El Salvador's governing ARENA party has chosen Rodrigo Ávila as its candidate to run for president in March 2009. The former director of El Salvador's National Police will face Mauricio Funes, the former TV news interviewer who is the candidate of the leftist FMLN.
Rodrigo Ávila was most recently the Director of the National Civil Police during 2006 and 2007. He previously served as the Vice-Minister of Public Security and as a member of the National Assembly. Prior to his service in the National Assembly, he served at various levels in the National Civil Police including being the director from 1994 through 1999.
Avila graduated from North Carolina State University Raleigh, with a degree in industrial engineering and has a degree in mathematics and business administration from Gainesville College in Georgia. (Official bio from the office of the Salvadoran president).
Avila is said to be tied very closely to president Tony Saca and to the leading members of COENA, the executive council which directs the ARENA party. In an interview with Ernesto Rivas-Gallont, Avila told the LPG columnist that he wants to build a better country in order to implement the historical project of ARENA. The theme of his campaign has been “Un país más justo. Progreso con Equidad” (A more just country. Progress with equity).
In a post on his blog today, Rivas-Gallont wrote:
No habrá sido muy difícil encontrar a ese alguien en la persona de Rodrigo Ávila. El ex viceministro de Seguridad y dos veces director de la PNC, es una persona carismática de personalidad atractiva y ampliamente reconocible por su constante presencia en los medios. Su participación personal en operaciones policíacas, con pistola al cinto, le valió el sobrenombre de “Rambo” creándole una imagen de bravura, que, según ellos, lo acreditan ante el pueblo como un buen candidato presidencial. Olvidan que hay otras características más importantes que ser simpático y muy macho, para ser un buen candidato a la presidencia. Pero, Ávila garantizaba el tan anhelado proyecto de continuidad.
It will not have been very difficult to find that someone in the person of Rodrigo Avila. The ex-vice minister of Security and two times director of the PNC is a charismatic person with an attractive personality and amply recognizable by his constant presence in the media. His personal participation in police operations, with pistol on his hip, earned him the nickname of "Rambo" creating for him an image of bravery that, according to some, commends him before the population as a good presidential candidate. They forget that there are other characteristics more important than being friendly and very macho in order to be a good presidential candidate. But Avila guaranteed the much sought after plan for continuity [of ARENA policies under Tony Saca].
ARENA has chosen the law and order candidate in Avila. Obviously the level of crime in the country during his term as director of the National Police, as well as concerns with corruption and death squads within the police ranks, will impact how Avila's candidacy is viewed in the country. Murder and other crimes hit record levels in 2006, but Ávila is certain to take credit for the reduction in murders during 2007.
In a recent public opinion poll, Funes held a 6.5 point lead over Ávila, but there is still a year to go before the actual election on March 15, 2009.
For more information on Ávila's political views, you can read several interviews (in Spanish) of Avila: