Is El Salvador the next Venezuela?

Ambassador Roger Noriega in The Miami Herald:

Is El Salvador the next Venezuela? revelations about secret dealings by El Salvador’s ruling party with street gangsters and international narcotraffickers have many in that country worried that they may be drifting toward the lawlessness that has spawned chaos in Venezuela.

Indeed, as Venezuela’s oil aid dries up, the FMLN ( Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional) party might rely even more on the proceeds from criminal activities — putting El Salvador on the wrong side of U.S. anti-drug efforts. So, the stakes are high in the presidential run-off election on March 9.

Mauricio Funes was elected president in 2009 as a self-styled moderate who welcomed a positive relationship with the United States — distancing himself from hard-liners within the FMLN who cling to their radical-left ideology and guerrilla history.

Unfortunately, Funes adopted statist policies that have run up government spending and pushed debt to over 60 percent of gross domestic product. An economy that grew at an average annual rate of nearly 6 percent 15 years ago has been stuck around 1.5 percent during Funes’ four-year term.

Even worse than the ruling party’s economic record, documents have been leaked in recent weeks showing that Funes has had a longstanding secret pact with leaders of the bloodthirsty Mara Salvatrucha street gangs that have been responsible for a spiraling murder rate in recent years. Correspondence between Funes’ office and a gang leader allude to payments, prison privileges and even jobs in the national police academy in exchange for votes for the FMLN candidate in 2009.

Other documents, videos and recordings reveal that Funes secretly used government funds and influence to induce gang members to negotiate a “truce” in 2012 that was supposed to end the bloody turf wars. In addition to providing cash incentives, the truce required police not to pursue the gangs in certain areas of the country.

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