In the notoriously polarized and often corrupt world of Salvadoran politics, federal deputy David Reyes stands out for his commitment to bipartisan governance. Elected in March 2009 to the National Assembly, Reyes, 30, of the conservative Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA) party, has cosponsored a series of bills targeting youth unemployment, greater government transparency and services for Salvadorans with disabilities.
The common thread among these initiatives is that they each received broad-based support across party lines—no small feat in one of the hemisphere’s most divided political systems. “By focusing on universally important issues, we have learned to come together to get things done,” says Reyes. Confined to a wheelchair since birth, Reyes has also pioneered 47 legal statutes that provide guarantees of education, health, building access, and employment for the 60,000 Salvadorans who have physical or mental disabilities. “Growing up in a caring household, where I was never treated differently than my siblings, helped me learn how to persevere despite my physical obstacles,” he says.
Increasing transparency is another major goal for Reyes. In 2010, he co-sponsored the Ley de Transparencia (Transparency Law), which mandates the creation of a new transparency bureau charged with investigating corruption throughout the federal bureaucracy. The bill, which passed in March 2011, has become a hallmark of the current legislative session.
Reyes’ next project is the Ley de Primer Empleo (First Job Law). The bill, introduced in May 2011, seeks to address the root causes of El Salvador’s chronically high youth unemployment rate by creating new vocational training programs and reducing red tape for businesses that wish to employ young workers as interns and apprentices. According to Reyes, helping youth find jobs is an urgent national imperative. “Young men and women who drop out of school or who cannot find jobs after completing a degree are more susceptible to the temptations of gangs and other illicit activities,” he explains, adding that preventing gang violence “through education and workplace training are important for creating a more secure country.”
When Reyes isn’t working on legislation or negotiating with colleagues, he sits at the helm of Sin Limites (Without Limits), El Salvador’s most active NGO dedicated to protecting and promoting the rights of the disabled. Founded in August 2010, Sin Limites helps coordinate an annual Special Olympics competition and educates companies on how to integrate disabled employees. To date, Sin Limites has helped more than 80 people find jobs in more than 30 companies in San Salvador.
Although Reyes won’t say yet whether he will run in the next congressional elections in 2012, he believes ARENA’s prospects are good. But perhaps more importantly, Reyes’ bipartisan approach offers a model for other legislators in El Salvador and the region. As he puts it, “A sense of common purpose and mutual respect can spill over into other areas.”