Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 172 | Noviembre 1995


El Salvador

ARENA Remains United

In the 1997 elections ARENA may again prove itself to be the primary political force in El Salvador. This rightist party has a proven capacity for maintaining its cohesion and including new interest sectors in its fold.

Juan Hernández Pico, SJ

Three days before September's independence celebrations began, the Salvadoran capital became the conflictive scene of a violent confrontation between striking union members of state institutions and the Civil National Police (PNC). Once again, the confrontation showed a lack of innovative imagination in mounting a labor protest and the authoritarian and unnecessarily violent intransigence of the state through the police. And once again, the absence of negotiation procedures and mediation bodies to process the inevitable discrepancies and opposed viewpoints between workers and employers was revealed.

No Channels for Dialogue or Negotiation

In 1993, the electoral campaign interrupted the dialogue in the Social Economic Forum. Since then, neither the government nor private enterprise has wanted to reinstall this forum, conceived of in the Peace Accords as a negotiating body for social economic policies. Nor has the Higher Labor Council, seen in the reformed Labor Code as a negotiating body for conflicts, functioned.

The government calls the business associations to dialogue, but not the labor unions. This asymmetry, in addition to being inequitable, feeds a climate of mistrust. The government announces a modernization of the state and links it to cutting state jobs. But without discussing the modernization plans or privatization with the workers, they are frightened by today's serious unemployment, which pushes them into a desperate struggle, among other things to increase their salaries and thus deal with their future layoff and unemployment in better shape.

September's confrontation between the unionists and the PNC's anti riot squads not only abounded in unnecessary violence, it ended with 15 leaders and militants detained, sent by the justice of peace to the Mariona prison, ironically named "La Esperanza" (hope); they were finally freed in response to a legal appeal. The PNC and the Minister of Public Security have had to hear severe criticisms and the new reduced UN Mission (MINUSAL) issued a report to the government calling for new guidance for the PNC.

ARENA's "Granite Unity"

These dramatic events occurred two weeks before the annual general assembly of the governing party, ARENA. The assembly is more important this year because it will elect its new National Executive Council (COENA). Communicators and politicians alike alluded to splits within ARENA, and all agreed that there are two fundamental tendencies: the modernizers around Cristiani and the traditionalist followers of D'Aubuisson. President Calderón Sol's backers, whose roots are closest to the traditionalists, would respond today mainly to the needs of governing. Both of these fundamental tendencies are sufficiently clear and are based on economic interests and very diverse ideological or political emphases.

ARENA denies any internal division and even the existence of tendencies. "ARENA has no tendencies," declared ARENA president Juan José Domenech on September 11. "The only thing is to work for the country. One of the things that Roberto D'Aubuisson taught us was to never fight over individuals. We fight for an ideology, for a model of government, for a better El Salvador." President Calderón Sol took this same line of "granite unity" always so overused by spokespeople for Latin America's armies in the party's general assembly on October 1, as did almost all ARENA leaders in their declarations.

Balances in ARENA

There were unquestionably serious differences among the "united" leaders. Guillermo Sol Bang, a party functionary, currently president of the Río Lempa Electric Commission (CEL) and until October 1 ARENA's vice president of ideology, announced his withdrawal from COENA in September, claiming that his work in CEL required all his time. But his disgust at Domenech's public declaration that he was available to continue as president of ARENA was evident. What interests are behind Sol Bang? Is it an effort to recover the mordant ideology that the party's founders around D'Aubuisson accented, which would be threatened both by the modernizing tendencies and perhaps even more by the pragmatists in the style of the San Andrés Pact, signed with former guerrilla Joaquín Villalobos' new Democratic party?
Sol Bang's frosty reaction was the only one that came out publicly about ARENA's internal difficulties before the general assembly. The assembly's results showed that ARENA still has the capacity to keep its tendencies united and even to broaden the coverage of the interest sectors within the party.

Domenech's reelection to the COENA presidency, together with the election of Gloria Salguero, president of the National Legislative Assembly, as vice president of ideology in place of Sol Bang, assured Calderón Sol's strength as well as his political interests as President in the party's upper echelons. But the fact that Calderón failed to introduce Carlos Mejía Alférez his former minister of agriculture, also former first designate to the Presidency and one of his main advisers into this upper echelon suggests that Calderón's tendency needs to balance itself with others to maintain ARENA's unity.

