Presidents of El Salvador (1989 to 2024): A Historical Dive into the Salvadoran Presidents

By Eddie Galdamez  |  Mar 1st, 2024
Presidents of El SalvadorNayib Bukele's 2019 Presidential Inaguration.

El Salvador, a country with a diverse political history, has been steered by presidents who have influenced its course, for better or worse. From controversial figures to modern leaders, each president has been instrumental in shaping the nation’s development and evolution.

El Salvadoran presidents serve a five-year term, securing office through popular vote. Winning requires a candidate to get 50% of the cast votes plus one.

If no presidential candidate gets the votes to win in the first round, a second voting round unfolds. The two presidential candidates with the highest electoral votes from the initial round engage in a runoff presidential election to determine the winner of the presidency.

Presidents of El Salvador from 1984 to 2024.

Name Term Political
Nayib Bukele 2024 to 2029 NI
Nayib Bukele 2019 to 2024 GANA
Salvador Sanchez Ceren 2014 to 2019 FMLN
Mauricio Funes 2009 to 1014 FMLN
Antonio Saca 2004 to 2009 ARENA
Francisco Flores 1999 to 2004 ARENA
Armando Calderon Sol 1994 to 1999 ARENA
Alfredo Cristiani 1989 to 1994 ARENA

Nayib Bukele Second Term

2024 to 2029 “New Ideas”

Nayib Bukele’s second presidential term is set to start on June 1, 2024. Bukele’s second presidential term has sparked debates over its constitutionality, with critics contending it is unconstitutional.

Bukele secured a landslide victory in the February 4 presidential election, reinforcing his mandate despite the constitutional concerns raised by some.

Nayib Bukele received 2,701,725 votes, representing 84.65% of the total. Securing second place, Manuel Flores of the FMLN political party received 204,167 votes, constituting 6.40%.

President Nayib Bukele
Nayib Bukele.

Nayib Bukele First Term

2019 to 2024 “GANA”

Nayib Bukele’s first presidential term began on June 1, 2019, and ended on May 31, 2024. Bukele’s 2019 presidential win ended the two-party system that governed the country for over 30 years (FMLN and ARENA).

President Bukele was elected by winning 53.1% of the total votes under the GANA political party flag.

Nayib Bukele’s primary achievement in his initial presidential term lies in the remarkable improvement of the country’s security. Under his administration, El Salvador has witnessed an unprecedented decrease in homicides, transitioning from being one of the most violent countries in Latin America to now being among the safest.

Additionally, President Bukele is commended for his effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which includes initiatives such as distributing food, implementing a vaccination rollout, and successfully managing fatality rates.

Lastly, Bukele also receives praise for changing the global view of El Salvador. Nowadays, the country is featured in international news not for its violence but for its improved security and growing tourism.

Although Bukele is the most popular president in Salvadoran history, he has been criticized locally and internationally for authoritarian tendencies and attacks on the press and NGOs.

Bukele also faces criticism for his second presidential term. Numerous legal experts contend that Bukele’s second presidency is unconstitutional.

President Bukele also faced accusations that his administration negotiated with criminal gangs to reduce homicide and gain support during the 2021 elections.

Lastly, the Bukele administration has been accused by local and international human rights organizations of human rights abuses during the State of Exception security measure.

President Nayib Bukele
President Bukele at the UN General Assembly.

Salvador Sanchez Ceren

2014 to 2019 “FMLN”

Salvador Sanchez Ceren served as president of El Salvador from 2014 to 2019. Sanchez Ceren is the second president of the left-wing political party Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). He also served as vice-president of El Salvador from 2009 to 2014.

During the civil war of the 1980s, Ceren was a guerilla commander known as Commander Leonel Gonzalez. Sanchez Ceren served two terms as a deputy at the Legislative Assembly, 2000 to 2003 and 2003 to 2006.

In 2006, after the death of the Communist Party leader and FMLN Commander Schafik Handal, Sanchez Ceren succeeded Handal as head of the legislative portion of the left-wing political party.

Ex-president is currently living in Nicaragua, hiding from Salvadoran justice. Ceren is accused of illicit enrichment and money laundering, among other charges. The ex-president is scheduled to go on trial in August 2024.

Under the Ceren administration, El Salvador witnessed its highest homicide rates since 2000, earning the unfortunate distinction of being recognized as the murder capital of the world.

Ex-President Salvador Sanchez Ceren
Salvador Sanchez Ceren.

Mauricio Funes Cartagena

2009 to 2014 “FMLN”

Mauricio Funes Cartagena served as president of the Republic of El Salvador from 2009 to 2014. Funes Cartagena was the first elected president of the left-wing political party Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front or FMLN.

Ex-president Funes Cartagena became a Nicaraguan citizen in 2019 after residing in Nicaragua under political Asylum protection for over a year.

The Funes Presidency gained notoriety for the corruption charges levied against him and some of his cabinet members. Additionally, his administration became infamous for the controversial truce established with the gangs Barrio 18 and MS-13.

Ex-president Funes is currently living in exile, avoiding the Salvadoran Justice System. However, in 2023, a Salvadoran court sentenced the former president to 14 years in prison for crimes committed during his administration between 2009 and 2014.

