” U.S. Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte followed suit, noting ARENA’s legal appeals which at that moment were still pending.
According to Héctor Silva Ávalos, American University research scholar and CDA advisory board member, the Obama Administration is uneasy about the FMLN. In a view shared by other analysts, the relationship will be a delicate dance for both countries, Silva says, “with old ideological prejudices.”
The FMLN and the U.S. government have a long, complicated relationship, but also share strong bilateral interests, from migration to regional security. “We want to be partners in the struggle against crime, drug trafficking and poverty,” FMLN spokesperson Roberto Lorenzana explained, “We support President Obama’s new immigration policy. The FMLN wants to be an ally of President Obama.” Asked repeatedly about relations with the United States, Sánchez Cerén once responded, “We cannot fall into the temptations of deciding relationships on the basis of ideology. We are open to the entire world. We must have good relations with the United States.”
In this report we look back at the first round, the performances of both parties during the five weeks of campaign leading up to the March 9th runoff, and, finally at the transition and the possible makeup of the new cabinet. Last, but hardly least, there are important developments in human rights.
President Mauricio Funes and President-elect Salvador Sánchez Cerén. Source: El Mundo
The first round election on February 2nd was a three-way race among the conservative ARENA (Alianza Republicana Nacionalista) party, the left FMLN (Frente Farabundo Marti para la Liberación Nacional) and a center-right coalition (UNIDAD). The FMLN won by ten percentage points, but was shy by just 26,000 votes of the 50.1% required to avoid a run-off. The center-right coalition candidate Tony Saca – the former ARENA President (2004-2009) whose expulsion from the party in 2009 divided the right – was eliminated, but he was expected to be the power broker who could carry his 300,000 votes left or right. If the right had not been divided, ARENA could have won with about 52%.
Despite real concerns about security, corruption may have been the determining factor in the first round for many disillusioned ARENA supporters who abstained and for others who voted for UNIDAD or the FMLN. The embezzlement and money-laundering scandal involving former ARENA President Francisco Flores (1999-2004) rocked the country in the weeks leading up to the first round with allegations that he embezzled $10 million in donations from Taiwan during his last two years in office.
The FMLN campaign was well-funded, cohesive, and positive. The party and the presidential candidate Salvador Sánchez Cerén (the nation’s current Vice-President) benefitted from the popularity of government social programs and of President Funes, whose approval rating was never below 60% during his entire term. President Funes must also be credited with the party’s success in the first round for his unflagging, proactive role in exposing ARENA corruption, including the Flores scandal. “We fell in the trap of confrontation [with President Funes],” an ARENA deputy admitted after the first round.
A significant portion of voters transferred their allegiance twice during the electoral campaign. ARENA candidate Norman Quijano had a substantial lead in polls for months before the first round, until the numbers shifted dramatically in favor of Salvador Sánchez Cerén four months before the election. The shift was concurrent with the President’s revelations of the Francisco Flores scandal. An even more dramatic and shocking change in voter behavior would take place later, in the second round.
ARENA, going into the first round, was outmaneuvered at every turn. The FMLN’s electoral strategy included capturing the rural vote and the votes of women, both historically ARENA territory. The popular social programs implemented by the government and ALBA Petróleos, the FMLN-associated business enterprise, targeted the impoverished and long-neglected rural population. Meanwhile, mustering the women’s vote was the task of First Lady/Secretary of Social Inclusion Vanda Pignato. Pignato is the architect of “Ciudad Mujer” multiservice centers for women and has worked tirelessly for the defense of women. She also campaigned actively for the FMLN in the final weeks before February 2nd.
Before the first round, both sides claimed irregularities. Conservative analysts in El Salvador – their claims echoed in Washington – alleged that the FMLN had paid gang members to intimidate voters, but in the end there were no verified reports of gang interference. On the other hand, there were complaints of coercion of employees. The Ministry of Labor received 148 complaints of business owners and managers intimidating employees. In one case, the CEO of Aeroman, an aircraft maintenance firm, told CNN about how he had emphasized to his 2,100 employees the importance of their vote against the FMLN: “You need to vote…Do you want to be part of a socialist system or a free market system?”
In the end, international observers from the UN, EU and OAS all lauded the campaigns and the professional, transparent work of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE). In a survey conducted by the IUDOP (Public Opinion Institute of the University of Central America) following the first round, 99.5% said they encountered no problem in voting.
