Freedom in the World
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Mauricio Funes led the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) to a historic victory in El Salvador’s January legislative and March presidential elections, ending two decades of right-wing National Republican Alliance (ARENA) rule. The new administration faced serious challenges during the year, including an economic downturn and an unexpected increase in violent crime.
The new administration faced major economic challenges in 2009. Remittances represent about 17 percent of gross domestic product, and, due in large part to the recession in the United States, they fell by 10.3 percent in the first half of the year. It is estimated that between 30 and 40 percent of all Salvadorans live in poverty, and 70 percent of the potential workforce is either underemployed or unemployed.
El Salvador is an electoral democracy. The 2009 legislative and presidential elections were deemed free and fair, although some irregularities were reported. The president is elected for a five-year term, and the 84-member, unicameral Legislative Assembly is elected for three years. The two largest political parties are the conservative ARENA and the FMLN, a former left-wing guerrilla organization that took power for the first time in 2009.
While women are granted equal rights under family and property law, they are occasionally discriminated against in practice; women also suffer discrimination in employment. A reform that would have enshrined bans on same-sex marriage and adoptions by same-sex couples in the constitution was defeated in the legislature in September 2009. Human trafficking for the purpose of prostitution is a serious problem. In 2009, El Salvador was ranked as a Tier 2 country in the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report. Child labor also continues to be an area of concern, and one 2007 estimate held that up to a third of the workers on the country’s sugarcane plantations were under the age of 18. Violence against women and children is widespread.