Mauricio Funes el Salvador, FMLN el Salvador, Arena el Salvador
Dario Lopez-Mills/AP
Mauricio Funes, presidential candidate of the opposition Farabundo Marti National Liberation
Front, or FMLN, speaks to supporters during his victory speech in San Salvador, Sunday
March 15, 2009.

Leftist Presidential Victory Brings Political Change in El Salvador

March 17, 2009 07:30 AM
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
The victory of Mauricio Funes in El Salvador ends 20 years of conservative rule, and raises questions about El Salvador’s future.

Winds of Change in El Salvador

A left-wing presidential victory marks a first in El Salvador. The Nationalist Republican Alliance, known as Arena, had maintained power for almost two decades, imposing a strictly conservative rule. In this election, however, Mauricio Funes, a former television journalist and representative of the FMLN (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front) party, defeated Arena’s candidate, Rodrigo Avila, by winning 51.3% of the vote, reported Reuters.

The FMLN is a leftist party founded in 1980 by Marxist guerrillas trying to seize power from the conservative government. After spending nearly 20 years in political opposition, the FMLN has finally achieved its goal.

During its long rule, the right-wing party did little to amend the country’s deep-rooted social inequalities. As the Associated Press reports, El Salvador has one of Latin America’s highest homicide rates, which is caused mostly by violent altercations between powerful drug gangs.
The Washington Post reported that during the campaign, Avila had insisted that a FMLN victory would destroy the country’s relationship with the United States and make El Salvador “a hard-left satellite state of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.” Funes, however, considers himself to be akin to President Obama in his “pledge to be an agent of change” in the Salvadorian nation.

According to the Associated Press, the Obama administration is looking forward to working with the new government of El Salvador. This constitutes a significant departure from the Bush administration, which suggested in 2004 that if the FMLN were to win, ties between the U.S. and El Salvador would suffer.

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Background: Civil war in El Salvador

The conflict between Arena and the FMLN originated during El Salvador’s 12-year civil war. During the 1970s, social inequalities, a weak economy and a repressive dictatorship sowed discontent in the country. Civil war erupted between the government of El Salvador, which had been ruled by the right-wing National Conciliatory Party (PCN) since 1961, and leftist guerrillas led by the FMLN. FMLN guerrillas took cover in the jungle and resisted the right-wing military forces. The U.S. sided with the military dictatorship, turning a blind eye to its record of human rights violations.

In 1984, José Napoleón Duarte, a moderate civilian, was elected president in an attempt to bring an alternative to the right and left extremes. However, even Duarte’s greatest efforts were not sufficient to end the war. In 1989, the right wing had its triumph, electing Alfredo Cristiani of the Arena party as president. The war was officially terminated by means of a UN-sponsored agreement on Jan. 16, 1992, after 12 years of fighting and the loss of 75,000 lives.
Throughout the war and in the years since, around 2.5 million people—roughly a quarter of El Salvador’s overall population—have fled to the U.S., creating a strong presence in this country. Many nationals from El Salvador now reside in Southern California.

Related Topic: U.S. endorses Nicaraguan right-wing guerrillas

In 1979, Nicaragua was ruled by a leftist military government that was established by Sandinista revolutionaries after overthrowing Anastasio Somoza Debayle, a corrupt and brutal dictator. The goals of this government ran counter to American interests in the region, and were considered to be a dangerous vehicle for Soviet political strategies. In 1981, as a protective measure, President Ronald Reagan allowed the CIA to fund and train Nicaragua’s counterrevolutionary guerrillas, the “Contras,” primarily made up of soldiers from Somoza’s former National Guard.

In November 1986, a Lebanese magazine first revealed the top secret arms sales from the U.S. to Iran. Weeks later, President Ronald Reagan and Attorney General Edwin Meese presented the American people with a memo written by Lt. Col. Oliver North specifying that a portion of the money made from the almost $48 million dollar arms sales to Iran was to be used to aid the Contras in Nicaragua. The events sparked a major political scandal that came to be known as the Iran-Contra affair.

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