El Salvador. The party’s candidate Antonio Saca already won in the first round of the presidential election March 21 with 58% of the vote over Shafik Handal for the left-wing party FMLN (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional). The 39-year-old Saca thus became El Salvador’s youngest president ever, and also the fourth president in succession from the ARENA party (Alianza Republicana Nacionalista). Saca’s stated goal under the government program (País Seguro, “Safe Land”) is to improve security by primarily combating the rise in crime.
According to CountryAAH, the total population in El Salvador is 6,486,216 people in 2020. The crime prevention program is a continuation of what the outgoing President Francisco Flores has invested in, and is even referred to as Super Mano Dura as a direct response to the Flores Mano Dura campaign (young “hard tag”). President Saca claimed that crime fell by as much as 40% just twelve days after the program’s August 30 launch, a figure which, however, met with great skepticism. A major problem that Saca intends to address concerns of the youth leagues, whose total membership is estimated at 10,000-15,000. Their internal settlements have also been withdrawn in the prison system. In a gang fight at La Esperanza prison in Mariona outside San Salvador on August 18, 31 people were killed and just as many were injured.
El Salvador’s contemporary history
El Salvador has been strongly influenced by the settlement and legacy of the civil war between 1979 and 1991 since 1990. In an international situation characterized by cold war and confrontation between the left and right sides of politics, the Salvadoran elite’s unwillingness to remedy the country’s sharp social differences to strong polarization and ultimately full civil war. After a ten-year bloody battle between the left-wing FMLN guerrilla and right-wing governments, and parallel to the end of the Cold War, the parties agreed to US-backed UN peace talks in 1990. The FMLN was transformed into a political party and eventually joined power in 2009.
The end of the civil war led to a few years of reform and high economic growth. But even though the civil war was over, El Salvador should not get rid of the violence – on the contrary: In the 1990s and 2000s, the country became the scene of gang wars that made El Salvador one of the most dangerous places to live. With increased violence, reforms and economic growth also stopped.
The challenges of democracy
With Funes Vice President Salvador Sánchez Cerén as a candidate, the FMLN won the presidential election in 2014 as well. Sánchez Cerén has a background as a teacher and guerrilla leader in the FPL and belongs to the party’s Orthodox wing. In other words, now the entire ideological political spectrum of the 1990s has come to an end and sat peacefully in power as proposed by the peace agreement. On the other hand, this spectrum has not been able to handle the economic stagnation and gang crime.
Both Funes and Sánchez Cerén have embarked on smaller welfare programs, but these have largely acted as gifts from the president rather than institutional reforms. In addition, corruption; in 2016 Tony Saca was arrested for misappropriation of state funds and the same year, Funes sought asylum in Nicaragua with his family following similar charges. In the parliamentary and local elections in 2018, turnout declined again to around 45 percent and the FMLN declined markedly; another indication that the country is constantly facing basic institutional challenges.