The Second Round: Five more weeks of campaigning
Final rallies, March 2, 2014. Sources: Diario CoLatino, Diario1
All polls conducted after the February 2nd first round showed a strong lead for the FMLN, from 10-18 percentage points.
According to the University of Central America IUDOP survey conducted February 8-14, seven of ten respondents expressed great interest in voting in the second round, close to the enthusiasm level of the 2009 presidential election, according to Jeanette Aguilar, Director of IUDOP, and 72% expressed “a lot or some” confidence in the electoral process. Asked their opinion of the contending campaigns, 74.4% replied that the FMLN campaign was “good or very good,” and 45.6% described the ARENA effort as “bad or very bad.” Just over 60% of those polled said their vote was decided a year ago.
On February 10th, the Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador’s Supreme Court issued a “cautionary measure,” ordering a ban on campaigning by all government officials and public employees. The measure prohibited cabinet ministers, mayors and even the President and Secretary of Inclusion Vanda Pignato from campaigning. President Funes criticized the measure as a violation of political rights but the Court argued that there are limits to political freedoms, and this is one. The prohibition was reinforced by an official court ruling on February 28th.
Vanda Pignato accepted the ban on campaigning, but continued to be outspoken and visible in the final weeks at events targeting human trafficking and in support of the rights of women. President Funes and FMLN presidential candidate Sánchez Cerén attended a large rally on March 2nd organized by Pignato, ISDEMU (Salvadoran Women’s Institute), and UN Mujer to sign a pact on the defense of women’s civil and political rights. ARENA candidate Norman Quijano was invited but declined to attend, arguing that ISDEMU “promotes abortion.” He added, “Women can’t use their bodies as they please.”
“It was an electric shock! We have to react! This is life or death!”
Gloria Salguero Gross
Twenty-two years after the signing of the Peace Accords that ended one of the last battles of the Cold War, ARENA’s anti-communist fear campaign failed to resonate with voters in the first round. It would, however, play a pivotal role in the second round. There were sputtering efforts to present a positive agenda, but the messages in the final weeks focused on the threat of “another Venezuela.”
Differences of opinion among the party leadership continued to surface publicly, including contradictory views about two of the party’s four previous presidents, Tony Saca and Francisco Flores. Quijano needed the UNIDAD 300,000 votes and called for “open doors” to Tony Saca, the former ARENA president who was expelled from the party in 2009, declaring, “The differences are things of the past.” Party founder Gloria Salguero Grossagreed, arguing that Saca should never have been expelled. But former President Alfredo Cristiani insisted that Saca “did a lot of damage” to the party and said, “I was in agreement to expel him.”
In the end, Saca maintained a low profile, advising his supporters to vote with their conscience. He described Sánchez Cerén as representing the “modern left,” but warned that his victory would not be “a blank check” for the FMLN. Saca is well-positioned to be the leader of the “new right” that could emerge from the wreckage of the old ARENA. He received “historic support as a third force,” FMLN strategist Marcos Rodríguez said, acknowledging Saca’s 300,000 votes and role in the future: “The way forward is through Antonio Saca.” He is expected to run for the legislature in 2015 and for president in 2019.
The leadership of ARENA also could not agree on a position toward former President Francisco Flores (1999-2004), even as he was charged by a legislative commission with embezzlement and money laundering. Gloria Salguero Gross demanded his expulsion (“He committed a crime against the party!”) but candidate Norman Quijano continued on his curious and lonely path of defending Flores, insisting on presumption of innocence until February 20th. Only then did he request the party ethics committee suspend, not expel, Flores from the party. The following day, his rights as a member of the party were finally rescinded, but he has not been expelled.
The March 18th, conviction of former Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo in New York on similar charges of laundering millions of dollars donated by the then-president of Taiwan may foretell the fate that awaits Francisco Flores. Portillo was the first Latin American president to be tried and convicted in the U.S., but he may not be the last. While it is not clear if the U.S. is investigating Flores, the original information used in the investigation by the Funes administration came from a U.S. Treasury document.
Wanted: Francisco Flores Pérez. Source: Diario1.
Attorney General Luis Martínez announced that he would begin a formal investigation of the Flores case after the election and clarified that the 10-year statute of limitations does not apply to money laundering, one of the charges Flores faces. Meanwhile, the former president – who disappeared in late January – remains in hiding.
