El Salvador- 20 Years Later

by Antonio Canas |

During the last 20 years, Salvadoran national life has undergone important transformations. The fact that its rural population decreased from 49.6 percent to 37.3 percent since 1992 or that its entire population did not grow above seven million people, as had been projected, but instead was almost a million and a half less than that, should already paint a picture Of The dimension and nature of the changes.

What has changed very little is the economic and social situation of the “popular majorities,” as Ignacio Ellacuría, S.J., conceptualized that immense number of Salvadoreños and Salvadoreñas who live in poverty, struggling on their own for survival between unemployment and underemployment. According to the most recent Report on Human Development in El Salvador (Informe de Desarrollo Humano de El Salvador, or IDHES), published in 2008, decent employment was a privilege enjoyed by less
than 20 percent of the economically active population in 2006. As for the rest, 7 percent of the population was unemployed; 43 percent was underemployed; and the remaining 31 percent of the people were so precariously employed that even if they earned more than the minimum wage, they could not afford the basic basket of goods at market prices, nor could they enjoy labor rights or social security.

In other words, two years before the
onset of the economic crisis in the United 
States and the rest of the world, 80 percent
 of the economically active population of El Salvador had great difficulty in finding dignified employment in order to survive, just like
 what had been happening in the three decades preceding the country’s armed conflict. What is more, this was taking place after almost 20 years during which the country carefully followed the recipes of the neoliberal program for economic

It is still surprising that today, like yesterday, those who hold the economic and media power and who themselves are quite trans-nationalized, continue to defend, with the same conviction, the same policies and “economic liberties,” even if the raison dêtre and the activities of the state have never been focused on the human being, on the immense majority of the population, as dictated by the First article of the Constitution; or poverty and the lack of dignified employment continue to have the same historic rates.

modernization as the most effective means to combat poverty, according to the international financing organizations discourse.

A review of the data in the aforementioned IDHES reveals that in the last 60 years,
half of the Salvadoran labor force has been underemployed: In 1950, the underemployment rate was 49 percent; in 1970, it was 45 percent; in 1980, it was 49 percent once again; and in 2006, it was 43 percent. Therefore, this sign of grave injustice in El Salvador is very similar to the one faced by so many martyrs in the history of the country—a sign for which they were willing to sacrifice their lives.

It is still surprising that today, like yesterday, those who hold the economic and media power and who themselves are quite trans-nationalized, continue to defend, with the same conviction, the same policies and “economic liberties,” even if the raison d’être and the activities of the state have never been focused on the human being, on the immense majority of the population, as dictated by the First Article of the Constitution; for poverty and the lack of dignified employment continue to have the same historic rates.
If anything has ameliorated this poverty, it has been the solidarity shown by the emigrants who, through their suffering and remittances from other countries, contribute 18 percent of the GDP.

As in the past, the need to legitimize power continues to include the truth among its firstvictims. According to the official discourse, in 2005 the statistics placed the level of poverty
at 30.4 percent of the Salvadoran households. In fact, according to more realistic calculations, poverty affects 58.4 percent of the population.

There is, in close relationship to the aforementioned economic policies, the fact
that El Salvador remains among the 20 percent of the countries of the world with the greatest income inequity, a situation in which 20 percent of the wealthiest segment of the population keeps nearly 60 percent of the national income, while 20 percent of the poorest segment of the population must survive with 3 percent of the same.

Therefore, one should not be surprised by the multiple and dramatic social effects caused by the prolonged history of this unjust and unacceptable inequity. Among such effects, there is a permanent exodus3 of Salvadorans, whose numbers now represent a third of the country’s population living elsewhere, mainly in the United States. Although, as mentioned before, remittances constitute the main lifeline of the Salvadoran economy, such massive emigration has had devastating effects, such as the destruction of households and the erosion of the family unit and the social fabric of the country.

This same matrix of institutionalized injus- tice has also placed the country, for almost
an entire decade, among the most violent in the world, and among the most violent in Latin America, with a homicide rate of 48.8 per 100,000 according to a 2008 special report produced by the Latin-American Information Technology Network4 (Red de Información Tecnológica Latinoamericana). This phenom- enon of violence, as proven by many studies throughout the world, is more directly associated with the inequity in the distribution of wealth than with the phenomenon of poverty itself, as evidenced by a 48 percent degree of determina- tion in the variance of all the violence indexes.

