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Wednesday, May 31, 2023
SAN SALVADOR, Jun 1 2009 (IPS) - At his inaugural ceremony Monday, the first-ever leftwing president of El Salvador, Mauricio Funes, said his main goal was to “beat poverty, political backwardness, the marginalisation of broad sections of society, desperation, and the lack of future prospects for our young people.”
The insurgency-turned-political party Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) will invest 474 million dollars in the next 18 months to generate 100,000 direct jobs, the new president announced.
Funes received a two-minute standing ovation when he arrived at the convention centre where his swearing-in ceremony was held, attended by 72 foreign delegations and 4,000 special guests, including Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The veteran TV broadcaster who took 52 percent of the vote in the March elections said the rightwing ARENA, which ruled El Salvador since 1989, “governed for the few” and had been “complacent towards corruption, due to fear of, and complicity with, organised crime.
“I guarantee that the new government will not be about family privileges, cronyism, or shady patronage,” said the new president, who had 82 percent support in the latest survey carried out by the University Institute of Public Opinion (IUDOP), at the Central American University, in late May.
“We need to reinvent the country. We need to carry out a peaceful, democratic and ethical revolution; the change is starting today,” said Funes, considered a moderate leftist, flanked by 12 Latin American heads of state and other international leaders and personalities.
Funes was accompanied by his wife Vanda Pignato, a Brazilian-born lawyer who used to represent the leftist Workers’ Party of Brazilian President Lula – a friend of the new president and the first lady – in El Salvador.
El Salvador’s 1980-1992 civil war between the FMLN and government forces left 75,000 dead, 8,000 “disappeared” and 40,000 disabled – mainly civilians, at the hands of the military and far-right death squads that had U.S. support.
Major Roberto D’Aubuisson (1944-1992), who founded ARENA, was the leader of the death squads since the late 1970s.
The FMLN failed in its previous three attempts at the presidency since it became a political party as a result of the 1992 peace agreement that put an end to the war.
Funes is taking over a country in crisis, with a budget deficit of at least 500 million dollars, which could balloon to 1.2 billion dollars by the end of this year, which would be equivalent to one-third of the national budget of 3.6 billion dollars.
Officially, 40 percent of the population of 5.7 million live in poverty, while eight percent are unemployed and 43 percent are underemployed, mainly surviving as street vendors.
This Central American nation is also the most violent in Latin America, with a homicide rate of 61 per 100,000 people – one of the highest in the world – according to the latest official figures.
In his 50-minute inaugural address, Funes reiterated his preference for a government along the lines of the administration of Brazilian President Lula, who he said was his “reference point” in terms of social programmes for the poor.
“Lula has shown that it is possible to have a democratic government of the people along with fair distribution of wealth,” said the new president, looking over at the Brazilian leader.
Funes also announced that his government would reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba, which El Salvador broke off in the early 1960s. The socialist island nation will thus once again have direct ties with all of the countries of Latin America, nearly five decades after it was isolated at Washington’s behest.
He was interrupted as many of those present chanted “Cuba, Cuba, Cuba.”
Anglican Bishop Martín Barahona, who attended the ceremony, said he hoped “the changes that this country needs will be carried out, and that everyone will now have opportunities.”
Panchita Tennant, the 90-year-old daughter of a U.S. diplomat who served in San Salvador during the 1930s, said “I think it’s fabulous, because since independence there has never been a leftist president; I have great hopes for Funes, because he is a sensible and intelligent person, who will benefit the poor.”
This tiny, crowded mountainous country has been governed by military dictatorships and conservative and rightwing forces since it became an independent nation in the mid-19th century.
Alfredo Rivera, a 66-year-old street vendor who sells costume jewelry, told IPS that “Funes, with the help of God, will be a good president. I hope he keeps his promise to create jobs.”
Some 60,000 Salvadorans gathered in the Cuscatlán stadium for the “peoples celebration,” attended by Funes, Lula and leftwing Presidents Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and Rafael Correa of Ecuador.
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