On Tuesday, Februrary 19, former President of El Salvador Alfredo Cristiani stepped down from his position as President of the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party’s National Executive Council (COENA), in a move that demonstrates the severity of divisions within the party. Jorge Velado, the party’s former Vice-President of Ideology, was named to replace Cristiani as the internal head of the right wing party.
According to FMLN spokesperson Roberto Lorenzana, the changes in leadership demonstrate an internal power grab by the Poma Group, an elite Salvadoran business consortium, of which Velado is an employee. Lorenzana claims business groups tied their financing of ARENA candidate Norman Quijano’s upcoming presidential run to Cristiani’s resignation, leading to an emergency General Assembly held by the right-wing party on Saturday, February 16.
The internal shuffle comes at a time of great conflict within the party: ex-President Tony Saca’s ousting, the 2009 exodus of 12 ARENA legislators who formed the Grand National Alliance (GANA) party, and the 2012 unceremonious expulsion of four additional ARENA legislators for breaking party ranks and voting to approve the national budget. The latest changes raise further doubts over party unity and strength for the upcoming presidential elections.
Indeed, Gloria Salguera Ross, a founding member of ARENA, voiced concerns that the move came at an inappropriate time, given the fast-approaching 2014 elections.