ARENA mayors, excluded from campaign resources and decision-making, vented their anger at the leadership immediately following the February 2nd defeat. Local officials who had been working with the two year-old gang truce were angry at the candidate’s hardline anti-gang stance which, they said, made the situation more difficult for them. Furious, themayor of Soyapango said the leadership never visited the communities and had no idea what was happening on the ground: “I demand that COENA [the ARENA executive committee] get their boots dirty!” Mayor Jaime Lindo told reporters.
“Not just a glass of milk. [We want to give them] a complete breakfast!”
Jorge Velado, President of COENA
Throughout most of 2013, candidate Norman Quijano railed against the Funes administration’s social investment programs including shoes, uniforms, school supplies and a glass of milk a day for students as “government waste.” The message changed following the February 2nd defeat. Quijano warned that the popular programs would be at risk with an FMLN victory due to lack of funding; suggesting that capital flight would be the consequence of a win by the left. By February 17th, he was even calling for an increase in social spending, including parks, sports facilities, reinsertion programs for gang members and ex-convicts, and a “complete breakfast” for public school students.
In just five short weeks between the first and second rounds, the party-in-decline surged, with a show of strategic and tactical skills and organizational strength that mobilized party members and supporters. The surge resulted in an unprecedented increase of 441,859 voters. The strategy included “positive” incentives (offers to increase social spending), coercion(by employers), financial investment (for organizing), and incitement of fear, with the wall-to-wall TV coverage of the crisis in Venezuela — the footage of protesters, tear gas, barricades and burning tires were all reminders of El Salvador’s painful past.
Donors appeared, buses were hired to transport voters and, according to an allegation by President Funes, funds were raised to pay for the renewal of 100,000 identification cards at $10.31 each. Valid cards – called DUIS – are required in order to vote. Of the over 500,000 expired cards on government record, 78,071 were in fact renewed between February 3rd and March 5th, and 38,214 were reported updated between March 3rd – 8th.
While Quijano presented a more socially-conscious right, the conservative Diario de Hoymaintained its strident anti-communist narrative, warning that, like in Venezuela, “if the reds win” the cost of living will go up, the value of bonds will go down, and “we will tighten our belts while the new political class is plundering the country!” The political crisis in Venezuela inspired ARENA TV spots with slogans like “El Salvador will not be another Venezuela!” The ads were quickly removed by election officials, but the media coverage of Venezuela continued.
Even then, just one week before the run-off election, El Faro published a remarkable interview with the president of ARENA’s executive committee, Jorge Velado. Velado blamed the party’s probable defeat not just on Francisco Flores, but also on Quijano for failing to distance himself and the party from the allegedly corrupt former president. Some analysts believe that through his allegiance to Flores, Norman Quijano is protecting others. They also predicted that an ARENA defeat would encourage whistleblowers and responsibility for old corruption scandals will emerge.
In the final campaign rally on March 2nd, René Portillo Cuadra, ARENA’s vice-presidential candidate, promised “No more cardboard houses,” (referring to “Casas de Cartón,” a song popularized by the left during the civil war), as well as jobs, schools, roads, and hospitals. Norman Quijano claimed the poll numbers had changed in his favor, citing a survey that appeared online. The survey was allegedly from the IUDOP but was quickly denied by the UCA. Quijano closed, warning that the country “will fall into dictatorship!” with a victory of the FMLN. “There are only two paths,” he declared, the choice is between “liberty and dictatorship…progress and retreat.”
In the end, ARENA captured most of the 300,000 UNIDAD votes, many ARENA absentee voters and independents. The FMLN “slept a little” after the February 2nd victory, Father José María Tojeira of the UCA opined: “Everyone, including us, said that it would be almost impossible to overcome a ten-point difference. In fact it wasn’t possible, but it was almost possible.”
Who will pay for the broken plates?
With one former ARENA president on the run, another expelled, a deeply divided leadership, angry elected officials, and disillusioned grassroots, the once-invulnerable party appeared to be self-destructing. The infighting was public knowledge but at the final rally,Jorge Velado insisted the party “is more united than ever,” and it was, at least on Election Day. But despite the surge in support, this was ARENA’s second consecutive presidential loss and it will have consequences for the future direction of the party.