Ex-President Funes was found guilty of negotiating with gangs a truce that resulted in the empowerment of these criminal organizations. The former president was tried in absentia.

Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes Cartagena
Former Salvadoran Presidents Salvador Sanchez Ceren and Mauricio Funes.

Elias Antonio Saca

2004 to 2009 “ARENA”

Elias Antonio Saca, commonly known as Tony Saca, held the presidency from 2004 to 2009, representing the right-wing political party ARENA.

In the 2004 presidential elections, Saca secured victory against Schafik Handal of the FMLN political party. This win by Tony Saca marked the fourth consecutive president of the right-wing political party ARENA.

In 2009, Tony Saca was expelled from the ARENA political party, prompting his transition to the new political party known as the Grand Alliance for National Unity, or GANA.

In 2016, ex-president Saca was arrested and charged with embezzling millions of dollars in public funds. The former president was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the diversion and laundering of more than US$300 million in state funds.

Saca pleaded guilty to embezzlement and money laundering charges that involved public funds in the amount of $300 million; he became the first former president of El Salvador in times of democracy to be convicted of corruption.

Ex-President Elias Antonio Saca
Ex-President Elias Antonio Saca & his wife.

#42 Francisco Flores

1999 to 2004 “ARENA”

Francisco Guillermo Flores Perez, also known as Paco Flores, served as the president of El Salvador from 1999 to 2004, representing the right-wing political party ARENA.

Former President Flores is notable for initiating the country’s dollarization, a move that initially caused chaos in El Salvador. The majority of Salvadorans, particularly those in poverty, were unprepared for this significant change.

Flores was also the first Salvadoran ex-president to be indicted on corruption charges. He faced charges of embezzlement and illicit enrichment related to the misappropriation of over 15 million dollars donated by the Government of Taiwan following the 2001 earthquakes.

The funds donated by Taiwan were earmarked to help earthquake victims; however, the funds were misappropriated by Flores and used by the ARENA political party.

In September 2014, following months in hiding, Flores surrendered to the authorities. He was subsequently put under house arrest pending his trial. While awaiting trial under house arrest in January 2016, Flores suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and passed away on January 30, 2016.

In 2020, the deputy for the ARENA party, Norman Quijano, said that the Government of Taiwan gave El Salvador money in exchange for a vote in the United Nations. He assured that Taiwan’s funds were to develop the parties in the government and not to help the victims of the earthquake.

In 2020, Norman Quijano, a former deputy for the ARENA party, claimed that the Government of Taiwan provided financial support to the El Salvador government in exchange for a vote in the United Nations.

Quijano claimed that the money from Taiwan, which resulted in accusations against Paco Flores, was meant for the growth of political parties in the government rather than aiding the earthquake victims. ARENA was the political party in the government at that time.

Ex-president Francisco Flores or Paco Flores
Ex-president Francisco Flores or Paco Flores.

Armando Calderon Sol

1994 to 1999 “ARENA”

Armando Calderon Sol served from 1994 to 1999. Calderon Sol was the first president elected after the end of the Salvadoran civil war; he was a member of the right-wing political party ARENA.

During his presidency, Armando Calderon Sol pursued economic reforms, including the privatization of state-owned companies in El Salvador.

These measures aimed to stimulate economic growth and attract foreign investment, but opinions on privatization were divided, sparking debates about its impact on the country’s economy and workforce.

Ex-president Armando Calderon Sol
Ex-president Armando Calderon Sol.

Alfredo Cristiani

1989 to 1994 “ARENA”

Alfredo Cristiani Burkard served as president of El Salvador from 1989 to 1994. Cristiani was the first president of the right-wing political party ARENA; he began involved in politics when the Nationalist Republican Alliance ARENA was created in the early 1980s.

In 1988, Cristiani assumed leadership of the political party. During the concurrent legislative elections, held that year, ARENA secured 31 out of 60 seats in the Legislative Assembly. This marked the initiation of ARENA’s dominance as the preeminent political party in the country, a reign that endured until 2009.

In 1989, Cristiani became the president-elect by obtaining 53.8% of the total votes; it marked the beginning of 20 years of ARENA controlling the Salvadoran executive branch.

Cristiani was the president who successfully put an end to the civil war by negotiating a peace accord with the FMLN guerillas in 1992.

In 2008, human rights organizations filed a lawsuit in Spain’s court charging Cristiani and fourteen members of the Salvadoran military with responsibility for the 1989 murders of Jesuit priests at UCA University.

The current location of Cristiani, the former Salvadoran president, is unknown. He is facing charges associated with the 1989 murders of Jesuit priests at UCA University.

Ex-President Alfredo Cristiani
Salvadoran ex-presidents, Calderon Sol, Alfredo Cristiani, and Paco Flores.

Presidents of El Salvador

The presidents of El Salvador serve a one-time five-year term. According to the Salvadoran constitution, Presidents are ineligible for immediate reelection.

However, in 2021, the Salvadoran constitutional chamber ruled that a sitting president can register as a presidential candidate for the following five-year term.

The 2021 ruling allowed President Nayib Bukele to register as a presidential candidate. Bukele won in a landslide, obtaining over 84% of the valid votes.