Elections for El Salvador’s representatives of the Central American Parliament, or PARLACEN, will take place February of next year. In preparation for the elections, El Salvadorian political party Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front or “FMLN” released the results of its electoral primaries last week. Among the top candidates for Proprietary Deputy was Aleja Menjívar, the current National Coordinator for the party’s Sexual Diversity Collective, who garnered an impressive 6,500 votes. Menjívar made Salvadorian history in 2014 by becoming the first openly transgender person affiliated with a political party, and this election offers her yet another opportunity to further the representation of LGBTQ people in the nation. Victory Institute interviewed Menjívar to learn more about her campaign and its significance.
Three years prior to her current candidacy, Menjívar joined the Victory Institute for the School of Political Leadership in El Salvador. The training included information on mapping key actors, designing campaigns, understanding debate and negotiation strategies and creating alliances, all skills she deemed “necessary to make sense of [her] candidacy.” Atop the educational premise of the School of Political Leadership, Menjívar “created bonds of friendship and brotherhood” among her cohort, ties which she still finds strong and relationships she finds persist across the region. “This training undoubtedly allowed me to take assertive steps in the construction of [my] pre-candidacy agenda,” affirmed Menjívar. Aleja is one of two former trainees that are now official candidates in the Country. Erick Ortiz has also been elected as the National Assembly candidate representing the new political party Nuestro Tiempo. Now that Aleja Menjívar has won a spot as an official FMLN candidate, the knowledge she developed at the School for Political Leadership will help her consolidate her strategy and prepare for her national campaign.
When asked what it would mean for her constituents to elect an openly LGBTI person, Menjívar shared that “Central America is a region with high rates of violence, exclusion and migration. LGBT people are not exempt from [this violence and exclusion] due to the lack of public policies guaranteeing human rights and effectively responding to the demands of the historically excluded sectors.” Menjívar’s political ascent alongside the more than 40 openly LGBT members of her political party “represents hard the hard work” these members have devoted to guaranteeing their party’s inclusivity. To Menjívar, the election of an openly transgender woman would represent the “continuous fight to defend the human rights of LGBTI people” and the party and nation’s progress towards claiming and reaffirming the rights of historically excluded populations. Particularly, her election would stand for the party’s commitment to the defense of women’s rights to make their own decisions regarding their bodies and sexual and reproductive health and to representing LGBTQ people in the region.
Though El Salvador and Menjívar’s particular region were previously making progress in terms of inclusion, she feels now that that progress has slowed and regressed. “I am tired of burying friends and colleagues, knowing that so many have had to migrate.” She finds herself tired of believing LGBTQ-allied politicians can give an expansively effective response; “although this is true,” she stated, “it is still not enough. If I live through the exclusion, if I live through the discrimination and inequality, why not make the decision to go fight to change that reality now, from a seat in the regional legislative arena?” After finding support from her party, Menjívar took this motivation and decided to run for a seat on the Central American Parliament. She shared that though El Salvador has passed no laws guaranteeing the rights of transgender individuals in the nation, the Special Electoral Commission has indeed guaranteed respect of her identity and name.
Unfortunately, Menjívar’s decision to run coincided closely with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Usually, leading up to the Salvadorian primaries, candidates “visit national territory to hear the opinions and proposals of partisan voters,” particularly those residing near military areas, to build their opinions into their agendas. She finds this grassroots work essential to the FMLN’s political strategy. However, due to the mandatory quarantines the country’s President Bukele implemented in March and subsequent “abuse of power by uniformed bodies such as the Armed Forces,” approach to those bases and any direct contact with constituents was deemed impossible. However, Menjívar instead found ways to share information about her candidacy and commitments via social networks.
Coronavirus did not present the sole challenge Menjívar faced on the campaign trail thus far. She recounted that a challenge for “any LGBTQ person, but mainly trans people, is demonstrating that we have the ability to participate in these spaces.” After years of activism and work within her party from the individual to collective levels, Menjívar received much support and acceptance from the FMLN regarding her candidacy. “We are going to work for the people and we are going to defend the human rights of everyone in the region,” she stated. “I’m not afraid to take on this challenge, because I know I’m not alone.”
Victory Institute works with local partners across the globe to train LGBTQ activists and leaders like Menjívar, helping prepare them to represent their communities and affect positive change internationally.