Who will pay the price, post-mortem? Jorge Velado, the members of the ARENA executive committee, and the so-called “G-20” party funders led by Ricardo Poma? The young Vice-President of Ideology Ernesto Muyshondt was the first to jump ship with his resignation via Twitter on March 4th. Muyshondt called for a complete overhaul of COENA, but blamed the party’s historic leadership, saying “We received a financially, ethically and morally bankrupt COENA [in 2012].” Muyshondt was soon back on board though, as part of a group demanding “a new ARENA.” Reformers want a change in leadership, an end to control by the big funders, and participation in the selection of candidates: Norman Quijano was selected by the big donors, “behind closed doors.”
The debate is not only about wresting control from the historic big donors; there are also ideological battles to be fought. “We were born anti-communist and we will die anti-communist,” declared Salguero Gross. Others, including an ARENA mayor – former deputy Rafael Morán Orellana – argue that it’s time to become a modern party, “to completely leave the past – the Cold War – behind.”
The party will hold an “extraordinary congress” in the coming weeks. Who will assume the mantle of leadership? Some of ARENA’s historic leaders – former President Armando Calderón Sol, for example – have been missing in action during the campaign and may be waiting to pick up the pieces of the “old right” as Tony Saca leads the “new right.”
“We don’t want to govern alone. The country cannot be
transformed with just the efforts of the FMLN. Other forces,
other leaders need to accompany us.”
For five weeks, ARENA’s new get out the vote strategy went either unnoticed or underestimated by the FMLN. Convinced of an easy victory, the FMLN worked to increase what was expected to be a strong lead in the runoff. Party leaders in all 262 municipalities met with the candidates and were told to avoid “triumphal” attitudes, continue to organize and get out the vote on March 9th. In statements that would later be seen as prescient, Sánchez Cerén warned that polls “just measure tendencies, victory will be guaranteed at the urns on March 9th at the ballot box.” The party distributed “commitment letters” to 1,700,000 homes in advance of the second round, promising respect for the Constitution, freedom for the press and for the business community, and “friendship” with the United States.
As part of the effort to reassure independents and the international community, the candidates issued a manifesto to the nation to “overcome fear” and create “a climate of confidence” in an FMLN administration. The document reiterated the candidates’ commitments to respect the Constitution, democratic institutions, private property, and individual liberties, to run a transparent and efficient government and maintain good international relations, including with the United States.
During the five week period between the first and second rounds, the FMLN continued with its calm campaign, reaching out to independents and the business sector. In an unusually emotional interview on February 16th, Salvador Sánchez Cerén responded to the often-heard criticism of social programs as populism. “How can you call shoes and school supplies populism?” he asked. “There are children in one village who never had shoes and now they sleep with their shoes. I can tell you anecdotes…that have made me cry. Is it populism to dignify these children?”
During the final weeks, the FMLN candidates made many commitments, such as a prohibition on mining and a refusal to raise the retirement age. They proposed providing small computers (known as “lempitas”) for all school children, in cooperation with a European project that will include assembly in El Salvador. Among other proposals, police salaries will be raised and agents will participate in programs to prevent school dropouts in high-risk communities. The institution of a tax collection policy was promised, which would bring micro and small businesses into the formal sector. The economy will not be “de-dollarized,” they said, nor will the controversial referendum process be a priority. The country will join Petrocaribe and the ALBA economic integration alliance but will not be a Venezuela clone: “We are not going to copy any foreign model,” Sánchez Cerén declared, “Our model is Salvadoran.”
A long term vision of the country is necessary, Sánchez Cerén explained, not just a five-year plan. The new administration will ask for international assistance to seek a national accord on the big issues, he said: the debt, pensions, security and economic growth. Foreign policy “will be open to the world, (including) the South, Europe and the emerging economies.”
See El Faro’s photos of the second round of votes here.
On June 1, 2009, President Mauricio Funes took charge of a country with a nearly empty cash box and a -3.1% rate of growth. The economy continues to drag, investors remain wary, and the fiscal situation is still critical, five years later.
