Beyond the normal events that cause ups and down in relations between the various countries of the world, there is no question that El Salvador has been of particular and immense importance to the United States. Issues of security, trade, development and migration have been central to the bilateral agenda of both countries for decades. In recent years, however, efforts to maintain the core integrity of democracy, as well as the stability of state institutions — the common denominator connecting the above-mentioned issues — have been weakened and undermined. This is about to change.
If we consider the full scope of our recent shared history, there is no question that the implementation of the Peace Accords following the Salvadoran Civil War has produced important democratic outcomes, including the consolidation of a pluralist constitution, the separation of powers, and a stable electoral process. No one is saying these achievements have been perfect; it is clear that the promise of the Peace Accords has not been fulfilled. Democracy requires the work and involvement of all participants in order to achieve, in the words of the founders of the United States, a “more perfect union.” This is more evident today than ever, in light of the challenges now faced by the United States, a country long viewed as a model of democracy. And the same is true for Salvadorans, who have remained alert and vigilant in their vigorous defense of the country’s democratic advances.
Beginning January 20, the United States will join them in that work.
Fortunately, we have already begun to see hopeful signs in recent weeks. Take, for example, the enactment of the “Engel List” in Congress. This was a bipartisan effort, unprecedented in the Americas, to publicly highlight the names of individuals from Northern Triangle countries who are denied entry to the U.S. for acts of corruption, or for undermining democratic institutions in the region. This action, which was backed by both parties of a polarized U.S. Congress, is remarkable and significant. The message is clear and categorical: with regards to the democratic integrity of state institutions in Central America, there is a congressional coalition between Democrats and Republicans in Washington, D.C. that is alert and attentive to the situation.
There are similar glimmers of hope in El Salvador as well. We have seen how civil society has worked diligently to strengthen the CICIES-OAS (the International Commission against Impunity in El Salvador, an initiative of the Organization of American States and the Salvadoran government). In alliance with several Salvadoran representatives, legislation was recently proposed that seeks to expand the independence of the CICIES, along with its power to investigate, access information, and collaborate with both civil society and the Attorney General. I have no doubt that the newly inaugurated Biden administration will offer its determined support for this and similar efforts.
And yet, this whole reality coexists alongside another set of forces working to spoil the institutional fruits of the Peace Accords: actions taken by the current Salvadoran administration undermine the rule of law, threaten the separation of powers, and damage institutions that ensure the transparent management of public administrative functions, thus preventing corruption.
In a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, U.S. Representative Norma Torres (D-CA) railed against the governments of the Northern Triangle. She pointed to structural weaknesses especially present in Honduras but which apply similarly to El Salvador. In the same vein, on December 3, 2020, Senator Robert Menéndez (D-NJ) sent a strongly-worded letter to Secretary of State Pompeo, urging the former administration to pay more attention to the weakening of democratic governance in El Salvador.
These displays of official opinion foreshadow the actions of a House of Representatives in which the Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Representative Gregory Meeks (D-NY), the analogous Committee in the Senate, chaired by Senator Menéndez himself, and the Senate Appropriations Committee — the committee now chaired by Senator Leahy (D-VT) and charged with approving international aid allocations — will form a united front dedicated to fighting corruption in the Northern Triangle.
If we add to this equation President Biden’s clear and unequivocal pronouncements against corruption and in support of democracy, the direction of the new administration’s support is indisputable and unequivocal.
This January 20 is an important day for those of us who believe in democracy in the United States and around the world. New priorities, new preferences, and new centers of influence are emerging in both El Salvador and the United States. It brings me great joy to share these new beginnings — the result of a fair and free electoral process — with the people of El Salvador, knowing that we will continue to see shared successes, and that these successes will culminate in a democracy wholly invested in the Salvadoran people.
*Translated by Max Granger