El Salvador joins Latin America's leftward tilt
A talk show host wins the presidential election. Will he be more like Venezuela's Chávez or Brazil's Lula?
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Meanwhile the average cost of living for a family is $760 a month. The minimum wage in a factory job is just $173 a month.Skip to next paragraph
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"In the economic realm, people tend to blame Arena for bad performance of the economy," says Miguel Cruz, a former polling director in San Salvador and now a political analyst.
But troubles are expected to worsen before getting better. Over 2 million of the nation's 7 million residents live abroad, in cities such as Los Angeles, sending money home in what is a crucial engine of El Salvador's economy: remittances represent 20 percent of the nation's gross domestic product. That flow of cash from abroad has grown unabated over the past decade. But it's expected to drop by 5 percent next year, says Manuel Orozco, director of remittances and development at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington.
Ms. Martinez says that, despite the challenges ahead, she believes Funes will be able to create a model that favors national production, for example, and boosts jobs instead of favoring multinationals. "The way [the FMLN] will deal with the crisis will lessen the social conflict, people will give them space to make the changes needed," she says.
But a new economic model is precisely what scares some voters. Jose Ramon Iraheta, a flower vendor with Arena flags hanging from his street stall, says that Arena is the party that is best placed to generate employment and keep foreign investment flowing into the country. "Leftists take over the country and investors run away," he says.
A vote for Chávez?
Many voters say they worry that an FMLN victory means a government like that of Venezuelan President Chávez, a vociferous US critic. Funes himself tried to temper such fears throughout his campaign, calling Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva his model.
But factions within the FMLN embrace Chávez's vision. "It will be interesting to see which tendency predominates," says Mr. Cruz, "and whether once in government [the administration] is more a moderate left or a Chávista left."
Many residents were drawn to Funes because he represents a more moderate face of the left. As a talk show host on prime-time television, he never shied away from taking on corporate media giants and schooled a postwar society in freedom of expression.
Iris de Cisco, a mother of three, says she voted for Funes because, "we were sick of misery, poverty, corruption." She's not worried that he will alienate the US, which sees El Salvador as an important ally.
Mr. Orozco says that, while Arena threatened that an FMLN victory would spell trouble for the country's relationship with the US, he expects it to remain stable, especially on key issues such as narcotrafficking. Funes, for one, has said that he will respect the free-trade deal with the US and keep the dollar as the official currency. The Obama administration had stated its willingness to work with either candidate.
The vote was not a landslide and comes at the heels of a fierce and dirty campaign. Building coalitions will be critical for Funes, who must move quickly to temper brewing problems in the country, says Martinez. The FMLN might have trouble achieving simple majorities in the legislative assembly, where the FMLN holds 32 seats and Arena, 34. If Funes is blocked by the opposition, "the crisis will only deepen," she says.
In conceding defeat Avila promised his supporters: "We will be a constructive opposition."