The historic victory of the leftist Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation (FMLN, Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional) party in the presidential elections held in El Salvador March 15, marked the end of governance by the rightist Republica Nationalist Alliance (ARENA, Alianza Repulicana Nacionalista). With 99.02% of the ballots counted, Mauricio Funes of the FMLN had won 51.3% of the votes while Rodrigo Avila of ARENA had won 48.7% according to the Supreme Electoral Tibunal (TSE, Tribunal Supremo Electoral). Accordingly, Funes’ administration has become the first leftist presidency in the history of El Salvador, which have previously been characterized by military regimes on the right.

Mauricio Funes won the March 15 elections in El Salvador.

The Salvadoran people along with the FMLN were able to overcome the multi-million dollar scare campaign launched by ARENA, the structural problems of the current electoral system, and the political intervention of right-wing groups that attempted to subdue another leftist triumph in Latin America. The electoral triumph of the FMLN was the product of on-the-ground campaigning carried out by party members, the support of various social organizations that backed the movement for change, as well as the grassroots work through different citizen campaigns that highlighted the economic and social situation in the country.

The scare campaign broadcast through the corporate media, whose main shareholders are coincidentally members of the ARENA leadership, saturated the country with images of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Cuban President Fidel Castro, with the same tired discourse on the terrors of Communism which the FMLN would supposedly impose on the population if elected into office. Images of children being trained by guerillas, accusations concerning the financing of the FMLN campaign through Venezuelan oil sales, and supposed links between the FMLN and El Salvador’s notorious street gangs, were all included in the scare tactics used by ARENA.

The dirty campaign reached alarming levels of defamation, reflecting the weakened underpinnings of the state. The heads of several government agencies, such as the ministry of the economy, the attorney general of the Republic, and the competition superintendent, were complicit in the campaign, making unfounded accusations that to date have yet to be proven.

In addition, the Salvadoran electoral system has been characterized by numerous irregularities. The Organization of American States (OAS) published a series of recommendations following an audit of the current electoral registry. The principle points in the recommendations include the purging of more than 100,000 names that remain on the registry belonging to deceased individuals and identification verification in cases where the data given by potential voters did not match that found in the National Citizens Registry. Unfortunately, though the decision was later reversed, the TSE, under the control of the political right, attempted to annul the convention of cooperation signed with the OAS, which calls for the TSE to follow up on the 57 recommendations of the OAS.

At the same time the electoral system was criticized by several civil organizations due to the number of apparent irregularities. In a press conference held in October 2007, Citizen Action for Democracy (Acción Ciudadana para la Democracia), composed of eight local organizations, Geovani Chicas stated that “there are lawyers that show up with up to 20 documents and 2 witnesses trying to prove Salvadoran citizenship and we know of numerous complaints concerning a surplus of Unique Identity Documents (DUI, Documento Único de Identidad) being given to foreigners (Nicaraguans and Hondurans) allowing them to vote. These are documented cases and should be investigated.” On voting day, this statement was confirmed after 24 Nicaraguans and Hondurans were arrested after trying to vote in two different voting centers in the capital of San Salvador.

Five members of the U.S. Congress supported the scare campaign of ARENA, when four days before the Salvadoran elections they declared before the House of Representatives that U.S.-Salvadoran relations would be affected if the FMLN was victorious. The Arizona Republican Congress member, Trent Franks, stated, “Should the pro-terrorist FMLN party replace the current government in El Salvador, the United States, in the interests of national security, would be required to reevaluate our policy toward El Salvador, including cash remittance and immigration policies to compensate for the fact there will no longer be a reliable counterpart in the Salvadoran government.” Similarly, in the presidential elections of 2004, the U.S. government intervened in the political process in El Salvador, violating the right of the citizenry to elect their government. The difference today concerns the threat to cut remittances to El Salvador from family members living in the United States. However, this did not dissuade voters to the degree the U.S. political pressure did in 2004, due to the current economic crisis in the United States and the massive deportations taking place. Despite the political pressure of these Congress members, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, Thomas Shannon, in a recent visit to El Salvador, met with President-elect Funes, in which he reiterated the Obama administration’s commitment to work with the new Salvadoran government.

In addition to U.S. political intervention, several South American groups and ex-heads of state from the right directly intervened in the Salvadoran electoral process. The Venezuelan organization, Solidarity Force (Fuerza Solidaria), broadcast several television and radio spots, which according to its international director, Alejandro Peña Esclusa, had the objective of “alerting the population of the danger that El Salvador could become a satellite state of Hugo Chavez.” Contrary to the restrictions applied by the TSE, which state that no foreign entity may be involved in national politics, none of these individuals felt the full weight of the law in response to their interventionist practices. According to the president of the TSE, Walter Araujo, the foreign propaganda “will be sanctioned, immediately cancelled, and [those responsible] will be expelled from the country as soon as possible if there is any question that they have come to intervene” in national politics.

The election in El Salvador were accompanied by a scare campaign led by the ARENA party.

In El Salvador, the FMLN represents the major political force in the country with a majority of deputies in the Legislative Assembly, municipal governments in important cities, and control of the central government. ARENA will have to redefine itself as the opposition party. The ARENA presidential candidate and ex-director of police, Rodrigo Avila, after the elections, declared that ARENA will be “a vigilant opposition party, making sure that our country does not lose its system of liberties.”

As Funes expressed in his first discourse as president-elect, he promised to carry out “profound changes in the model of public participation, transparency, and social justice.” His discourse is in accord with the principle necessities of the Salvadoran people, given the 20 years of an ARENA-led government has left the few institutions that have not been privatized in critical condition.

Among the issues left behind by the outgoing President Elías Antonio Saca, it will be necessary to overcome the high levels of government corruption, the deteriorating institutionality, and the critical socioeconomic conditions lived by the majority of the Salvadoran population. In the 20 years of ARENA government, El Salvador saw a total of 2,373,444 individuals emigrate from the country according to the general director of statistics and census (DIGESTYC, Dirección General de Estadística y Censos), and 75,483 people killed (equal to the number of deaths during the 12 years of civil war suffered in the country) reported by Legal Medicine of El Salvador (Medicina Legal de El Salvador).

These statistics have been worsened by the entrance of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States in March 2006. In his propagandistic campaign in favor of the FTA, Antonio Saca promised more employment, more exportation, and lower prices. After three years of its implementation, the official data along with that presented by the organization Team Corn (Equipo Maíz), shows the opposite. In terms of employment, in the last three months of 2008 alone, some 24,445 jobs were lost. The trade deficit for 2006 was $3.73 billion and in 2008, that deficit grew to $5.21 billion. The gap between the promise of lower prices and the national reality in the past year has continued to grow as well. According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL, Comisión Económica para America Latina y el Caribe), the increase of the monthly cost of living had reached 34.5% in rural areas and 27.8% in urban areas.

The FMLN has the support of both the general population and social organizations in the country who will be the beneficiaries of the changes proposed by Funes and his running mate Salvador Sánchez Cerén.