Profound poverty is everywhere in El Salvador, where large numbers of people are unemployed or underemployed, and many cannot afford even a basic basket of goods at market prices. Daniel Murdock J.D. ’09

 
In absolute figures, this violence is equivalent to an average of 300 murders per month during the last three years. These numbers are often disputed by those responsible for the formulation of public safety policies and they represent nothing more than a media image headache for the government, given the absence of concrete follow-up actions.

These daily deaths represent a social and human catastrophe of proportions that are equivalent or superior to the number of monthly victims registered during the intermediate
stage of the armed conflict between 1984 and 1989. But in financial terms, they represent
but an insignificant cost to the state budget, given that the state normally spends money just on the elaboration of police reports, forensic inspections, and the transportation of cadavers to the morgue—the bare necessities for the upkeep of the statistical records on violence.

According to a study on judicial efficiency sponsored by the PNUD Programa de Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo, or United Nations Development Program and published in 2007, 85.6 percent of the total number of homicides that took place in 2005 did not even make it
to initial stage of a judicial procedure due to insufficient evidence to bring forth indictments.

No other ultimate responsibility is assumed by the state for those deaths, either through payments of death or handicap insurance policies, or medical or psychological attention to the victims of violence or the victims’ families. These human losses do not reverberate in the country’s economic activity since they represent a labor force that is either unemployed or easily replaceable.

How is it that the Peace Agreements, which have been used to erase the country’s memory, have given a new lifeline to the old policies and have given way to the same exercise of power—a power which today appears under the paralyzing veil of the supposed popular will, expressed through free and democratic elections?

If the state or the economic structure of the Salvadoran society were to become responsible for these expenses, surely the accountability of those responsible for public safety would increase. And even though the fiscal and police authorities have attributed almost 100 percent
of the homicides to the youth involved in
gangs, or “maras,” during the last period of
the ARENA presidency, this phenomenon
is much more complex than that, since state agents are also involved in such homicides. The investigations undertaken in 2006 and 2007 by the Ombudsman (Attorney General’s) Office
for the Defense of Human Rights (Procuraduría para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos) and the Office of Human Rights at the Archdiocese of San Salvador6 (Oficina de Derechos Humanos del Arzobispado de San Salvador) revealed
the existence of death and social cleansing squads which, in some cases, were linked to the National Civil Police Policía Nacional Civil, or PNC in different zones of the country.

In 2007, a military operation that was beyond police jurisdiction resulted in the capture, in the eastern zone, of a PNC officer moments after he had perpetrated a murder. Eventually, the squad led by said officer was credited with at least 31 other homicides perpetrated in the two preceding years. The killer, however, was indicted and sentenced for only the last crime.

The data and evidence of the Salvadoran reality can also apply to other fields, such as corruption in the management of public funds, and these data and evidence can gain a more exhaustive and documented depth in said fields. But what this information immediately reveals is the persistence of the old structures of injustice and the cynical and indifferent disposition with respect to the suffering, exclusion and abandonment in which the “popular majorities” live and die.

Faced with such a grave social situation one may ask a series of questions. How is it that the citizens have not reacted or effectively demanded a change in priorities and the transformation of such policies during almost 20 years? How is it that this cynical lack of honesty with regard to reality has been tolerated for so long? How is
it that the Peace Agreements, which have been used to erase the country’s memory, have given
a new lifeline to the old policies and have given way to the same exercise of power—a power which today appears under the paralyzing veil
of the supposed popular will, expressed through free and democratic elections?

There is no lack of explanations. And although these explanations are complex in nature, they are nevertheless evident, such as the unconditional support that the Salvadoran neoliberal policies have received by the different administrations in Washington, whose moral authority before the Salvadoran public opinion has been and continues to be magnified by
the power of the Salvadoran media; or the credentials that the international financing organizations have bestowed upon the policies and decisions of the last four Salvadoran administrations so as to declare them in tune with the future and the needs of globalization.

But there are many other causes that contribute to this tolerance towards injustice, and there are other worrying signs of social insensitivity and dehumanization in the Salvadoran society that appear in the moral and spiritual realm more than in the socio-political arena. These causes have to do with a certain loss of both faith and the profoundly Christian way of life, and the loss of a humanizing dynamism, the existence of which had been made evident by the repeated and unequivocal gestures of so many Salvadorans just two decades ago.

