Perhaps no contemporary political figure is more emblematic of where El Salvador stands 20 years after the end of its bloody armed conflict than the country’s current president, Mauricio Funes. In winning the 2009 election, Funes became the first president elected from the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), the political offshoot of El Salvador’s guerrilla insurgency, breaking the 20-year reign of the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA).
Like the other two Cold War-era civil wars in Central America, El Salvador’s internal armed conflict pitted the country’s anti-communist military government against guerilla groups that took up arms to pursue political, social and economic grievances. According to the U.N.-backed postconflict truth commission, the 12-year struggle from 1980 to 1992 claimed more than 70,000 lives and left more than a quarter of the population displaced. The commission further concluded that 85 percent of human rights violations were committed by state agents and their paramilitary allies.
Funes’ electoral victory in 2009 is a testament to the political opening created by the landmark 1992 peace accords signed in Chapultepec, Mexico, by the Salvadoran state and the FMLN, which allowed an armed revolutionary movement to transform itself into a conventional political party and vie for national power. Moreover, the rise of Funes in particular, who worked as a journalist and in 1994 was awarded Columbia University’s Cabot Prize for promoting press freedom and inter-American understanding, marks a sharp break with El Salvador’s authoritarian past.