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Calderón Sol, Armando: 1948—

Armando Calderón Sol: 1948: Former president of El Salvador

A wealthy lawyer from El Salvador, Armando Calderón Sol worked his way through the political system to serve first as mayor of the capital city, San Salvador, and later as president of the country from 1994 to 1999. Calderón Sol became the first peacetime president in El Salvador following a 12-year civil war between Communist and anti-Communist factions. Calderón Sol worked to improve the image of his party in particular, and Salvadoran politics in general, although his political career was controversial because his political party was associated with terrorist tactics, such as death squads. During his tenure as president, however, Calderón Sol implemented numerous economic reforms to help his country work towards economic prosperity and independence.

Calderón Sol was born on June 24, 1948, in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. As the son of a conservative, powerful, land-owning family, his early education was provided by the Jesuits. In 1966 he graduated from college with a degree in science and literature from the Colegio Externado de San José. He then went on to study law, earning his J.D. in administrative law from the University of El Salvador in 1977.

Calderón Sol worked as an assistant justice in the civil court and as a justice of the peace at the Isidro Menéndez Judicial Center. He married Elizabeth Aguirre, and the couple had three sons.

El Salvador has had a violent history, particularly in the last century, and from the 1930s to the 1980s the country was run primarily by the military. The country's political and economic systems have been run by an oligarchy made up of 14 wealthy land-owning families. In the 1970s and 1980s El Salvador became a major battleground for the Cold War, the political and economic struggle between capitalized democracies, such as the United States and Western Europe, and Communist states, such as the Soviet Union and Cuba. Poor peasants in El Salvador joined guerrilla groups that were sympathetic to Communist reforms that they believed would distribute wealth and property more equally among all Salvadorans. In 1980 these guerrilla groups formed the Frente Farabundo Martí de Liberación (FMLN), or National Liberation Front. In response to this movement, the United States spent $1.5 million a day supporting right-wing, antiCommunist political factions. The result was a 12-year civil war.

At a Glance . . .

Born Armando Calderón Sol on June 24, 1948, in San Salvador, El Salvador; married Elizabeth Aguirre; children: three sons. Education: Colegio Externado de San José, B.A., 1966; University of El Salvador, J.D., 1977. Politics: Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA), the Nationalist Republican Alliance.

Career: Isidro Menéndez Judicial Center, assistant justice in the civil court and justice of the peace, 1978-80; ARENA, private secretary, legal counsel, vice president of ideology, parliamentary leader, member of the national directorate, 1981-84; Legislative Assembly of El Salvador, 1985-88; ARENA, president, political party, 1986; President of El Salvador, 1994-99.

Awards: Trade Leader of the Year, Fifth Annual Bravo Business Awards, 1999.

Address: Office Casa Presidencial Auda Cuba, Calle Dario Gonzalez 806, Barro San Jacinto, San Salvador, El Salvador.

Joined Salvadorian Nationalist Movement

Calderón Sol became involved in politics in the midst of this crisis. In the late 1970s he became a member of the Salvadoran Nationalist Movement (MNS), a group of upper-middle class men who supported anti-Communist politics. In 1981 an army intelligence officer, Major Roberto D'Aubuisson, unified the MNS and other right-wing militant groups under one party, the Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA), or Nationalist Republican Alliance. ARENA called for the extermination of the Communists, and was supported in this goal by the oligarchy. A violent organization that used terrorism to accomplish its goals, ARENA was linked to death squads that killed prominent supporters of the FMLN, as well as others who publicly criticized the movement. In 1980 Roman Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated by a death squad, a tragedy which brought national attention to the violence in El Salvador. D'Aubuisson was believed to have ordered the murder.

Calderón Sol was 31 years old when ARENA was founded. He worked as D'Aubuisson's private secretary and held numerous other positions, including legal counsel, vice president of ideology, parliamentary leader, and member of the national directorate. In 1986 Calderón Sol became president of the party. Although ARENA's influence grew in the 1980s, it was difficult for the party to gain political legitimacy. In 1982 and 1984 the United States blocked D'Aubuisson from becoming president of El Salvador because of his terrorist tactics. Instead, Jose Napoleon Duarte, a Christian Democrat, served as president from 1984 until 1989.