There are complex challenges ahead. The country faces a serious cash flow problem. Tax revenue was 7.3% less than anticipated in January, and short-term debt payments are up 11% to $699.8 million. The FMLN has not presented a detailed economic/fiscal strategy but is counting on disbursement of the second Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) development grant, which was approved by the MCC board last year but was withheld until Salvadoran legislators approve reforms to a public-private investment law which the has FMLN opposed. They will also rely on tourism and private investment. Active participation from the private sector, in terms of investment and at least some degree of political cooperation will be essential for economic growth.
The economic outlook is daunting. Reflecting on the work done in the past five years, Alex Segovia – the President’s top economic adviser – said $2.5 billion will be invested in the next five-year period. Segovia tried to present an optimistic view: “The legacy we will leave is a platform for investments. The next government is going to win the lottery.”
Left to Right: Minister of Defense General David Munguía Payés; Technical Secretary Alex Segovia; Secretary of Strategic Affairs Hato Hasbún; President Mauricio Funes; President-elect Sánchez Cerén; Vice-President-elect Óscar Ortiz; FMLN Secretary-General Medardo González. Source: El Mundo
The 2009 transition from the Saca/ARENA government to the Funes/FMLN administration was chaotic. On March 17th of this year, President Funes installed his transition team, promising to “guarantee a more stable country to the president-elect than we received.”
The transition teams will work on fiscal and pension reforms, energy, transportation and security issues, and will dialogue with the business community.
Government Transition Team:
- Hato Hasbún (Secretary of Strategic Affairs and interim Minister of Education)
- Alex Segovia (Technical Secretary)
- Carlos Cáceres (Minister of Finance)
- General David Munguía Payés (Minister of Defense)
- Ricardo Perdomo (Minister of Justice and Security)
- Ricardo Marroquin (Legal Adviser)
FMLN Transition Team: Vice-President-elect Óscar Ortiz will preside over the FMLN transition team, all of whom are members of the party’s Political Commission:
- Medardo González (FMLN Secretary-General)
- José Luis Merino (President of ALBA)
- Sigfrido Reyes (President of Legislative Assembly)
- Norma Guevara (Deputy)
- Lorena Peña (Deputy)
- Manuel Melgar (Former Minister of Security, 2014 Campaign Manager)
The FMLN Cabinet:
Cabinet appointments will be important indicators to reassure or concern national and foreign investors and international institutions. The FMLN has been circumspect about the cabinet’s composition, other than to insist that it will be open and inclusive, including representatives of the UNIDAD coalition and officials from the Funes administration. Óscar Ortiz said the potential candidates must have the qualities of “honor, capability, [they must be] committed to change and willing to listen: [They will] not just be FMLN.” Positions will be filled in the 13 existing ministries and 19 autonomous institutions and in new ministries including Women, Sports and Culture.
On March 31st, President-elect Sánchez Cerén announced some members of his cabinet:
- Minister of Treasury: Carlos Cáceres, the current Minister, will stay on in the new administration.
- Technical Secretary (“Chief of Staff”): Roberto Lorenzana, FMLN deputy and spokesperson.
- Private Secretary to the President: Manuel Melgar, former Minister of Justice and Security and manager of the 2014 campaign.
- Foreign Minister: Hugo Martínez served as Foreign Minister from June 2009 – 2013 and is currently Secretary General of the Central American Integration System (SICA).
- Minister of Economy: Tharsis Salomón López, businessman.
- Minister of Public Works: Gerson Martínez will stay on in his position.
- Minister of the Environment: Lina Pohl, currently Vice-Minister of the Environment.
- Secretary of Governance and Political Dialogue: Hato Hasbún, currently Secretary of Strategic Affairs, has served as the direct link between the FMLN and President Funes since 2009. In his new position he will be responsible for political, social and economic dialogue, working directly with the President-elect.
- Minister of Tourism: José Napoleon Duarte, current minister will stay on in his position.
The Security Cabinet (Minister of Justice and Security, Minister of Defense, Director of the National Police, Director of State Intelligence) is yet to be announced.
Óscar Ortiz, Roberto Lorenzana, Gerson Martínez and Marcos Rodríguez will work with a technical team to develop the government’s five-year plan.
Other names and possible positions that have mentioned include:
- Vanda Pignato, current Secretary of Social Inclusion will be in the FMLN government, likely heading the new Ministry of Women’s Affairs.
- Benito Lara, FMLN deputy, has been mentioned as a candidate for the Ministry of Justice and Security.
