Let's face it, the last time El Salvador crossed your mind, you were probably driving around in your '77 Chevelle blasting Springsteen on your 8-track.
Back then, the country was ruled by a brutal military junta and the impoverished peasantry was rising up in an insurgency known as the Frente Farabundo Marti para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN). Ronald Reagan announced El Salvador would never fall to the Communists and proceeded to aid the government, even if it did have a habit of killing its political opponents by the thousands.
Fast forward to 2009. El Salvador has been at peace since 1992 and globalization has brought considerable wealth to the nation. However, the distribution of that wealth is still amazingly uneven and the economy is tanking. Crime, always high throughout the 1990s, has skyrocketed, giving the country the world's second highest murder rate.
This Sunday, a historic change could sweep El Salvador as the presidential elections roll around. Now a legalized political party, the FMLN could take power for the first time in history. A former journalist, FMLN candidate Mauricio Funes is well-spoken, educated, and promises to rule the nation in a moderate, yet socially responsible, manner.
Naturally, the conservative ARENA party is quite worried as this could end their quarter century of uninterrupted rule.
However, some in the United States are more vocal about their opposition to an FMLN victory on Sunday. Some, such as Arizona congressman Trent Franks, called the FMLN a “pro-terrorist” organization and warned that this could threaten American interests. In Republican circles, El Salvador was synonymous with rolling back communism, and American conservatives may not view a leftist victory in that nation favorably.
The biggest setback El Salvador could face under the FMLN is to become a satellite state of Venezuela. Rather than become an independent leftist government with a strong international presence a la Brazil, El Salvador could succumb to a reenactment of the old political feuds of the 1980s, much like Nicaragua under Daniel Ortega.
Chavez-affiliated governments are characterized by a general erosion of political freedoms, an increase in militarism and abolition of term limits. Already the governments of Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua have attempted or succeeded in eliminating term limits. If we keep advancing at this rate, dictatorship in Latin America just may become fashionable again.