By the end of the 1980s ARENA was working to change its public image and distance itself from violence and terrorism. Calderón Sol became an important figure in this transformation. "While Calderón Sol's close and continuing association with the D'Aubuisson group is well documented, his personal role in acts of violence was unclear," the Washington Post reported. This ambiguous position helped to give Calderón Sol the power of the ARENA party without the taint of bloodshed.

Elected to Legislative Assembley

From 1985 to 1988 Calderón Sol was a representative in the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador. In the spring of 1988 he was elected mayor of San Salvador, the first mayor in 24 years to come from a political party other than the Christian Democrats. Calderón Sol campaigned on a platform of good government and anti-corruption. "I want to show that honest, clean people are entering politics," the New York Times quoted Calderón Sol as saying. Calderón Sol was also very vocal about his opinions regarding the role the United States had played in El Salvador's economic and political problems. U.S. News and World Report quoted Calderón Sol as saying, "[The United States] has turned us into a country of beggars, dependent on the U.S. taxpayer."

ARENA's political influence was strengthened in 1989, when its candidate won the presidential election for the first time. Instead of D'Aubuisson, whose image was closely associated with death squads, the candidate was 41-year-old Alfredo Cristiani, an American-educated millionaire businessman. Cristiani was sophisticated, well dressed, and spoke fluent English. He campaigned against the inefficiency and corruption of the Duarte government and promised honesty and efficiency. However, just after Cristiani's victory in 1989, the conflict between the government and the FMLN heightened. On November 16, 1989, the FMLN stormed the capital with the help of the Salvadoran military, and assassinated six Jesuit priests and two women at the Central American University. International outcry over this event, coupled with the end of the Cold War in 1990, led to intervention by the United Nations. On January 16, 1992, the Peace Accords were signed in Chapultepec, Mexico, signifying the end of the civil war in El Salvador. The FMLN agreed to end the fighting and instead compete as a political party in the next election.

According to the Salvadoran constitution, the president is elected independently of the Legislative Assembly every five years. In November of 1993 Calderón Sol was officially nominated as ARENA's presidential candidate for the 1994 elections. That same year Calderón Sol's mentor, Major Roberto D'Aubuisson, died of cancer. According to a the Los Angeles Times, his legacy was a focal point of ARENA's presidential campaign, as supporters wore shirts declaring, "D'Aubuisson, you will live forever," and crowds cheered the slogan, "Fatherland, yes! Communism, no!" The first round of voting took place on March 20, 1994, and Calderón Sol received 49% of the vote. Since he did not receive a majority of the votes, he faced a runoff election against FMLN leader Ruben Zamora on April 24, 1994. Calderón Sol won the runoff with 68% of the vote.

Some political observers and journalists called this event the election of the century because they were the most democratic elections in El Salvador's history. However, low voter turnout of less than 50% of eligible voters as well as widespread charges of fraud meant that, despite his victory, Calderón Sol did not enjoy much support among the general population. Accord-ingtothe Washington Post, Calderón Sol stated in his acceptance speech, "We do not want more confrontation or polarization. We will work for collaboration among all social and political forces to carry forward our great national project."

Reservations Among the Populus

While Calderón Sol campaigned for "a better level of life for all Salvadorans," many questioned whether he would be able to accomplish this goal. His association with D'Aubuisson led to public concern over a return to violent tactics. In fact, there were several assaults and assassinations related to the 1994 presidential elections, although they were not directly connected to Calderón Sol. In addition, Calderón Sol was not considered to be a strong leader with his own opinions. As one businessman told the Washington Post, "Cristiani was a statesman, while Calderón Sol is more of a populist, a demagogue, provincial in his outlook."

