Right on Crime?: Conservative Party Politics and Mano Dura Policies in El Salvador
Abstract

Despite a growing literature on the left in Latin America, few studies have considered the fate of the right. This article examines a highly successful conservative party, the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), which held power for close to two decades in El Salvador. The ARENA party used mano dura policies—defined by the introduction of discretionary crimes, diluted due process guarantees, and military participation in policing—to boost its support among constituencies plagued by crime. Two key factors prompted ARENA party strategists to emphasize security. First, a credible electoral threat existed from a leftist party hesitant to resort to harsh security measures. Second, factional divisions drove party strategy. Business elites who formed the core of the ARENA party refused to abandon unpopular economic reforms. Mano dura policies allowed the party to maintain support from traditional elites and their rural bases without reversals to its economic program. Party centralization facilitated the programmatic shift.


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