Latest from CISPES: Funes to be elected on June 1

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On Monday, June 1 Salvadorans will congregate to celebrate the inauguration of Mauricio Funes as president and Salvador Sanchez Ceren as vice-president. Every five years there is a change of the presidency in El Salvador, but this is the first time that the country will witness a transition of power from a right-wing, conservative administration to a leftist administration, headed by the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). This historic event has the international community and press focused on El Salvador.

So far over twenty dignitaries (including 15 presidents) have confirmed their participation in the event in which current president Antonio Saca, of the right-wing ARENA party, will officially leave office so that Funes can assume the presidency. The dignitaries including Spanish Prince Felipe De Borbon, the U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, and presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Luis Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil, Evo Morales of Bolivia, Michelle Bachelet of Chile, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, and Felipe Calderon of Mexico. CISPES will also have a delegation on hand for the swearing in of Funes. Check out the CISPES media advisory here.

Meanwhile, over 300 national and 400 international journalists have solicited press credentials for the inauguration, including reporters from foreign newspapers like Al Jazeera and China Continental. Some are coming accompanying the heads of state of their country.

Mauricio Funes and Salvador Sanchez Ceren

Mauricio Funes and Salvador Sanchez Ceren

The official Presidential Inauguration ceremony organized by the government will take place in the Convention Center of the Feria Internacional in San Salvador under high security measures. A massive popular celebration of the inauguration organized by the FMLN will take place at Cuscatlán Stadium in the afternoon of June 1. Several foreign heads of state, including Venezuela’s Chavez and Brazil’s Lula are expected to also attend this event.
New administration to face many challenges including bankrupt government, “crisis of institutionality”

The Funes administration will be taking over executive power in the face of enormous challenges, including a severe shortage of government capital and resources. Critics have accused current President Saca of hiding the extent of the governments’ fiscal crisis in order to not damage the former presidential candidate of his ARENA party during the campaign. According to government records millions of dollars are owed to service providers and employees, including $25 million in subsidies owed to electricity providers. “The current financial situation is very concerning. The fiscal reality is further complicated by the impact of the crisis, the management of spending, and the management of revenue,” said Funes’s financial advisor and future Technical Secretary to the President Alex Segovia.

Funes is expected to inherit a government with only $40 million in funds available for the next six months. “According to our accounts, [the $40 million] won’t even be left because the identification of deficits continue to grow,” explained FMLN legislative deputy Norma Guevara, who is also a member of the National Assembly’s Budget Committee.

The Legislative Assembly this week approved five decrees to alleviate the financial situation, including the release of $1.8 million dollars in government bonds and the reallocation of $950 million in loans from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and World Bank. These loans were originally procured by President Saca for social investment and to pay off certain short term loans. Segovia has said that approximately a month after taking office the new administration will publically release a comprehensive report on the financial situation of the country because the people of El Salvador “deserve to know the current situation the country; it is a responsibility of the new government.”

Right-wing block at the National Assembly and the institutional crisis

In addition to the economic challenges the new administration will have to deal with, Funes will also confront a polarized Legislative Assembly with an obstinate Right-wing block. The new Legislature began on May 1 and has already passed a reform the removes the president’s right to oversee the National Registry of Naturalized Persons (RNPN), the institution which generates the Voter Registry. The Right-wing block also approved reforms which provide job security protections to upper-level employees of the federal government, an attempt to keep ARENA officials in power under Funes’s new administration.

Critics have decried a “crisis of institutionality” as the Right-wing block, led by ARENA, has obstructed the selection of a new Attorney General in an attempt to keep ARENA-ally and former Adjunct Attorney General Astor Escalante in the position. Escalante appropriated the position after the former Attorney General’s term expired, despite the constitutional requirement that the Attorney General be selected with 56 votes by the Legislative Assembly. On May 27, various professional organizations of judges marched to the Legislative Assembly demanding the election of a new Attorney General. Some judges are refusing to try their cases, as criminal charges cannot legally be brought in the absence of an Attorney General.

Meanwhile, new Supreme Court Magistrates have yet to be selected, despite the fact that their terms will soon expire. This would leave the Constitutional Chamber vacant. The FMLN maintains that it is prepared to begin selections, but a legal process opened in the Constitutional Chamber has challenged several self-nominations. The FMLN acknowledges the unethical nature of self-nominations, but maintains that the need for a functioning Supreme Court is paramount and the Legislative Assembly will be able to filter out such unethical nominations.

Funes begins naming cabinet and announces plans for a more efficient presidential administration

In the week prior to Funes’ inauguration, the president-elect has announced the names of many key position in his future cabinet. Funes appears to be following through on his promise to create a cabinet that transcends party ties, and this is particularly apparent in his economic appointments.

The economic cabinet will be headed by Alex Segovia as the Technical Secretary to the President and as Chief Economic and Social advisor. Segovia has been Funes’s advisor on economic policy throughout the campaign and transition process. Current Democratic Change party (CD) legislative deputy Héctor Dada was named as Minister of Economy and Carlos Cáceres, former president of the Salvadoran Banking Association (ABANSA), will be the Treasury Minister.

Funes’s choice for Minister of Labor, Dr. Victoria Marina de Avilés, was picked after consultation with the Salvadoran union movement, and union leaders were ecstatic at the selection. De Avilés previously served as Human Rights Ombudswoman and has a strong record of support for labor rights. Dr. María Isabel Rodríguez, former President of the University of El Salvador, was named as the Minister of Public Health. Former San Salvador mayor for the FMLN, Dr. Violeta Menjívar, will head one of the Public Health Vice-Ministries. Vice-President-elect Salvador Sánchez Cerén, who has promised to take on a more active role than previous vice-presidents, will head up the Ministry of Education.

FMLN legislative deputy Manuel Melgar is slated to become Minister of Security, an announcement that sparked rumors of US retaliation. The Prensa Gráfica newspaper reported that anonymous sources within the US Embassy had spoken of the possibility of cutting US military and security aid to El Salvador because of Melgar’s past history in the Revolutionary People’s Army (ERP) during the Civil War. No official statement has been made by the US government in reference to Melgar’s designation as Security Minister.

Funes has also spoken about dissolving Presidential Commissioners and other posts created by the Saca Administration that he believes duplicate the work of other government institutions. “There are positions that came to be something like a cemetery for those politicians that wanted to retire, or for those that wanted to remove themselves from public administration,” he explained. “If there is a need to tighten our belts not only the most poor will tighten theirs, but also the government, and the beginning of austerity is making public administration more efficient by eliminating those units, secretariats, and commissions that have no reason to exist and can therefore be absorbed by another Ministry or Secretariat.”

As the names of the future cabinet continue to be announced and the next Salvadoran presidential administration takes shape, the international community and citizens are witnessing the beginnings of real change: political leadership ready to confront the economic crisis head on, and social ministries staffed with leaders who are committed to the people and who will provide space for social movements in the new government.

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~ by Daniel on May 29, 2009.

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