The leftist candidate Mauricio Funes won El Salvador’s presidential election last night, ending 20 years of rule by the rightist ARENA government. Funes’ party the FMLN had developed out of a Marxist inspired guerilla movement that opposed ARENA’s government 'during the country’s gruesome civil war in the 1980’s. While FMLN supporters took to the streets last night, riding into the capital on beat-up pickup trucks packed with red-shirted youth, waving FMLN flags to celebrate their first presidential victory, there was a more somber mood in ARENA headquarters and in reports from the international press. Though ARENA has spent years crafting a free-market economy, with a stabilized banking system, a free trade agreement with the United States and courting multinational investors El Salvador still remains one of Central America’s poorest economic performers. Over half of Salvadorans live in poverty, without access to consistent food, medicine, work and often quality education. 20% of El Salvador’s GDP is comprised of remittance payments from family members working (illegally) in the United States. More than just a statistic, though, remittances have had overwhelming effects on the social political and economic realities of El Salvador including microfinance. Often small entrepreneurs can only afford to cover their monthly interest payments with support from the money transfers from family living abroad. Especially now, during tough economic times in the United States remittance payments have been slowing causing wide-spread loan defaults and instability in the MFI industry in El Salvador.
Last night I stood in the streets of San Salvador sharing in the excitement of Salvadorans at a possible new direction for their tiny country. Some old enough to clearly remember the bloody civil war of the 80’s but many victims of an ongoing struggle against hunger, lack of work and no hope for change. Their songs and dancing where encouraging, but didn’t distract me enough from noticing the hundreds of vendors that had taken to the streets hoping to sell party t-shirts, sausages and light-up head-wear to celebrants. After all, there’s work to be done and many mouths to be fed in El Salvador. Good luck, Funes./>