I had my first crash course in politics in 1989. I was 11 years old, scared and surrounded by bombs and gunfire. The city of San Salvador was under attack in what would become the last push from left-wing guerrilla forces of the Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN) to take the country. They failed, but the event helped me realize—and in some cases even see face to face—the multitude of fellow Salvadorans who shared convictions that I didn’t entirely comprehend. In 1992, El Salvador gave the world a lesson in peacebuilding and reconciliation after the first Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA) president, Alfredo Cristiani, and FMLN leadership signed a peace accord in Mexico City putting an end to the 12-year civil war. This became my first lesson in democracy and institutional responsibility.
The second lesson in politics (more importantly, in democracy) came several years later in 1995 when, during a group visit to the National Assembly, I came across an ex-FMLN leader I had seen outside my house on that cruel morning in 1989. He was then serving as a freely and democratically elected congressman.
Over years of introspection, I’ve recognized that perhaps the combination of these two experiences is what has led me to the conviction that in Latin America, and especially El Salvador, democracy is “the only game in town,” even though certain regional trends seem to indicate otherwise. I knew then and there that I would work in strengthening democracy wherever I was given the chance. As time passed, I came closer to political participation, first through activism in ARENA’s youth sector. Later, upon completion of my undergraduate and graduate degrees, I became active as part of the leadership of the department of San Salvador.
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Julio Rank Wright is director for municipal affairs for the Executive National Council of the ARENA political party in El Salvador.