An Ex-Guerilla is Now Ruling El Salvador, Can He Stop the Killing?


Inauguration of President Salvador Sánchez Cerén on June 1, 2014 in San Salvador. Photo by Jamie Stark

Salvador Sánchez Cerén donned the presidential sash this Sunday in a modest inauguration event. His party loyalists call him “profe” [short for “profesor”, teacher in Spanish] in honor of his beginnings as a teacher, while the press typically dubs him a “former marxist guerrilla commander.” But few are concerned with his political ghosts at the moment. In recent weeks, the murder rate has spiked to double digits each day in this tiny Central American republic of six million.

El Salvador's powerful gangs, MS13 and Barrio 18, are accused of violating the truce quietly signed two years ago with the government, perhaps to pressure the incoming president for new concessions.

President-elect Cerén inherits one of the world's most dangerous nations, a situation compounded by poverty. Over a third of Salvadorans live under the local poverty line. Nearly another third have immigrated, and the money they send back props up 16 percent of the Salvadoran economy.

But as the new government starts out, people want to know if smiling, grandfatherly Cerén can stop the killing. For Cerén, it may have been easier to know the enemy when he was leading rebels in a more traditional war.

Typical of a new political chapter, the nation seemed to pause on June 1 for the patriotic celebration, highlighted by El Salvador’s search for stronger foreign relations.

In comparison to inauguration day in the United States, which is all American flags and 21 gun salutes, El Salvador’s swearing in prominently featured the flags of the attending heads of state and government (as well as a 21 gun salute).

Latin American presidents from nearby made up much of the international delegations. Rafael Correa, the outspoken and sometimes controversial leader of Ecuador, received some of the loudest applause during the introductions, along with Bolivian President Evo Morales.

Correa mentioned slain Catholic Bishop Oscar Romero, a hero of the left in El Salvador and much of Latin America.

We’re back from El Salvador, which once again has an FMLN government. Much luck to President Salvador Sánchez and to the heroic people of Mons. Romero.

Domestic commentary found its way to Twitter, as well, highlighting that the new president has instilled more hope for non-partisan dialogue than his predecessor. Many in the opposition party have accused outgoing President Mauricio Funes of exercising an abrasive communication style. Enrique Valdés, a conservative Congressman from capital San Salvador, tweeted:

It’s good that Sánchez Ceren [sic] talks about dialogue and understanding.
This breaks with Funes’ arrogance.

No matter the politicization of social media commentary, the majority of posts couldn’t get away from two points: the new president was once a rebel guerrilla leader, and violent crime is his number one problem as head of El Salvador.

The ex-guerrilla commander Sánchez #Cerén assumes the Presidency of El Salvador.

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