Top 10 stories of 2018 from El Salvador

Here is my annual list of the top 10 stories from the prior year in El Salvador.

FMLN suffers major defeat in legislative and municipal elections.   El Salvador conducted national elections on March 4, 2018.   When the results were counted, the left wing FMLN had suffered its worst electoral defeat since it became a political party with the conclusion of the civil war.   Although the FMLN holds the executive branch with president Salvador Sanchez Ceren, the party lost several seats in the National Assembly, falling below the 28 seats necessary to uphold a presidential veto or to block legislation requiring a super majority.   The FMLN’s defeat came from its supporters abandoning the party and sitting out the election.   Conservative parties led by ARENA ended up with a controlling majority in the National Assembly, along with the mayor's office in San Salvador and many other municipalities.

Nayib Bukele shakes up the Salvadoran political scene.  Part of the FMLN's defeat in March related to its decision to expel Nayib Bukele from the party in 2017.  Nayib Bukele officially launched his Nuevas Ideas political party, and immediately became the leading candidate for president in 2019.  He had to struggle to get on the ballot, however, after authorities first ruled his party had been formed too late to select a candidate and then de-certified the party Cambio Democratico which had agreed to nominate Bukele.   At the last possible moment,  GANA agreed to nominate Bukele in a marriage of convenience. 

Presidential election campaign.   His spot on the ballot assured by GANA, Nayib Bukele will face Carlos Calleja from ARENA and Hugo Martinez from the FMLN in the February 3, 2019 presidential election.   Calleja comes from the family which owns the Super Selectos supermarket chain in El Salvador and is a political neophyte backed by a lot of money and the country's major newspapers.   Hugo Martinez is the former foreign minister under the government of Salvador Sanchez Ceren and has the most government experience of the three candidates.   Although the official start of campaigning was at the beginning of October, all three major candidates had been campaigning since before the conclusion of legislative elections in March.

New Supreme Court magistrates chosen after lengthy delay.   In July 2018, four of the five judges in the Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador's Supreme Judicial Court finished their terms.  The new conservative leaning National Assembly delayed four months in finding replacements to a court which had previously issued important decisions such as striking down the 1993 amnesty law and forcing the election of individual legislators.  The selection process smacked of political bargaining and not a search for the most qualified candidates.

Further revelations on scope of presidential corruption.    The scope of corruption by past presidents of El Salvador became clearer.   Antonio Saca, who was president from 2004-2009, pled guilty to corruption and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.   Meanwhile, his successor, Mauricio Funes remains in exile in Nicaragua, charged with misdirecting $351 million in funds.   And Revista Factum recently revealed recordings of a meeting between Saca and Funes where they plotted to divulge confidential information about the misappropriation of funds by the president who preceded them, Francisco Flores.

Canonization of Oscar Romero
.   On October 14 in Rome, slain Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Romero was officially declared a saint by the Roman Catholic church.  The event was greeted with great celebration by the faithful throughout El Salvador.

Migration declines.   Migration from El Salvador towards the US, as measured by detentions at the US border, was down from 2017, but the news of the year concerning migration was dominated by caravans which left from El Salvador, following in the path of larger caravans from Honduras.

US cancels Temporary Protected Status.   One of the anti-migration policies of the Trump administration in the US was the cancellation of Temporary Protected Status for El Salvador, effective in September 2019.   The move means that close to 195,000 Salvadorans in the US will lose their legal right to remain in the country and could face deportation.   A judge's order in the US has temporarily stayed the cancellation, but is being challenged by Trump.

Civil society groups unite to push for water law.   The efforts to pass a general water law and to block privatization of water resources took on greater urgency as pro-business, conservative parties took firm control of the National Assembly.   Churches, universities and environmental activists came together in a political movement which so far has managed to stall legislation favored by business interests, although the movement has not yet achieved passage of a general water law.   El Salvador suffers from serious levels of water stress related to climate change and the lack of any comprehensive plan to manage hydric resources. 

Murder rate down but reasons are not clear.   El Salvador’s homicide rate for 2018 fell 16% from the prior year, but the reasons are not quite clear.   While the government takes credit for the decline with its "exceptional measures", which emphasize harsh imprisonment, it is equally possible that the gangs have decided to lower the level of killing for their own purposes.

El Salvador breaks diplomatic ties with Taiwan.    In a sudden announcement in August, El Salvador broke diplomatic relations with Taiwan and established a relationship with the Peoples Republic of China.   It was a move criticized by conservative parties in El Salvadoran and the US, but the government justified its move by trade and other benefits which it claimed would result from a relationship with mainland China.


Greg said…
Curious as to why the progress of the El Mozote trial didn't make the Top Ten?

Tim said…
It was my top story for 2017. I certainly could have included it again this year, but I already had 11 stories in my top 10 list.....