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Free, Fair and Historic: Witnessing the Left's Win In El Salvador

Democratic elections have been a long time coming in El Salvador, a country with a history of coups and military dictatorships.

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The ARENA party is currently in turmoil as they are embroiled in a scandal that came to light in the final weeks of the Presidential elections. The scandal alleges that former President Francisco Flores (1999 to 2004), Quijano’s campaign manager and consultant to ARENA, received a $10 million donation from the Taiwanese government in 2001 for reparations after two devastating earthquakes rocked the country. According to reports, these funds were tracked by INTERPOL to a bank in the Bahamas and never reached the Salvadoran people. In the days leading up to the Presidential elections, Flores appeared before a legislative committee with an evasive and unconvincing denial of these allegations. The outcome of this scandal and the implications on the elections are still unfolding.

UNIDAD represents three minority parties and is headed by former President Tony Saca (2004-2009). Saca is a charismatic candidate with a highly visible and slick campaign presence. Saca, a former sports announcer and the owner of several radio stations, was driven out of the ARENA party, allegedly for corruption. According to Wikileaks cable from the U.S. Embassy, Saca misspent $219 million in government funds, and his legendary conspicuous consumption included the construction of his huge mansion in San Salvador during his presidency. Ironically, his campaign has focused on the implementation of crime prevention policies and security. While Saca is a solid member of the right wing, his voting bloc in the legislature has made several concessions to the FMLN, which has allowed for the passage and implementation of the FMLN’s social agenda.

The FMLN is represented by Vice President and former Minister of Education Salvador Sanchez Cerén. Cerén, a former educator, FMLN party director and legislator, served as Commander of the Frente Popular de Liberacion, one of the groups that comprised the FMLN during the Salvadoran civil war. Unlike Funes, Cerén represents the rank and file of the FMLN, and he has vowed to expand the social programs developed and implemented under Funes. The "three pillars" of his platform are employment, security, and education. These programs include rural health centers, a literacy program, new jobs, and Ciudad Mujer, a popular one-stop social service center for women. Additionally, Cerén has stated that he would continue to partner with ALBA Petroleos and that he would join Petrocaribe, the Caribbean and Venezuelan oil alliance.

Some of the key issues in this election are gang violence, crime, and the economy. The candidates, particularly ARENA and UNIDAD have been focusing on security and crime, while holding the line on increasing taxes. However, the economic turmoil in the country, aided by past corruption, is the elephant in the room. The next president will inherit a state that is functionally bankrupt and incapable of meeting internal and external obligations. The largest corporations in the country pay the least in taxes, yet they require a robust infrastructure and a labor force that is heavily subsidized by the state. So while monetary inputs are necessary to maintain highways and other infrastructure, taxes alone do not begin cover the shortfall, so national and international debt accumulates. Meanwhile, the billions of dollars in profits that are garnered by these transnational enterprises are quietly sequestered in international financial institutions far away from El Salvador.

Regarding corruption, Senator Patrick Leahy declared in September 2013 that El Salvador “remains a country of weak democratic institutions where the independence of the judiciary has been attacked, corruption is widespread, and transnational criminal organizations and money laundering have flourished.”   These realities are complex problems that will require far-reaching solutions including accountability mechanisms, restructuring debt, raising taxes, and promulgating regulations that require economic reinvestment within the country. However, these measures will be difficult to adopt and implement, especially since the right wing currently controls the Legislative Assembly.

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