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The 1992 Salvadoran peace accords ended a 12-year civil war and forced modest democratic reforms on a state long dominated by a ruthless oligarchy and military. However, the new system represented a shallow version of democracy that remained largely unresponsive to the population. For two decades the far-right Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (Nationalist Republican Alliance [ARENA]) party held the presidency and used it to enact pro-business economic policies of austerity, privatization, and deregulation. In 2009, the left-wing opposition party, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), won the presidential elections for the first time. Yet despite winning some notable progressive reforms, the FMLN did not seek, much less achieve, a radical break from the neoliberal policies of previous administrations. FMLN leaders opted to continue a number of pro-capitalist policies while pursuing reforms to ameliorate the worst symptoms of the system, not overthrow it. The FMLN’s shift away from revolutionary socialism is attributable to several factors: a political and media terrain that still heavily favors the right, the continued influence of the United States government, and private investors’ control over the economy. These constraints were vitally important during the tenures of FMLN presidents Mauricio Funes (2009–2014) and Salvador Sánchez Cerén (2014–2019). El Salvador’s political trajectory since 1992, and especially during the FMLN’s decade in the presidency, offers insights into the constraints facing various left-of-center governments elected across Latin America in the early 21st century.

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Business—or the sum of privately run enterprises in all sectors of the economy, their owners, and managers—can have an important impact on the holding of peace talks, on agreement substance, and on the speed and depth of implementation. In fact, business has been part of peacebuilding processes in many conflict-affected societies in Latin America, both by spoiling ongoing efforts and by supporting negotiations, social dialogue, and transformative projects. The examples of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Colombia show that there is not a uniform model whereby private sector actors define their interests and strategies in relation to peace talks and peacebuilding processes. Rather, factors related to the nature and intensity of conflict, the economic and international context, company traits and private sector organizational forms, as well as access to the policymaking process play an important role. Whether peace is achieved or not ultimately depends on a variety of factors. However, whether as spoiler, supporter, or simple bystander, the private sector is a crucial actor in societies seeking to build lasting peace.