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Exclusive Interview with El Salvador's New President on Ending 130 Years of Oligarchy and Military Rule

Mauricio Funes, the first leftist elected president El Salvador, discusses his hope for strong ties with the U.S. and key issues his country faces.
 
 
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Editor’s note: Democractic freedom prevailed on March 16 as the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) became the first leftist party in the history of El Salvador to clinch the presidential election. By 10 p.m., it became clear to Salvadorans and to the world that the former guerrillas had ended more than 130 years of oligarchy and military rule over this tiny Central American nation of 7 million. In the streets, thousands of red-shirted sympathizers chanted “Si, Se Pudo!” (Yes, We Could), as they celebrated the victory of Mauricio Funes, the man who brought an end to the 20-year rule of the Nationalist Republican Alliance party (ARENA.) Funes captured 51 percent of the vote, defeating ARENA candidate Rodrigo Avila.

Immigration has become one of the defining issues of the United States-El Salvador relationship. How will your administration’s immigration policies differ from those of the outgoing administration?

The fact that we're going to rebuild the democratic institutions--enforce the constitution and make El Salvador a democratic state that respects the rule of law--is the best guarantee to the United States that we will significantly reduce the flows of out-migration.

Salvadorans who leave to the United States do so because of the institutional abandon, the lack of employment and dignified salaries to make a living. This forces them to leave in search of new possibilities in the United States.

It's not the same for us to ask the U.S. government to renew TPS
[temporary legalization] without a Salvadoran effort to avoid further migration flows, then to do so from a position in which we have undertaken efforts to reduce the migration flows.

What’s the first message you’d like to send to President Obama?

The message that I would like to send to President Obama is that I will not seek alliances or accords with other heads of state from the southern part of the continent that will jeopardize my relationship with the government of the United States.

Opinion polls in El Salvador indicate that large majorities of its citizens reject key policies that define, in many ways, the relationship between El Salvador and the United States, specifically CAFTA, dollarization and the Iraq war.

We can't get mixed up in repealing CAFTA...nor can we reverse dollarization because that would send a negative message to foreign investors, and then we'd be facing serious problems because we wouldn't have enough investment to stimulate the national economy.

What do you think the United States government should be concerned about with regards to El Salvador at this time?

The degree to which we do our part, which is to rebuild our productive capacity and to create a coherent social policy that improves the quality of life, there will be fewer reasons to leave for the United States, and we'll reduce migration flows. And that should be a concern for the United States.

Where will the effects of the transition in power be felt most immediately?

We're going to change the way we make policy. And one of the most significant changes is that we will no longer have a government at the service of a privileged few. And we will no longer have a government that creates an economy of privileges for the privileged. Now, we need a government like the one envisioned by Mons. Oscar Arnulfo Romero, who in his prophetic message said that the church should have a preferential option for the poor.

Paraphrasing Mons. Romero, I would say that this government should have a preferential option for the poor, for those who need a robust government to get ahead and to be able to compete in this world of disequilibrium under fair conditions.

This government implies a break from traditional policymaking. Now, what we're going to do is put the government and the structure of the state at the service of the Salvadoran people––the totality of the Salvadoran people – but, fundamentally, to that great majority who are oppressed and excluded from the country's social and economic development. Not just the last 20 years, but for the last 200 years or more, have not had the possibility of participating in the formation of public policies.

A government like the one I'm going to create will give them the protagonist's role, which until now they have not had.