On March 9th, LatAm political watchers of all stripes were surprised to see just how close Norman Quijano of the ARENA got to beating Salvador Sánchez Cerén of FMLN in El Salvador’s second round run-off vote for President. Over 10 points down on Sánchez Cerén in round one, Quijano got to within a waferthin 0.22% of winning the whole caboodle in what would have been an almighty shock result. It was so close that Quijano refused to acknowledge defeat, accused FMLN of fraud at the polls and wouldn’t climb down until the Supreme Court in the country had handed down a judgement.
Well, thanks to this excellent report from El Salvador’s El Faro, we learn that Norman Quijano got that close because he decided to enter into secret deals with the notorious (and that’s putting it mildly) street gangs of El Salvador, such as the Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 (learn just how nasty those groups are on those EngLang wiki links, but rest assured these are very nasty people indeed).
It’s a long and fascinating piece of investigative work published by El Faro so a few words here does it little justice, but to try to get it all into a nutshell after the round one defeat the ARENA candidate agreed to soften its hardline policy with the gangs and offer them an active role in decision-making in the country in return for the gangs’ pledges to stop forcing people to vote against ARENA and for FMLN in the run-off.
You really need to read the whole thing, but the bottom line is that we came THAT close to getting a hard right wing President in El Salvador who would have given a whole heap of leeway to gangs heavily involved with drug running, murder, human trafficking, extorsion, prostitution, child prostitution and several other branches of organized crime to boot. And yes, of course Quijano was the USA right wing’s preferred candidate while accusing the leftist FMLN of exactly the type of things that are now being uncovered about their champion. What else would you expect?