Why You Should Care About El Salvador’s Presidential Elections

Maybe it was the Polar vortex that gripped large parts of the US, but El Salvador’s elections on Sunday February 2nd have pretty much flown under the radar of the United States media. And yet, there is good reason to pay attention. The FMLN is the party generally projected to win the election and is the guerilla organization that morphed into a political party after the signing of the peace accords in 1992. The FMLN candidate Salvador Sánchez Cerén is running against Norman Quijano, the candidate for the conservative right wing ARENA, a party backed by the country’s waning oligarchy with nefarious ties to the US backed death squads during the war in the 1980s.

In mentioning the histories of these parties, it is difficult not to stress how much the issues on the table have changed in the “postwar” era. The ARENA party no longer has hegemonic control of the national discourse and the FMLN has lost much of their revolutionary mystique as a result of the largely disappointing presidency of Mauricio Funes characterized by impunity, gluttonous superficial spending, and secret negotiations with the country’s gangs, with the ALBA petróleos (Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas) international bloc and with the narco-trafficking Colombian FARC. While the US tends to address narco-trafficking as a south of the border issue, US consumers and traffickers play a central role in the international crisis. And even though many in the US continue to think of ElSalvador as an insignificant third world country, drug traffickers realize the importance of El Salvador, which they call “El caminito” the little pathway, in getting their product to collaborating traffickers and consumers in the North.

Additionally, impunity for past human rights violations remains a central issue for many Salvadorans and should merit at least a passing glance from US citizens whose tax dollars funded in large part the state repression in the 1980s. ARENA is tied to the vast majority of human rights violations and the FMLN candidate also has a seedy past as a guerilla commander who directed widespread massacres of guerillas accused of ideological weakness and treason. As a result, neither FMLN nor ARENA candidates seem committed to addressing past atrocities, but this remains an issue to watch since there has been some movement by national human rights organizations to overturn the amnesty laws passed after the war.

I hope you will tune in with me on Sunday February 2nd to watch El Salvador’s election. Like it or not, the past and present of the US is tied to the fate of “El caminito.”