Yesterday, Mauricio Funes took the oath of office and was sworn in as the new President of El Salvador. Throughout his campaign, candidate Funes spoke of change for El Salvador. In his inauguration speech, President Funes laid out some of his ideas and initiatives to make this change possible. Though these initiatives focus primarily on economic, social, and institutional issues, Funes also spoke about narco-trafficking, migration, foreign relations, and other issues. While details of specific initiatives and programs were absent in his speech, the message of change and optimism was clear.
In discussing the current economic crisis, President Funes announced his plans to launch El Plan Anticrisis, a set of measures meant to stabilize the Salvadoran economy and stimulate job creation. The $474 million plan seeks to preserve current rates of employment while creating 100,000 new jobs over the next 18 months. Other goals of the plan include improving public services and basic infrastructure, as well as constructing and improving about 25,000 urban homes and apartments in poor, rural communities. The president also mentioned his plan to create a state bank that will provide financing to small and medium-sized businesses. President Funes did not provide details how the government will pay for this ambitious economic plan since the Salvadoan deficit is higher than forecasted due to tax evasion and the global economic crisis. Currently, much of El Salvador’s social spending is financed by international loans, which exceed $355 million.
President Funes highlighted tax evasion and fraud as one issues the new Economic Cabinet will address early on. He also stated that they will create a better system for granting subsidies, which the president said until now have been “granted in an indiscriminate manner,” often benefiting those with high salaries already.
President Funes also described a new social initiative, the Sistema de Protección Social Universal (Are some of the economic, infrastructure, housing initiatives mentioned above the same as what are listed in this program?). The program will be divided into two parts: a rural initiative and an urban initiative. The urban initiative will focus on infrastructure, housing, and public services. It will also give an education bonus to parents with children 6-18 years of age. The rural component will expand the Red Solidaria program initiated by the Saca Government. It will change its name to Comunidades Solidarias Rurales. This program will grant pensions to the elderly population, expand to areas not included in Red Solidaria, and provide health and nutrition services to young children. Presdent Funes and his advisors have estimated that the uniforms and school supplies donated through this program would benefit approximately 1.3 million children in first through third grade.
Concerning social development and health care, President Funes also stated that he extend the services of the Instituto Salvadoreño del Seguro Social (ISSS) to cover more people in more areas, and provide services to those who have recently lost jobs. The president stressed that another measure would be to eliminate quotas for health services and essential medicines.
Another focus of the inaugural speech was curbing corruption and reforming government institutional practices. Funes promised that the new government would be a “meritocracia,” not one that gave privileges to those with high status and connections. He stressed that transparency and better institutional practices require the vigilance of all Salvadorans, not just government officials.
Though Funes mentioned social problems such as immigration, gang violence, and narco-trafficking, he did not provide clear-cut answers to how his administration will address these issues. Funes made it clear that combating narco-trafficking would require regional support. Though the United States’ Mérida Initiative technically extends to other Central American countries along with its main focal point, Mexico, many leaders in other countries in Central America believe that not enough support and attention are provided to their countries to help combat this problem.
Funes also expressed his intentions to build stronger diplomatic and commercial trade relationships with all Central and South American countries, including Cuba, a country that El Salvador has not had a relationship with in recent years. Additionally, the president hopes to maintain and strengthen El Salvador’s relationship with the United States, a country that he acknowledged as linked to El Salvador in many ways, especially concerning the millions of Salvadorans living in the United States to find better jobs.
In the speech, the new president addressed several of the major issues facing El Salvador right now and in the immediate future. There are great challenges facing this government such as the large deficit and economic crisis and the on-going violence, and it is unclear how successful the government will be in finding solutions. However, it is clear that President Funes is eager to confront these challenges.
photo from El Diario de Hoy