Voters in El Salvador went to the polls on Sunday after a hard-fought presidential campaign featuring three main candidates; Hugo Martínez of the leftist Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN), Nayib Bukele on the ticket for the conservative Grand Alliance for National Unity (GANA) party, and Carlos Calleja of the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA). Despite low voter turnout, Nayib Bukele won 53% of the vote and will be El Salvador’s next president. Bukele, the 37-year-old former mayor of the capital San Salvador, came into the race as the favorite, and is the first president-elect in 30 years who does not belong to one of the country’s two largest parties, ARENA and the FMLN.
Bukele’s win highlights the Salvadoran people’s disillusionment with the status quo, and mirrors the trend of populist and right-leaning sentiment gaining ground around the world. After 10 years of the FMLN in power, and 30 years of a two-party system dominated by the ARENA/FMLN dichotomy, the Salvadoran voters chose a social-media savvy candidate who ran on an anti-corruption campaign and positioned himself as a political outsider.
Despite being plagued by corruption scandals and the challenge of combating endemic violence, the FMLN, during their two administrations in the presidency totaling ten years, made notable gains. Through a robust territorial development plan, the FMLN achieved greater decentralization of government and moved toward more democracy and participation. They enacted social programs designed to benefit the rural poor, increased access to education, and put enforceable environmental protections in place. The Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) developed a progressive national strategy to combat climate change and worked to reduce emissions and increase the resilience of vulnerable sectors of the population. With a Bukele administration, social movements like our partners in El Salvador and their allies will be working to protect these gains.
Bukele’s presidency poses a potential challenge to many of the policies enacted that support the marginalized and rural communities we work with. His administration will have the ability to pass a water privatization law, reverse the amendments to the current telecommunications law which guarantee freedom of expression and boost community-based radio, and annul the ban against metallic mining which protects natural resources and in particular the Rio Lempa watershed, in which the vast majority of Salvadorans reside. We are concerned that social investment could decrease for the most vulnerable sectors, environmental conservation regulations could be reversed, and climate change mitigation and adaptation may no longer be a policy priority. EcoViva and our partners in El Salvador will be applying social pressure to maintain environmental and social policies in place and hold the new administration accountable to their campaign promises.
It is important not to forget the role of US foreign policy in creating the challenging conditions in Central America, including the current migration crisis. Decades of policy decisions ranging from backing (and training) right-wing dictatorships, to support for extractive industries that are known polluters of land and water, have contributed to the destabilization of the region and many of the environmental and socioeconomic challenges that are the catalyst for the economic insecurity and social ills facing El Salvador today.
EcoViva is committed to guaranteeing the rights of vulnerable populations in El Salvador, and will continue to work hard to protect fragile and critical ecosystems and build resilient communities in the face of a changing climate.
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