The Minister of Defense will be a military officer, despite calls from human rights groups for a civilian minister. FMLN Secretary General Medardo González was adamant: “It must be a military officer.” He did not deny or confirm the possible re-appointment of the current Minister, General David Munguía Payés. Another possibility is FMLN military adviser Colonel René Roberto López Morales, an officer who could be opposed by the UCA for his links to the 1989 Jesuit massacre.
Others who may be under consideration include Zaira Navas (former Inspector General of the National Civil Police), Howard Cotto from the PNC, and Merlyn Berrera (an economist who coordinated UNIDAD’s government proposal).
As for President Funes, he will soon undergo surgery for a herniated disc and then have a period of convalescence. According to Vanda Pignato, the President would like to continue his weekly radio and TV show “Conversing with the President,” perhaps, she said, as “Conversing with the Ex-President.” His relationship with the FMLN was often tense in the first three years of his term, but improved noticeably. He played a vital role in the party’s victory and will continue to have a political voice.
FMLN administration: experience in governance, but challenges ahead:
“The government of change…will be an inclusive,
participatory, democratic government,
open to new ideas, fair and transparent.”
Salvador Sánchez Cerén and Óscar Ortiz, Manifesto to the Nation
The FMLN was born in a time of revolutionary fervor, former commander Francisco Jovelnoted, but times have changed. The party has changed and is “promoting and consolidating a real democratic society.”
Critics on the left believe the party has changed too much and has lost its revolutionary mystique; they might argue that pragmatism is just another word for social democracy. Allegations by conservatives in El Salvador and Washington of links to drug trafficking, to gangs and to the FARC have never been proven, according to independent journalists and analysts, but there is unease in some circles: What exactly will the FMLN do once in power?
The party has had twenty years of “political school,” learning the rules of democratic governance, including participation in five presidential and six legislative elections. President-elect Sánchez Cerén, whose career before and during the war included teaching, union organizing, and guerrilla warfare, was also a signatory to the 1992 Peace Accords. Post-war, he was a three-term legislator (2000-2009) then Vice-President (2009-2014) and Minister of Education (2009-2013), resigning from the Ministry position to run for president.
For his part, the younger Vice-President-elect Óscar Ortiz was wounded as a civil war combatant. After the war, Ortiz served as a two-term deputy in the National Assembly (1994-2000) and five-term mayor of the city of Santa Tecla (2000-2013). Between the two, the President and Vice-President-elect have decades of experience in governance in the legislature, local government, the cabinet, and the executive branch.
War time dogmatism has been tempered by the pragmatism necessary to legislate and to govern – to build alliances through dialogue, negotiation and compromise. The 2012 defeats for the FMLN in legislative and municipal elections laid the groundwork for the ascendance of what Sánchez Cerén calls the “tolerant left” and for the non-ideological tone of the 2014 campaign.
The new administration will focus on economic growth, security, social inclusion, and democratic governance, Óscar Ortiz said. It will be “practical and non-bureaucratic,” with an emphasis on building bridges to the business community. During the first 100 days, steps will be taken to simplify the paperwork for businesses and to promote a national dialogue led by a commission of “notable men and women.”
The initial euphoria will give way to the reality of governance, of fulfilling commitments and maintaining party unity when possibly contentious issues arise, for example, over foreign policy or referendums, or public/private ownership of national resources. The party is often criticized for a lack of internal democracy and transparency. While ARENA leaders publicly air political disputes, the FMLN generally presents a united front with any differences resolved internally.
There are exceptions. For example, while the President and Vice-President-elect have given multiple reassurances that constitutional reforms are not on the agenda, some FMLN leaders continue to raise the controversial issue of referendums, causing concern that there is a hidden Venezuela or Nicaragua-style agenda to perpetuate power. Do these differences of opinion represent two very different lines of thought inside the party, as some analysts suggest? Asked about “hard line” and “soft line,” Secretary of Strategic Affairs Hato Hasbúnwas emphatic: “There is no hard wing or soft wing inside the party.”
For his part, Salvador Sánchez Cerén is often described as “very humble,” a person who “looks for consensus” and “harmony,” according to a former colleague. His style of governance will contrast with the more confrontational approach of President Mauricio Funes.
If President-elect Sánchez Cerén can keep his commitment to Salvadorans of an open, inclusive, transparent and honest government – and can earn the trust of the business community – this could truly be a transformative administration.
