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  1. Wealth
March 30, 2009

A new model for the left

By Spear's

’Give Time time,’ they say in Spanish, for time will heal all wounds and reveal new options if you just let it ride.

‘Give Time time,’ they say in Spanish, for time will heal all wounds and reveal new options if you just let it ride. Such is certainly the hope in El Salvador, where the newly elected Mauricio Funes has to deal with the echoes his country’s bloody civil war of the 1980s in which 75,000 people died and some 8,000 disappeared, mostly at the hands of right-wing death squads and the military, which was supported by the United States.

Now that Mr. Funes’s leftist FMLN party (comprised of former anti-government Marxist guerrillas) is at the helm, the losing right-wing Arena party (which has won four consecutive elections since 1989) is worried about the pendulum swinging and the country being torn apart.

Although Mr. Funes was a television journalist and never a guerrilla, his own brother was shot by security forces as he left a 1980 protest. Despite also being under intense pressure by his own party to move the country’s policies to the left, Mr. Funes has promised to rule with forgiveness from the centre.

‘My government will be moved by a spirit of national unity, and this demands that from now, from this very instant, confrontation, revenge must be put to one side,’ he has said, acknowledging that the civil war has never left his country’s consciousness.

Although Mr. Funes’s election is part of the spread of socialism in a Latin America that is disappointed with the failure of Washington’s neoliberal free-market policies of the 1990s to address economic inequality or spur growth, Mr. Funes has vowed to keep many of the conservative policies in place.

For instance, he has vowed to maintain close relations with the United States, a commitment he reaffirmed when he rushed to meet the US Chargé d’Affaires immediately after his victory speech. He has also promised to keep El Salvador in the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and retain the US dollar as the country’s currency.

He has also promised to respect private property rights and not indulge in the expropriations and nationalizations that are popular with Venezuela’s Chávez (a major FMLN supporter) and Bolivia’s Morales; Funes says he will rule more like a social democrat in the mold of Brazil’s Lula or Chile’s Bachelet.

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Nevertheless, a vast redistribution of wealth will necessarily have to be on the agenda, as El Salvador’s wealth distribution is abysmal even by Latin American standards: half of all Salvadorans are poor, and the top 10% have an income that is 57 times that of the bottom 10%.

If Mr. Funes is true to his word and can simultaneously end social injustice, be fiscally responsible and heal old divisions, he will become a Latin American paradigm, bringing hope and pointing to the future of the entire region.

Chávez should take note: the days of his violent, oppressive and divisive ways may well be numbered, as Latin Americans look to the new president on the block for inspiration – and find it.

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