The Foreign Service Journal, September 2012

S E P T E M B E R 2 0 1 2 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 41 his summer has seen El Salvador mired in a constitutional crisis. In April, a coalition of parties in the lame-duck leg- islature, led by the leftist FMLN, nom- inated new judges to the Supreme Court. The existing Supreme Court ruled that this procedure was unconsti- tutional. The newly nominated judges took up their positions anyway, leaving the country with two competing Supreme Courts. The controversy prompted two U.S. senators to call into question our bilateral assistance programs. Just before presstime, news from El Salvador indicated that the interested parties had reached an agreement to re- solve the impasse peacefully and constitutionally. The text that follows, which was drafted before these de- velopments, recalls the high expectations and optimism of El Salvador’s 2009 transition. That optimism has now been fur- ther strengthened. An Unusual Election On June 1, 2009, Mauricio Funes, the candidate of the FarabundoMarti National Liberation Front (FMLN in Span- ish), was inaugurated president of El Salvador. Given the country’s history of civil war and political polarization, the transfer of power to a representative of the former guerrilla movement after two decades of rule by the ARENA Party (the Spanish acronym for the National Republican Alliance) was like leaping into the unknown. The 1992 Peace Accords had foreseen a day like this, but it was nonetheless remarkable. And three years later, it re- mains praiseworthy. Although his government is struggling to fight crime and improve the country’s economy, President Funes has wielded executive power democratically, and the American and Salvadoran governments have maintained a close and productive relationship. While the Salvadoran people deserve the credit for how they handled the transition when it finally happened, this im- portant development also showcased the U.S. policy of sup- porting democracy in the hemisphere. So it is worth taking a look at how it came about. In 2009, every elected seat in El Salvador was up for grabs: 262 mayors and 84 members of the legislature in January, fol- lowed quickly by the presidential election in March. These contests all pitted the country’s two main political brands against each other: FMLN on the left vs. ARENA on the right. ARENA had won all the presidential elections held after 1992 and governed democratically. Though labeled “right wing,” the administration of President Elias Antonio Saca (2004 - 2009) would be considered centrist, if not slightly left of center, by American standards. Pres. Saca had instituted welfare transfer payments and presided over a populist regime of subsidies for bus fares, cooking gas and electricity E L S ALVADOR ’ S R EMARKABLE T RANSITION T HE 2009 TRANSITION REMAINS A TESTAMENT TO THE PEOPLE OF E L S ALVADOR AND A MODEL OF EFFECTIVE U.S. SUPPORT FOR DEMOCRACY IN THE HEMISPHERE . B Y R OBERT B LAU Robert Blau, a Foreign Service officer since 1983, is currently the senior State Department adviser to the Air University and a faculty member at the Air War College, both located at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala. Prior to that assignment, he was deputy chief of mission in San Salvador from 2008 to 2011, and chargé d’affaires from 2009 to 2010. He has also served in Santo Domingo, Conakry, Brasilia, Panama, Lisbon and Washington, D.C. The views in this ar- ticle are the author's alone; they do not represent the views of either the State Department or the U.S. Air Force. T