El Salvador’s former president Francisco Flores has died of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 56.
Flores, a member of the conservative Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), passed away on January 30 at a private hospital in the capital, San Salvador. Following emergency surgery, the ex-president died while in a coma.
Flores was the country’s leader from 1999 until 2004, but his five-year presidency has been tainted by allegations of corruption and embezzlement.
The former head of state was accused of embezzling some $15 million of aid which Taiwan had donated to El Salvador to assist those who had been devastated by an earthquake in 2001. The disaster killed more than 1,000 people, and left some 200,000 Salvadorans homeless.
Prior to being taken ill, Flores had been under house arrest for the alleged embezzlement of millions of dollars. According to a BBC report, the former president handed himself in to a judge in September 2014, stating that he was giving himself “over to the court voluntarily and out of respect for the law”.
In December 2015, a Salvadoran judge ordered the country’s ex-president to face trial over the alleged misappropriation of public funds. The Guardian reported that in a long-awaited ruling, Judge Miguel Ángel García told Flores he would be facing charges of money laundering, embezzlement of public funds, and other illegal activities.
Flores strongly denied any wrongdoing, claiming that the money had in fact been distributed to the earthquake victims. Maintaining his innocence, Flores had said that the charges against him were politically motivated.
Flores was born on October 17, in 1959, in Santa Ana, El Salvador’s second biggest city, located northwest of San Salvador, to Maria Leonor Pérez de Flores and Ulises Flores.
After majoring in political science at Amherst College in Massachusetts, Flores obtained a master’s degree in philosophy from the American World University in California.
A move into politics
Flores’ life in politics began in the late 1980s, and he became the vice-minister for planning during the presidency of Alfredo Cristiani. His decision to go in to politics was motivated by the killing of his father-in-law, Jose Antonio Rodriguez Porth, the chief of staff to President Alfredo Cristiani, by leftist guerrillas in 1989.
In 1997, Flores was elected as the president of the Legislative Assembly, and, as reported by the New York Times, Flores became El Salvador’s new president in 1999, after running as the “new face” of ARENA and beating guerrilla commander Facundo Guardado.
However, amid allegations of corruption and embezzlement, the former president’s popularity has since waned. He was also criticized during his presidency for adopting the U.S. dollar as El Salvador’s official currency.
A women working for a non-profit organization promoting women’s rights in El Salvador, Angelica Rivas, told Associated Press that “the people will remember him for the terrible dollarization, for the Firm Hand [to combat crime] and as corrupt”.
Despite Flores’ death, the authorities will likely initiate civil litigation to recover lost funds.