Friday, September 28, 2012

Democracy in El Salvador

The World Politics Review has published an article on the state of Salvadoran democracy titled Democracy in Progress: El Salvador's Unfinished Transition.   The article, by Michael Shifter and Rachel Schwartz of Inter-American Dialogue, makes the point that, while the election of Mauricio Funes marked an important point in consolidating the gains of democracy after the 1992 Peace Accords, much is left to be done.  

The authors write:
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. 
But for all the progress that Funes’ triumph signified, his presidency has also served as a stark indicator of El Salvador’s unfinished transition to peace and democracy. Despite numerous attempts at police reform, the civilian security forces created to replace the military as the guardians of public order remain riddled with corruption and have been penetrated by organized crime and gangs. Security challenges have made El Salvador home to the world’s second-highest homicide rate, with 66 murders per 100,000 people in 2011, according to the U.N. The judicial reforms outlined by the peace accords have been equally deficient, resulting in startling impunity. Finally, El Salvador’s nascent party system remains deeply polarized, impeding progress toward the accords’ other aims
I think I would give the country a little better grade than do Shifter and Schwartz.   One important step which they do not mention is the virtual elimination of political violence and a flourishing climate of free speech.   Also important, but mentioned only in passing in the article, is the growth  and increasing importance of civil society as a force for respect for the rule of law.  That increasing influence has been seen in the resolution of the past two years constitutional conflicts.    So forward steps have been made, but these gains are not yet secure and much still has to be done.
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