Two ARENA members most closely affiliated to the D'Aubuisson tendency, founders of the party, moved into COENA. On the other hand, Roberto Llach Hill, intimately linked to the Cristiani tendency and its economic interests, ended up vice president of the organization. José Antonio Salaverría, coffee producer and director of the Development Bank, also went into COENA, which means the presence in this leadership body of an open personality and of diverse and more national economic interests. The other new faces in COENA, all coffee producers or other growers, seem to indicate that the party wants to put more weight on the interests of agricultural production, very neglected by the economic financial priorities of the current government.

In ARENA's Political Commission, a body charged with outlining party strategies and advising COENA, got Sol Bang to accept a post. Together with Francisco Merino, Vice President under Cristiani, and Mauricio Gutiérrez Castro, former Supreme Court president, make up the representative ultra right trio of this body. But the balance has been extremely careful: the other three members of the Political Commission are Cristiani, Gloria Salguero Gross and Juan José Domenech.

ARENA's Enemies

Among the two thousand delegates who crammed into the hall of the Hotel El Salvador, site of the general assembly, a commemorative video on the life of ARENA founder Roberto D'Aubuisson got the most energetic applause. Other vibrant applause came, in descending order, for the words of Domenech, Cristiani and Calderón. "We political parties are not adversaries," said Domenech, "ARENA's enemy is extreme poverty and we have to demonstrate that we are capable of responding to the needs of the majorities. Our obligation is to maintain broad and continuous relations with the opposition." He exhorted the mayors not to lose the mystique of work and to act "above all with clean hands" with respect to the people.

He did not want to mention that another big ARENA enemy could be called "extreme corruption." The scandal of the ISSS medicines, now in the hands of justice and with a detention order for the director of ISSS under Cristiani, Romeo Majano Araujo, now a fugitive of justice, could become a boomerang against Cristiani himself. Some are already interpreting such a notorious case as the attempt of one ARENA sector to undermine the positions of Cristiani in the party.

In the ARENA general assembly, lack of enthusiasm filled the sad eyes of former President Cristiani. His look contrasted with the happy enthusiasm of both Domenech and Calderón Sol. Photos show Calderón strongly raising the arm of Domenech to proclaim him president elect of ARENA, and Domenech raising Cristiani's arm as loser.

The new ARENA president announced that he will dedicate himself fully to his position and put the presidency of ANTEL at Calderón Sol's disposition. The party has the 1997 legislative and municipal electoral battles ahead of it. ARENA has already baptized this campaign "Greater Victory 97," claiming that this name does not mean that the elections will be hard fought, since ARENA is considered the "only alternative."
It would not be surprising for ARENA to again accredit itself in 1997 as the first political force in the country. The way it managed to pull its sectors together without giving any decisive preeminence guaranteed its cohesion.

But to not go backward in 1997, the economic results will have to be much better than they are today, public security more efficient and human rights more respected. And the struggle against corruption and impunity must be more courageous and effective.

The moment of the electoral reform will show whether the government party is secure enough of its future to affirm or scuttle the reforms, or neutralize them to assure the electoral victories it is assuming.

Postponed Decisions

The economic policies of the Salvadoran state have not had the seal that the government intended to imprint on them at the beginning of 1995. The economy has not been dollarized and the monetary exchange rate has not been fixed, although the Central Reserve Bank has kept it stable despite the pressure for greater value for the colón based on the accessibility of dollars assured by family remittances.

Nor has the government continued applying the program to lower duties, since the industrialists have exercised growing influence so that their possibilities of industrial conversion won't be left disarmed. The value added tax and the tax on commercial transactions went up, but this has not been able to avoid inflationary results, whether or not a consequence of this increase. And the modernization of the state is moving very slowly and irregularly. Even the privatization program is still uncertain, attested to by the fact that income from these operations obtained by the state do not seem to be consigned in the 1996 budget.