Despite the widespread reservations, Calderón Sol quickly used his new position to introduce radical economic reforms to El Salvador. He filled his cabinet with business leaders and his vice president, Enrique Borgo, was the former president of a major airline. In 1995 the Financial Times (London) reported Calderón Sol as saying, "Our vision as a nation is to transform El Salvador into a land of opportunity, with equity. We want to make the country attractive for local and foreign investment, and incorporate ourselves into the world production chain." To this end, Calderón Sol introduced economic reforms, such as privatizing major national industries, including utility companies, introducing a currency board, and encouraging foreign trade. It was a bold and risky reform program that was sharply criticized by the FMLN.

By 1996 El Salvador's economy was responding positively to Calderón Sol's initiatives. "Once a symbol for Cold War conflict, this tiny Central American nation has suddenly become the staging ground for a different kind of battle: free competition," reported the Wall Street Journal. The annual gross domestic product had grown from 2.1% to 5.3%, inflation had decreased, and the number of exports had increased. In a statement reported in the Institutional Investor, Calderón Sol boldly declared, "From now until the twenty-first century, El Salvador aims to achieve an economic miracle."

Worked to Improve Foreign Relations

Calderón Sol implemented financial reforms which aimed to decrease El Salvador's economic dependence on the United States, but he also worked to improve foreign relations with the United States, despite the strong criticisms he had voiced earlier in his political career. In 1996 Calderón Sol met with then-Secretary of State Warren Christopher to discuss trade parity, immigration, and drug trafficking. According to the U.S. Department of State website, "U.S. policy toward El Salvador seeks to promote the strengthening of El Salvador's democratic institutions, rule of law, judicial reform, and civilian police and national reconciliation and reconstruction, economic opportunity, and growth." Calderón Sol also worked to strengthen foreign relations with other Central American countries. For example, in 1997 El Salvador agreed to build a "dry canal" highway with Honduras, a once unfriendly neighbor, in order to compete with the Panama Canal.

Despite these successes, Calderón Sol faced other challenges. In particular, poverty and crime were still high in El Salvador. Calderón Sol's economic reforms had not really addressed financial institutions such as banks, and in 1997 a savings and loan scandal cost Salvadorans millions of dollars. In addition Calderón Sol was under continuous scrutiny for not abiding by the 1992 United Nations Peace Accords. In particular, the police force was supposed to be transformed from a military to a civilian organization, land was to be more evenly distributed, and investigations and prosecutions were to be initiated on the death squads. Calderón Sol had only addressed these issues to a very limited extent.

In 1999 Calderón Sol completed his five-year term as president and another ARENA candidate, Francisco Flores, won the position. Calderón Sol has continued to push for economic reforms in El Salvador. He has been especially vocal about favoring dolarization of the Salvadoran currency, even when other experts cautioned that it might be too soon. In 1999 Calderón Sol was recognized as Trade Leader of the Year at the Fifth Annual Bravo Business Awards. In the same year he told Latin Trade magazine, "I am motivated toward the free market by the reality of the tiny size of El Salvador: We either had to open ourselves to the world and competition, or to stay submerged in our little corner. The latter is not viable for us."



Current Leaders of Nations, Gale, 1998.


America, September 17, 1994, p. 4.

Baltimore Sun, October 31, 1997, p. 19A.

Boston Globe, April 24, 1994, p. 4.

Chicago Sun-Times, June 5, 1994, p. 42.

Christian Century (Chicago), May 18, 1994, p. 516.

Commonweal, June 17, 1994, p. 7.

Economist, April 23, 1994, p. 46.

Financial Times (London), February 23, 1995, p. 6; May 19, 1999, p. 5.

Guardian (London), March 23, 1994, p. 3.

Institutional Investor, January 1997, p. E2.

Latin Trade, October 1999.

Los Angeles Times, March 29, 1993, p. 14.

New York Times, September 21, 1988, p. A4.

U.S. Department of State Dispatch, March 4, 1996, p. 83.

U.S. News and World Report, January 23, 1989, p. 30.

Wall Street Journal, July 30, 1998, p. A15.

Washington Post, April 17, 1994, p. C1; April 24, 1994, p. A21; June 2, 1994, p. A25; March 9, 1999, p. A9.


U.S. Department of State,

World History Archives,

Janet P. Stamatel

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