One year in office: Achievements and obstacles in Sánchez Cerén’s El Salvador
On June 1st, President Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) marked his first year in office. His administration has made admirable gains in social programming and political dialogue, but the President faces a ferocious right-wing destabilization campaign that threatens to undermine El Salvador’s shift towards inclusive, participatory governance.
In his annual address to the National Legislative Assembly, President Sánchez Cerén declared that, “The center of our policies is the person; our social policy has the objective of justly distributing the wealth that our society generates, and improving the quality of life for everyone, especially historically excluded sectors.”
Sánchez Cerén highlighted his administration’s accomplishments over the past 12 months, including important measures to expand access to public education and healthcare and support rural family farmers. Furthermore, economic growth rose from 2% to 2.5% in the administration’s first year. The government has also begun to implement a comprehensive and ambitious prevention-oriented security plan, developed by the cross-sector Citizen Security and Coexistence Council, in ten of the country’s most violent municipalities. (For more on the important achievements in social programs and poverty reduction, see this teleSUR report.)
Despite these striking advances, Catholic Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chávez recently warned of “diabolical mechanisms [working] to create a climate of ungovernability.” Indeed, El Salvador’s notoriously recalcitrant right-wing opposition is using every means in its power to destabilize the FMLN administration.
The conservative mass media continues its relentless smear campaign against the administration, in concert with a surge in gang-driven homicides that Police Chief Mauricio Landaverde says are part of a deliberate campaign to drive up body counts. The police chief has called for an investigation into whether the spike in homicides is politically motivated.
At the same time, four of the five magistrates in the Supreme Court’s Constitutional Chamber continue to arbitrarily infringe upon other branches of government, first undermining the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, then paralyzing the National Legislative Assembly, and recently freezing vast sources of crucial State funding. FMLN legislator Lorena Peña, President of the Legislative Assembly, has deemed the Chamber’s actions equivalent to a “technical coup d’etat,” a view that raises sinister implications in the shadow of recent "constitutional coups" in the region.
The obstacles that President Sánchez Cerén faces in his next four years in office are serious, but so is the Salvadoran people’s commitment to fighting for popular, democratic change. With so much at stake, international solidarity will be crucial in the four remaining years of El Salvador’s first-ever FMLN-lead government.