The fundamental problem is that, with the Ministry of Planning eliminated, there is no economic coordination in practice. Without it, the capacity to strategically think through a project for the nation is lost. The Ministry of the Treasury a body that should work at getting income to respond to an executive vision of budget ordering is in fact being turned into the only economic planner. As such, it is ceding to the most extremist neoliberal orthodoxy, depositing the economy's orientation with the multilateral financial institutions, which end up "planning it" with their conditions, but without having before them any interlocutor that can negotiate strategically.

Ambitious Budget

The new budget bill equal to $1.7 billion in round numbers was presented to the National Assembly on September 26. It is almost 26% higher than the 1995 budget, and the most substantial percentage of it (31.9%) is dedicated to social development, 6.1% more than in 1995. Calderón has promised to end his term in 1999 with 50% of the budget earmarked for social development.

After the public debt, which occupies second place with 18%, the two following categories are the administration of justice and public security, with 16.3%, and support to economic development especially focused on public works at 13%. Although the defense budget receives 20 million colóns more in absolute terms, its percentage within the overall budget dropped from 9% to 6%.

The growth of the defense budget in absolute terms has sparked criticism from the political opposition, while the armed forces are already saying that they cannot carry out their functions with less than 15% of the national budget.

The 1996 budget is certainly ambitious if one considers that financing it is estimated by using current income, 93.8% of which comes from taxes. Major figures from private enterprise reacted to the budget by supporting its emphasis on social development, but criticized a spending composition more weighted on the side of salaries than of public investment. They also expressed concern about the possibly insufficient financing and consequent deficit. In two of the categories that have gone up the most, education and public security, two loans are expected: 600 million colóns from the Interamerican Development Bank and $33 million from Spain. The real capacity of the current government agencies to implement this budget is the most cloudy issue of such an ambitious budget. In 1995, for example, the Ministry of Health has so far implemented only 700,000 colóns of the 151 million assigned it.

Dance of the Millions

The course of the charge hanging over the head of Cristiani's director of the Salvadoran Social Security Institute (ISSS) is serious. The charge also extends to 13 other ISSS directors, all sought today by law enforcement to appear in court. It is an almost unbelievable dance of millions, ranging from the purchase of life insurance for 24 ISSS directors for $18 million ($750,000 per policy) to a missing 20 million colóns, and the purchase of medicines in industrial quantities sufficient to last for years, with no concern for expiration dates and the exorbitant prices.

In the last year of his administration, President Cristiani charged a commission with investigating state corruption. He received the results well into the electoral campaign, so nothing was learned about the results. A year later, the Attorney General of the Republic issued an order to arrest former ISSS director Romeo Majano. Only six months later was the order moved on, by which time Majano was already a fugitive. After having been sought outside of the country, Majano has now sent a video to a Salvadoran television channel stating that he is in the country and innocent, and accusing other personalities. Among them are Dr. Gamero, wife of the Legislative Assembly's vice president, currently Vice Minister of Health and, in Majano's times, in charge of the health department in ISSS.

Dr. Gamero declared that she had no responsibility for requesting medicines. Cristiani was also called to testify and reported that he considered the results of the anti corruption commission as only indications of suspected crime and invited the Attorney General to examine them. He said that the files are in the Presidential Building, but the Presidency hastened to say that they had been sent to the Attorney General's office some time ago.

Punctured Impunity

In the television video, Majano reminded Calderón Sol that he had invited the President to have breakfast with him "some days before the scandal blew up" and asked his advice on how to deal with the affair. One of the pharmacies belonging to former President Cristiani is also beginning to be mentioned as a presumed provider of the medicines to ISSS.

No one knows how this spectacular case will end. With it, the impenetrable curtain that has covered government corruption in El Salvador, a culture rooted in the state for decades, is beginning to show holes. Nonetheless, there is no security that the investigations will end in an authentic trial or that a fair and credible sentence will come out of it. In all its history, the country has never seen a case in which scandal passes through the judicial process without impunity.

In public security, in the assignment of economic resources, and in the electoral, political and judicial procedures, what is at stake in El Salvador is always the same: a democratic national structure or an elitist one that requires authoritarianism to survive.


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