Corruption Exposed in El Salvador

5/4/14

Chronic Corruption Exposed in El Salvador

All of us who have worked in rural El Salvador are aware of the painfully limited reach of the Salvadoran government. A crumbling school, a 45-minute walk to the nearest bus stop, maybe a new health clinic in a bigger community like Palo Grande—and we should keep in mind that these services were even more limited during the Civil War (1980-92)—are some of the few signs of amenities that we often take for granted in the U.S. While there are many reasons for the current situation, government corruption is clearly high on the list. By learning more about corruption’s tangible impact on the lives of our Salvadoran host families and friends, we can better understand their struggle.
Corruption was a central focus of this year’s presidential election as evidence surfaced suggesting ARENA party former-President Paco Flores (1999-2004) pocketed at least $10 million in funds intended for disaster relief and public safety. After current FMLN Pres. Funes first revealed the investigation, Flores fled the country before eventually returning to testify before the National Assembly that he had distributed the funds in “small sacks of cash” to the appropriate recipients. Pundits had a field day, immediately nicknaming him Saquito “Little Sack” Flores.

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Flores’s erratic behavior continued. He attempted to sneak across the border to Guatemala the morning he was scheduled to testify before the Assembly again, claiming that it was not the Border Police who had made him turn his car around, but rather a last minute decision that his business in Guatemala could wait for another day. The latest reports suggest he is hiding in Panama. Since Flores had been ARENA presidential candidate Norman Quijano’s campaign adviser, the scandal undoubtedly had an impact on the Feb. 2 and March 7 presidential elections, which Quijano lost by just over 6,000 votes to the FMLN’s Salvador Sanchez Ceren.
Throughout the campaign, Elba (who works for IP in ES) kept me up to date by sending me articles, videos, and the cartoon above. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this story had significance beyond the elections, beyond party politics. There is a class of people in El Salvador who have never had to answer for their actions. Through the wielding of political and economic power, El Salvador’s elite have been able to sweep crimes under the rug, or pass amnesty laws to protect themselves when wrongdoing eventually does come to light. Now that the traditional elite no longer hold the reigns of government, we can expect to see more such cases in the news.
A warrant has been issued for Flores’s arrest and his property and bank account frozen. If he is eventually convicted, it will be a major blow against impunity in El Salvador. It may even open the door to repealing the 1993 Amnesty Law, which protects those who committed violent atrocities during the Civil War. While much remains to be seen, the next five years will likely see major changes in how Salvadorans interact with their own history. On June 1st, for example, Salvador Sanchez Ceren, former teacher, guerilla general during the war, congressman, vice-president, and education minister, will be inaugurated as president, an historic first.
How these national events filter down to the communities that welcome International Partners delegations remains to be seen. It’s unlikely that your host mom will draw a direct link between an ex-president’s potential corruption conviction and improved local services. At the same time, there are clear indications that El Salvador is a profoundly different place than when IP sent its first delegation in 2000. By staying connected to these structural changes, we develop context within which to place the individual relationships that are so dear to all of us.

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4 Responses to Corruption Exposed in El Salvador

  1. Don Montagna says:

    Dear Owen,
    Thanks for placing the IP work with families and communities in its political context. As you indicate, poverty is a symptom of a diseased political culture of exploitation that must be cured for the health of all citizens, including those we have come to love.

    During the last 5 years while the FMLN has held the presidency for the first time in history, this new left-liberal government, despite the enormous problems they inherited, is instituting policies and programs intended to serve the general welfare. Now that the electorate has returned them to office for another 5 years, they represent the best hope for a better future in all of Salvadoran history.

    While IP works locally and makes poverty not politics our major focus, I agree that we must remain vigilantly in support of politics that serve all Salvadorans and particularly the poorest.

    I look forward reading your politic perspective on El Salvador.

    Don

  2. Bob Bailey says:

    Good article, very informative.

    Interesting how little coverage there is in the US of events in El Salvador, given that we essentially fomented and encouraged the civil war.

    I should add, though, that unless I’m missing something, I would tend to leave amnesty in place. Think Nelson Mandela and South Africa here. 1993 was over twenty years ago; time to move on.

  3. Greg Vogel says:

    Very well put Owen. It is hard to believe the amount of power the political and economic elite have in El Salvador, but the warrant for Flores’ arrest will hopefully start making people think differently about what they can get away with. Not everyone has been getting the message however–ARENA still hasn’t kicked Flores out of the party, even after Interpol has released an international red alert for his arrest. And it wasn’t until the end of the presidential campaign, weeks after evidence had surfaced about Flores’ illegal actions, that Norman Quijano decided to suspend him as campaign advisor.

    From being here for the past five months and following the news closely, I think the country is on the correct path to make significant changes in the lives of the majority of its citiens; HOwever, there are still people with vested political ane economic interests who will fight to preserve the old way of order when they could get what they wanted at the expense of the populatoin.

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