ARENA threatens, blocks and lashes out at critical and reformist internal voices

In the 2021-2024 legislature, the party suffered the resignation of two proprietary deputies, two alternates, a former deputy, nine mayors, and three former mayors. In its recent history, the ARENA party has witnessed criticism, accusations, and proposals for change presented by its deputies, mayors, sectors, and militants. However, the rightist party leaders have responded with marginalization, threats of expulsion, or the initiation of sanctioning processes.

In the 2012-2015 legislature, the ARENA party, chaired by Jorge Velado, expelled —without listening to them or defeating them in an internal disciplinary process— its deputies Rigoberto Soto, Sigfredo Ochoa Pérez and Jesús Grande.

The three were accused by the leadership of «treason» for having given their votes to approve the general budget of the nation for 2013. Then, in the period 2015-2018, the then ARENA deputies, Johnny Wright Sol and Juan Valiente – both from the reformist court – publicly denounced that the leadership had blocked the pre-candidacy of young faces, outside the party, who aspired to compete for the post of deputy in the 2018-2021 legislature.

Due to the blockade of the ARENA, it threatens, blocks, and lashes out at critical and reformist internal voices. In response to Gerson Chávez drafting youth candidacies and as a form of protest against the party leadership, Wright Sol and Valiente no longer participated in the internal elections to opt for re-election . In the end, Wright Sol resigned from the ARENA party in December 2017 and founded the Nuestro Tiempo party, of which he is the only deputy in the current legislature.

For his part, Valiente sent a letter to the rightist authorities on May 7, 2019 to announce his resignation and warn them that this political institute, founded in 1981, was «on the brink of the abyss» for not «changing course» in its form of work towards the population.

At that time, ARENA was chaired by Mauricio Interiano. In addition to the tension generated by Wright Sol y Valiente, deputies Karla Hernández, Patricia Valdivieso (daughter of party founders) and Alejandrina Castro began to vote differently from the rest of the deputies in the plenary sessions.

For example, they abstained from endorsing the issuance of $550 million in bonds approved by the Legislative Assembly, as a result of the agreement reached between Interiano and the then general secretary of the FMLN, Medardo González.

For the 2018-2021 legislature, the ARENA party obtained 37 deputies, but differences within the bench and with the leadership soon surfaced.

On February 18, 2019, deputies Gustavo Escalante, Arturo Simeón Magaña, Felissa Cristales and Milena Mayorga publicly supported the initiative of President Nayib Bukele that consisted of redirecting $16 million of the $ 32 million of credit granted by the Central American Bank for Economic Integration ( CABEI) to the Legislative Assembly.

According to the president, the $16 million could be used for the construction of schools and cultural centers, and the rest for the construction of the new Legislative Assembly building.

The support of the four deputies for Bukele was not to the liking of the right wing leadership; therefore, Interiano summoned them to a private meeting. After the meeting, the party began a sanctioning process to expel the legislators, who had also begun to criticize Interiano’s lack of leadership and the closure of participation spaces for young people, as well as to demand new leadership.

LEGISLATURE 2021-2024

The president of ARENA was captured and imprisoned for the crime of embezzlement, and the charge has passed – to date – to Érick Salguero. Under his leadership, ARENAr suffered more than 20 resignations of deputies, former deputies, mayors, former mayors, councilors, and former councilors, all of iconic and long-standing militancy, since May 1 of that year, when the legislature began.

The most recent resignation occurred on Friday, January 7, and was that of the mayor of Candelaria, in Cuscatlán, Ricardo Ramírez Flores and his municipal council. Likewise, on January 4, the news of Hugo Calidonio, mayor of San Cristóbal, and previously that of the mayor of San Bartolomé Perulapía, Rónal Ortiz, was known.

After these three resignations, the ARENA party only retains the San José Guayabal mayor’s office in the department of Cuscatlán. Last year, the mayors of Santa Clara, San Martín, San Ildefonso, San Cayetano Istepeque, Jutiapa and Jujutla also resigned from the party, as did the former mayors of Sensuntepeque, Chalatenango and Soyapango.

The proprietary deputies, Carlos Reyes and Jorge Rosales resigned last September, and days later, their alternates, Yesenia Orellana and Jackeline López, did the same. In October, the former deputy of the 2018-2021 legislature, José Andrés Hernández, resigned.

All those who have resigned since May 1 have complained about the course, the lack of spaces for participation, the lack of leadership from Salguero and the blocking of the emergence of new young leaders.