“You can be assured that we will be respectful of the Constitution and the laws,” Sánchez Cerén declared, “and that our government will be honorable and transparent.” As head of state, he said, “I am not me as an FMLN member but as the representative of the people.”
Some issues to follow in the coming months:
- According to analysts in Washington, the Obama Administration is “very uneasy” at the prospect of an FMLN president and the future of the relationship depends on the “attitude” of the new government. Can the “unbreakable” strategic partnership continue? How will the relationship develop? Will the second MCC grant be disbursed to the new administration?
- How will the private enterprise sector respond? Will the economic elite continue its five-year boycott of the government, or will it participate in negotiations with the government and boost government in working with the new administration?
- How will the immediate cash flow problems be resolved?
- Will ARENA as an institution survive defeat? Who will take the reins of the party? Will Tony Saca consolidate the “new right”?
- Can the FMLN maintain its legislative bloc with smaller parties, guaranteeing the 43 votes necessary to ensure its agenda?
- March 9th was the second anniversary of the gang truce. The leaders remain committed to the effort, but it appears to be collapsing without support from the government or civil society. The FMLN has been very cautious, only referring to it in the past as an “opportunity.” What will the policy be?
- Will the corruption investigations continue in the post-election period?
- How will the Supreme Court rule on the amnesty and, if annulled or repealed, will the new government support prosecution efforts including the Jesuit case? Will the archives of Tutela Legal and the Army be released to investigators? Tutela Legal was shut down by the Archbishop and the Army has refused access to its archives, which contain records of war-time military operations and abuses.
- Possibly most critical for the future of El Salvador: Will the new administration have the capacity and political will to reform the police and judiciary, to purge the institutions of corrupt and inept elements. An honest and professional police force and judiciary…Now that would be a game changer.
Human Rights Briefs:
- In an opinion piece, “Justice in El Salvador,” actor/activist Mike Farrell describes the U.S. role in El Salvador during the civil war and writes about the massacre of civilians in Santa Cruz, Cabañas on November, 1981, under the leadership of then-colonel (now deputy in the National Assembly) Sigfrido Ochoa Pérez, “a favorite of U.S. advisers.” Farrell describes “signs of change” and the possibility of justice for victims. A restorative justice tribunal is planned in Santa Marta to honor the anniversary, the victims, and survivors.
- Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero: The Vatican Commission on Latin Americanamed the slain archbishop as “a model for the Church.” Speaking in Washington, Salvadoran Auxiliary Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chávez said he expects beatification of the Archbishop within three years.
On March 20th, the National Assembly approved a proposal by President Funes to rename the international airport in honor of the Archbishop. The legislation passed with 54 votes. ARENA opposed, claiming the image of the Archbishop is used “for political purposes.”
As of March 24th – the 34th anniversary of the assassination – the airport is officially “Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez International Airport.”
- Jesuit Massacre: In Spain, lawmakers voted on February 11th to revoke the universal jurisdiction law that enabled investigation and indictments of the military officers allegedly responsible for the 1989 executions of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter.On March 17th, Judge Eloy Velasco argued the Jesuit case is still eligible for prosecution under Spanish law as “an act of terror.”
- El Mozote: Forensic scientists from the U.S., Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Guatemala met in El Salvador in February to discuss plans for the first official investigation of the 1981 massacre of 1,000 civilians. The investigation was ordered in 2012 by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR).
- Tecoluca Massacre: On February 6th, the Supreme Court ordered an investigation into the July 25, 1981 massacre of 45 civilians in the village of San Francisco Angulo, Tecoluca, in the Department of San Vicente, committed by death squads comprised of members of the military and National Guard. Thirty bodies were exhumed in 2006.
- Luis Antonio Monterrosa Díaz was named director of IDHUCA, the Human Rights Institute of the University of Central America in February. Benjamin Cuellar led the institute for 22 years.
- The State Department Annual Country Report on Human Rights Practices in El Salvador noted the persistence of impunity and corruption in the police and judiciary, abuses by the police and Armed Forces, social and domestic violence and “very hard and dangerous living conditions” in the prisons, among other issues.
June 1: Inauguration of Salvador Sánchez Cerén and Óscar Ortiz as President and Vice-President of El Salvador
March 2015: Legislative and municipal elections