Flores Pérez, Francisco Guillermo (El Salvador)
Francisco Guillermo Flores Pérez was president of El Salvador from 1999–2004, representing the right-wing Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (Arena). Elected in 1999, he succeeded Armando Calderón Sol to become the third consecutive Arena president. Flores pledged to tackle poverty with market-led economic reforms, although privatization schemes were met with protests. Investigating war crimes from the country’s 12 year civil war remained high in public concerns. Flores struggled to lead a recovery programme after two earthquakes in 2001 caused widespread destruction.
Flores was born on 17 Oct. 1959 in Santa Ana, western El Salvador. He studied philosophy and economics in his homeland before taking a degree in political science in Boston’s Amherst College. He studied at Harvard and Oxford before becoming a professor of philosophy. He joined Arena and in 1989 was elected vice minister of planning in President Alfredo Cristiani’s cabinet. This was during the civil war which broke out in 1980 between the right wing government and a coalition of left-wing revolutionary groups, the Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN). In 1992 international mediation brought an end to the conflict. As vice minister of the presidency Flores oversaw the enactment of the peace agreement. In 1994 he was a deputy in the assembly and Calderón’s presidential information secretary before becoming assembly president in 1997.
The following year he was chosen as party candidate for the 1999 elections, party leaders believing his moderate stance would capture the votes of wavering Partido Demócrata Cristiano supporters alienated by the hardline radicals within Arena. Flores’ main opponent was Facundo Guardado, a former FMLN commander, who represented the now legal political group. The strengthening FMLN had ended Arena’s assembly majority in the 1997 parliamentary elections and Hector Silva had won the mayorship of the capital San Salvador. Flores took the presidency with 51.4% of votes to Guardado’s 29%. A 35% turnout reflected the voters’ disillusionment with politicians.
On election Flores outlined plans to improve health, education and housing to combat the country’s endemic poverty. He promised to create jobs, encourage small and medium businesses, reduce the country’s budget deficit and offer tax incentives to encourage foreign investors. Flores pledged to tackle crime with tighter laws, increased sentences and a strengthened police force. War crimes were a key issue. The murder in 1980 of Archbishop Romero, which had provoked the armed insurrection, was particularly poignant as the killers remained protected by an amnesty granted by Cristiani in 1993. There was outrage in 1998 when the convicted killers of three US nuns were released as part of a government policy to ease prison overcrowding. Despite calls to investigate war crimes perpetrated by Arena government forces, Flores distanced himself from his party’s involvement, calling for the country to move on. Nonetheless, he ordered an inquiry into the murder in 1989 of six Jesuit priests by government troops. In Oct. 2000 the attorney general led a move to investigate the responsibility of high ranked officials, including Cristiani. the Arena party president.
After signing a free market agreement with Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala, El Salvador nonetheless experienced an economic slowdown, caused by low coffee prices. Attempting to revitalize the economy, in Nov. 2000 Flores introduced dollarization, which came into effect in Jan. 2001. He fixed the exchange rate at 8.75 colones to the US dollar and made it the only currency for economic and commercial transactions.
Flores’ privatization of the telecommunications industry caused widespread protests a month before the March 2000 parliamentary election. As a result the opposition built on its earlier success by winning 8 of 14 regional capitals. Silva was re-elected mayor of San Salvador.
In Jan. and Feb. 2001 El Salvador was devastated by two earthquakes, killing 1,200, displacing 1 m. and causing massive infrastructural damage. Flores called on the international community to reconsider El Salvador’s foreign debt, claiming that repayments were cancelling out disaster funds.
Barred by the constitution from re-election, Flores was succeeded by Antonio Saca, also of the Arena party, in 2004.
Flores died of a brain haemorrhage on 30 Jan. 2016.