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Left win in El Salvador

imageEl Salvador’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal has confirmed the election to the presidency of Salvador Sanchez Ceren, the left-wing candidate in March’s presidential election. Sanchez Ceren was the candidate of the progressive Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), a former guerilla movement that became a political party in the early 1990s. He narrowly defeated Roman Quijano of the right-wing opposition party ARENA, which appealed to the military for intervention on election night.

The final result was very close with Sanchez Ceren getting 1,495,815 votes and his rival, 1,489,451, a difference of just 6,364 votes, or 0.22%.

At the count, riot police were deployed around the building housing the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, after Quijano took to the stage declaring himself the winner. He added that the armed forces were watching the election and were “ready to make democracy”. His campaign had a lot of backing from the privately owned media, which as in Venezuela, is unremittingly hostile to any challenge to the traditional power structures.

The new President was a guerrilla leader during El Salvador’s bitter civil war from 1979-1992. He has been widely dubbed a hardliner but ran a moderate campaign in this election, focusing on anti-poverty measures and social investment.

Election observers from the Organisation of American States called the election the most transparent in El Salvador’s history, but the United States was less happy. One commentator reported, “Washington is threatening to withhold development aid unless El Salvador adopts economic policies that are anathema to the ruling coalition of left and center forces that have been working together over the last five years. That threat could end up undermining the very programs that contributed to the FMLN victory in the March 9th poll.”

The FMLN have held power for the last five years, widening access to public healthcare and supporting other progressive measures. As Minister for Education, Sanchez Ceren promoted a literacy campaign and free milk for schoolchildren.

US pressure has been intense, however. It threatened to withhold aid from the country unless El Salvador passed a public-private partnership law, largely drafted by the US Treasury, IMF and World Bank, that privatised crucial public services. The Obama Administration made clear its sympathies in the region when it carried on supplying military and economic aid to Honduras in 2009 after the elected president was overthrown by a right-wing coup.

El Salvador is a small country but remains deeply polarised. Before the advent of democracy, it was ruled by a small oligarchy. Still today, one in three people live in poverty.

ARENA, the National Republican Alliance was originally founded by the architect of the country’s notorious US-backed death squads. It was a key opponent of the FMLN in the 1980s civil war, which left 75,000 people dead and disappeared.

The path to peace and democracy has not been easy. It was only a couple of years ago that the country’s foreign minister issued an apology for the El Mozote massacre thirty years earlier. This was perpetrated by the US-trained Atlacatl Battalion of the Salvadorean army, which rounded up the over 1,000 villagers and systematically tortured, raped and murdered them, before setting fire to all the buildings. Girls as young as ten were raped and children had their throats slit and were hanged from the trees.

It’s in this context that Quijano’s call for military intervention on election night must be fully understood.


  1. Marie Lynam says:

    Please send me your posts. Many thanks, Marie

  2. Dave Roberts says:

    Because of the colonial and language connections there is a vast amount of information in the Spanish media about this. The best source is but you will need to speak Spanish to access it. El Pais is more or less the Guardian with El Mundo and ABC to the right of centre.

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