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El Salvador: FMLN wins presidency
NewsNotes, July-August 2009

On March 15, El Salvador became the latest Latin American country to elect a progressive president when the FMLN’s Mauricio Funes won with a narrow 51 percent of the vote. While Funes will have to negotiate with opposition parties that maintained their majority in Congress, he has already announced new measures and promises marking a significant shift from the ARENA party that had controlled the presidency for more than 20 years.

In the weeks before his June 1 inauguration, Funes signaled significant changes by initiating a series of meetings with leaders of social organizations in a process that he calls a “Permanent Dialogue.” Funes stated that he would end the process of criminalizing social movements by instead “welcoming them into the Presidential Palace” and designating two of his staff as permanent liaisons with the movements. Funes also participated in the Workers’ March on May Day, a first for any Salvadoran president.

On June 1, inauguration day, Funes announced that he had formally re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba, making El Salvador the final Central American country to do so. That morning, Funes visited the tomb of Monsignor Oscar Romero and referred to the assassinated archbishop as an inspiration, holding up Romero’s vision of a “preferential option for the poor” as a guiding theme for his presidency. He said that the country would no longer have a “government of the few, of the privileged” but one where all people would be “recognized for their talents and honesty, not for their connections or their last name.”

It was not until after the mid-March election that the government released the bleak economic numbers. Two weeks after the election, the Central Bank announced that the economy was showing signs of recession with negative growth rates in the first quarter of 2009 as well as significant drops in remittances and overall economic activity. In the first five months of 2009, remittances totaled $1.4 billion, a 10 percent drop compared to 2008, with May’s remittances falling at an even faster rate. The new government will also inherit a fiscal deficit equal to at least 4.8 percent of GDP, a deficit Funes says he will tackle by reducing tax evasion by businesses.

To confront the economic crisis, Funes launched his Global Anti-Crisis Plan which aims to create 100,000 jobs in the next year and a half as well as increasing and improving public services and infrastructure. The government plans to build 25,000 new houses and guarantee credit to small farmers. He announced a “System of Social Protection” that will carry out health, education and nutrition programs as well as establishing a basic pension for senior citizens in extreme poverty. Funes also promised to continue the Solidarity Network, a cash-transfer program, under the new name of Rural Community Solidarity Network with an increased focus on areas of rural poverty. In all, he plans to invest $474 million dollars in these crisis-fighting initiatives. Much of that money will be loans from the Inter-American Development Bank, World Bank and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration that were originally sought by then President Tony Saca wh served from 2005-2009.

Besides being the first electoral victory for the FMLN, another noticeable and perhaps not unrelated change in this election was the role played by the U.S. In the 2004 elections, similar to elections before it, members of the State Department made statements denouncing the FMLN; Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) sponsored a bill that would cut off remittances from Salvadorans in the U.S. if the FMLN were to be democratically elected. However, this year when a group of 46 Republican legislators wrote a letter to President Obama urging him to cut off remittances if the FMLN were to win, the administration responded with public guarantees to the Salvadoran people that it would do no such thing. The U.S. embassy in San Salvador published a statement saying, “[W]e have made it very clear that this is a choice of the Salvadoran people that we will respect and that we look forward to, continuing our very positive relationship with El Salvador, and working with the next elected government.” Without threats against them, the Salvadoran people were finally able to vote freely with no outside interference and the results show their desire for change in the political life of El Salvador.

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