SAN SALVADOR, EL SALVADOR — El Salvador turned from red to light blue as Nayib Bukele was elected president on Sunday, taking close to 54 percent of the vote to unseat the left-wing guerrilla party FMLN’s 10-year rule.
The 37-year-old Bukele, a businessman and son of physics Nobel Prize nominee Armando Bukele, championed an anti-corruption campaign. Both the ultra right-wing ARENA party and the FMLN have been plagued with corruption charges. Bukele was expelled from the FMLN and formed a new party, Nuevas Ideas (New Ideas), but because of legal requirements, he had to join the right-wing GANA party to secure a running spot.
ARENA has a stained history in the country. It perpetuated countless human rights abuses, including the murder of Archbishop Óscar Romero, the killing of Jesuits and the El Mozote massacre. It also ran the the U.S.-backed death squads during the country’s civil war. For this latest election, ARENA formed an alliance with three other parties to offset Bukele. The strategy did not work.
The FMLN made history 10 years ago by winning the presidential elections, and was the current ruling party. However, the party has been rocked by corruption charges and misappropriation of funds, a key factor that caused a defection of FMLN supporters to join Bukele.
“I sympathized with the FMLN when I was a university student back in the late 80’s, but the FMLN took advantage of thousands of Salvadorans who made the peace accord possible, such as guerrillas, armed forces, working class citizens, teachers, workers, middle class as well as the poor,” 51-year-old Carlos Zetino told Latino Rebels. “I almost signed up for the party then. I’m glad I didn’t. Otherwise I would be more upset.”
People wary of the civil war atrocities perpetuated by the U.S.-backed ARENA party had turned to the FMLN in 2009 for hopes of change. A decade later, Salvadorans have been disappointed with the guerrilla party, along with a soaring unemployment rate and rising crime and violence. To top it off, Mauricio Funes, the FMLN candidate who won the presidency in 2009, is living in exile in Nicaragua to avoid corruption charges.
When asked why she voted for Bukele, 38-year-old Ana, who cooks and sells food at a local market, told Latino Rebels the following: “I voted for more job opportunities and because he focused on health issues. As a woman, this is important to me. You go to the a hospital and get a prescription only to be told that the medication is not available.”
Social worker Jessica García, 47, agreed.
“Ever since I heard him speak for the first time, I was drawn to him. His ideas regarding the future to our country, his focus on children, him being so charismatic, his focus, which is so different to the ones of the other parties,” said García, who immigrated to the Bay Area during the conflict in El Salvador, but has since returned back home.
Bukele drew people’s attention when he became mayor of two cities, including San Salvador as a member of the FMLN. His success as mayor propelled his career and drew national attention. He now becomes the country’s youngest president. Some speculate that if Bukele would have been allowed to run for the FMLN, perhaps the party would have kept the post.
“We said that we would make history and we did… Thanks to you who decided to make history this Sunday,” Bukele said on Sunday night after his victory. “This day is historic for the country. This day, El Salvador did away with bipartisanism. This day, February 3, at last, we turn the post-war page! This day is historic. We have won massively!”
Te compartimos la portada de El Diario de Hoy de este lunes 4 de febrero. pic.twitter.com/p6aGgkSk9O
— elsalvador.com (@elsalvadorcom) February 4, 2019
“Nayib has the capacity to makes us dream of a different country,” one of his supporters told Latino Rebels on Sunday.
Francisco Lozano is a freelance news photographer based in Los Angeles. You can follow him @FrancisLozano7.