President-elect Funes prepares to take office on June 1, makes official visit to Venezuela
Also in this update:
- Case against Salvadoran officers accused of 1989 murder of Jesuit priests begins in Spain
- Right-wing legislative faction rushes through reforms, critics fear a crisis of institutionality
On June 1, Mauricio Funes and Salvador Sánchez Cerén will formally take their positions as President and Vice-president of El Salvador. The former FMLN (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front) candidates who triumphed at the polls on March 15 will be sworn in at a ceremony attended by foreign delegations and heads of state. Presidents Lula da Silva of Brazil and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, as well as U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, have already confirmed their attendance at the official ceremony. Following this ceremony, a public celebration will take place in Cuscatlán Stadium, where Funes and Sánchez Cerén will celebrate the victory with the people who elected them.
On May 18, Funes, Sanchez Cerén, and members of the FMLN leadership visited Venezuela to meet with President Chávez and investigate the possibility of implementing Venezuelas subsidized fuel project, ALBA Petroleos, on a national level in El Salvador. Many FMLN-governed municipalities already enjoy low cost fuel through this bilateral cooperation. However, outgoing Salvadoran president Tony Saca rejected Venezuelas offer to extend the project throughout the country. On the trip to Venezuela, the transition team explored other areas of collaboration between the two countries, including El Salvador's participation in the regional Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) initiative.
President-elect Funes has yet to announce his cabinet, though he says it is 80% determined. The remaining 20% will be determined in the week leading up to the inauguration, and the entire cabinet will be announced on June 1. Based on statements made by Funes, FMLN leaders, and other members of the transition team, the cabinet will be made up of FMLN members as well as people from other sectors. Many social movement organizations and non-governmental organizations have submitted proposals to the transition team for their ideal cabinet candidates. The transition team has said it will carefully consider these proposals in making its decisions.
The case against 14 Salvadoran army officials accused of assassinating six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter in 1989 begins on May 20 in Spain. The murders are considered one of the most infamous acts of violent political repression in El Salvadors history. Judge Eloy Velasco, the magistrate who has accepted the case under the Spanish legal doctrine that crimes against humanity can be tried in any country, will hear the testimony of three legal experts that visited El Salvador to investigate the crime at the time it occurred. Several of the army officials were initially found guilty of the crimes and imprisoned, only to be released when El Salvador's right-wing dominated Legislative Assembly passed an Amnesty Law in 1993 granting immunity to all individuals accused of crimes committed during the Salvadoran Civil War.
The original case also accused then-President Alfredo Cristiani of the ARENA party (Nationalist Republican Alliance) of covering up the atrocity. This charge was not admitted to the Spanish court by Magistrate Velasco. Human rights organizations have expressed hope that justice will finally be served to those responsible for the assassinations, and that further investigation will bring about enough evidence for the judge to hear the case against Cristiani.
The trial begins as ARENA finds itself amidst a tumultuous restructuring process after losing the presidential election in March for the first time in 20 years. ARENA recently named Cristiani as its new General Coordinator, drawing renewed attention to the party's repressive history. ARENA found Roberto DAubisson is widely recognized as the intellectual author of the assassination of Archbishop Monseñor Oscar Romero. Romeros 1980 murder by Salvadoran military snipers is considered a catalyst of the 12-year Salvadoran Civil War.
In mid-May, the right-wing coalition in the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly passed reforms to the law governing the National Registry of Naturalized Persons (RNPN) and the Law of Administrative and Municipal Careers. The FMLN refused to vote for the reforms and denounced them as an effort by the right to hold onto power and disrupt the functioning of certain state institutions. The changes made to the RNPN endow the Supreme Electoral Tribunal with the task of naming a National Registrar who directs this institution (currently, the President is charged with this task.) The lack of transparency of the Electoral Registrywhich is generated from the RNPNalong with its inaccessibility to all political parties as stipulated in the Constitution, was repeatedly denounced by international election observation missions (including those from the European Union and Organization of American States), political parties, and non-governmental organizations.
According to Norma Guevara of the FMLN, This will make it more difficult for the new governmentto be able to audit and correct the problems that the RNPN currently presents. Some might say they are trying to cover up or hide the processes that made it possible to have an inaccurate Electoral Registry containing deceased people, absent people, foreigners, double identities, and who knows what other defects.
The changes to the Law of Administrative and Municipal Careers that were approved add an additional 42,791 public employees on the list of posts with job stability protection during changes of administration. The FMLN contends that this is an attempt to keep high-level government functionaries in office after Funess June 1 inauguration. FMLN legislative deputy Daysi Villalobos explained that, ARENA does not want to accept that it will no longer be in the Executive and is resisting giving up power. They want to continue controlling things from the outside.
Both of these legislative reforms were passed in the Assembly with 47 out of 84 votes. The FMLN won 35 deputies in the January Legislative, the most of any party, while ARENA was reduced to 33 seats. Still, the two other right-wing parties with legislative representation, the PCN and PDC, together give the right-wing bloc the additional 14 votes necessary to pass such reforms in a simple majority vote.
The 47 deputies from right-wing parties also managed to confirm PCN deputy Ciro Cruz Zepeda as president of the Legislative Assembly, a position traditionally given to the party with the most seats. All three right-wing parties voted for Cruz Zepeda, while the FMLN abstained in protest. The president of the Assembly has a large amount of influence in what legislation gets voted on, and the party that holds this position is also given the presidency of several important legislative commissions. Protesters entered the legislative session on May 1 to protest Cruz Zepedas election, temporarily disrupting the proceedings of the Assembly.
These moves come on the heals of ARENAs successful effort to block the election of a new Attorney Generaleffectively leaving the post vacantas well as blocking the election of new Supreme Court Magistrates. Some political analysts, therefore, are referring to the situation as leading to a crisis of institutionality in the country. Guevara explains that while the Right and ARENA continue with a discourse of reconciliation, their actions show the same nature of this party, the calculating nature, the cynicism, the concrete demonstration that they plan to continue with midnight legislative sessions, surprises, and avoiding proper debate. The editorial board of the Diario CoLatino newspaper described these actions as demonstrating that ARENA, has launched into an absurd strategy of demonstrating its power without concerning itself with the fact that its endangering the institutionality of the country.