Antonio Saca Takes Power in El Salvador

June 4, 2004

SAN SALVADOR – Former soccerbroadcaster and business leader ElíasAntonio “Tony” Saca, 39, was sworn inTuesday as El Salvador’s third Presidentelected since the civil war ended in 1992.Saca promised his government wouldprioritize a social agenda in this economicallystagnant Central American country.Saca’s inauguration represents thefourth consecutive five-year Presidentialterm held by the right-wing, U.S.-friendlyNational Republican Alliance (ARENA),which came to power in 1989.The swearing-in ceremony, held at afairground on the west side of the capital,was attended by Presidents and foreigndelegations from 81 countries, includingU.S. Commerce Secretary Donald Evansand Florida Gov. Jeb Bush representingWashington, D.C.NOTABLY absent from the eventwere members of the opposition left-wingFarabundo Marti National LiberationFront (FMLN), whose 31 lawmakers –representing the majority voting bloc inCongress – boycotted the swearing-in ceremonyand joined student and uniongroups in street protests.The FMLN protested what it calls anillegitimate victory for Saca based on ascare campaign (TT, May 21).Saca defeated FMLN candidate andformer guerrilla leader Schafick Handal bya margin of 57.7% to 35.7% in the electionslast March.Other groups, meanwhile, protestedeverything from the incumbent party’spolicies to El Salvador’s continued militarypresence in Iraq.While police and military officers keptprotestors at bay outside the fairground,Saca delivered his inaugural speech,promising to govern for the people.“As President, I promise to drive agovernment that is dedicated to the well beingof the people, those who are mostneedy. I will work in this line of servicewithout one minute of rest,” Saca told thegroup of some 5,000 gathered for theswearing-in ceremony.The new President promised to “fighthead-on the war on poverty” in this countrywhere 43% of the 6.6 millionSalvadorans are poor, according to theUnited Nations Development Program.He also pledged he would not attemptto privatize the public-health sector,despite efforts to do so by his predecessorFrancisco Flores, who recently said hisbiggest failure as President was to fail inthe privatization effort.Saca, the son of Palestinian immigrants,also promised to continue crackingdown on gang activity, saying he wouldapply a “super strong hand” to eradicatethe problem.SACA did not specifically mention ElSalvador’s troops in Iraq, although he didendorse the recently negotiated free-tradeagreement between Central America andthe United States (CAFTA), claiming thatunder the pact “all sides win.”Saca, the country’s second youngestpresident in history, announced his newCabinet picks Tuesday, including manyyoung men and women with business andfinancial backgrounds.Economic analysts claim the younggovernment will have its work cut out forit to invent new ways to rejuvenate a stagnateeconomy, where remittances from theUnited States last year accounted for 14%of the Gross Domestic Product.

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