As well, there is a need for individuals with the capacity to interpret the signs of the times, certainly more so now, given the context of expectations and the collective morale that is so different from that which predominated 20 or 30 years ago. There is a need for prophetic voices, as Jon Sobrino calls them, voices that, through a tone of Christianity and humanistic intellect, may help the poor so that they may know how to “reclaim and maintain their self- confidence, develop new practices and transmit hope.”

Much of that spiritual loss is not strictly related to theology or faith issues, but rather
to the distancing of the community from its recent historic reality—a reality composed
of a single cut rather than temporary pieces that are tailored to the measurements of the powerful. This distancing was the first thing that became evident when, in a national survey of public opinion, it was difficult for the interviewees to cite a Salvadoran who made them feel proud of their nationality. Only 4 percent of the interviewees were able to name Monsignor Romero, surely the most universal of all Salvadorans. This is only one expression, though one of the most salient ones, of the numbness or stupor to which the popular conscience has been subjected.

Perhaps the most devastating blow to
the spirit of the Peace Accords was the social marginalization and institutional oblivion imposed upon the Truth Commission Report, whose main recommendation was to exhort the Salvadoran community to undertake the study and reflection of the ideological doctrine, the institutional practices, and the investigation of the public officials who were responsible
for the atrocious crimes and violations of
human rights that took place during their administrative terms. This unknown negative opinion presented in the Report prevented the population from taking ownership of its own terrible political and social experience as the sole means of avoiding the recurrence of such history.

But it’s not only the history that is assailed by this decision to impose silence and send
into oblivion the crimes of the past. What is also assailed is all paths and possibilities for
the creation of a future, of a just and different society, as pastorally alluded to by Monsignor Romero and as discussed in ethical and political terms by Ignacio Ellacuría, S.J., the great theorist and advocate of the possibilities for peace and justice in El Salvador.

El Salvador, as well as other countries with similar realities, will not find better sources and guides for the identification of new practices and social behaviors (such as faith and hope in
a more just and supportive society) than the example and the thought of those who delved into the soul and the most precious values of
the Salvadoran society. Those who would like to steep themselves into this reality and explore the realms of what is possible, or allow themselves to be inspired and encouraged by role models who display an unconditional surrender to the cause of justice, would be wrong to search in other periods of history or latitudes.

The official oblivion to which these role models, Romero and Ellacuría, have been subjected until now, as well as the public silence regarding their memory (both of which have been incorporated into the educational programs and systematically exorcized by the great media corporations), only confirm the predominance of the ideologies and values that produce the death and dehumanization still experienced by Salvadoran society today.

There is no doubt that the current Salvadoran administration, one that demonstrates a different ideological approach these days, will face an immense economic challenge in keeping its campaign promises amidst the grave national and global financial crisis and the recession signs that predominate

There is no doubt that the current Salvadoran admin- istration, one that demonstrates a different ideological approach these days, will face an immense economic challenge in keeping its campaign promises amidst the grave national and global financial crisis and the recession signs that predominate in the United States, whose economy is so consequential to the Salvadoran economy.

in the United States, whose economy is so consequential to the Salvadoran economy.

But its main and essential task will be to return to the Salvadoran society its own perception and the transcendental value it places on human life and dignity, both of
which have been so despised and violated in
the destitute barrios, in the statistical data, and in the discourses of the powerful. In order to accomplish this, the administration should
start by promoting the reconciliation of the Salvadoran society—a society that is as or more unjust and inequitable than the one that existed when the Peace Agreements were signed. This constitutes nothing less than the society’s honest reencounter with its reality, with its values, and with its martyrs.

This article was translated from the original Spanish by Sergio Lopez, ClearTranslations@gmail.com.

Endnotes


  1. Population Division of the Department of Economic
and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat,
World Population Prospects: The 2006 Revision and World Urbanization Prospects: The 2007 Revison, http://esa.un.org/ unup
  2. According to a study published in 2007 by the PNUD Programa de Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo, or United Nations Development Programme in El Salvador, the official poverty figures were based on the estimated cost of the basic nutritional basket that was the equal in 2005 to that of 1996, which is obviously unrealistic. In addition, the statistical figures of the government did not register percentages 
of individuals in poverty, as suggested by international practices, but rather percentages of households. This leads to the under-reporting of this phenomenon since the poorest households are composed of more individuals as compared to the households that are not poor. See PNUD: “Cuadernos sobre Desarrollo Humano” ( Notebooks on Human Development) No. 6 (May 2007). http://www.pnud.org. sv/2007/content/view/27/83?id_publ=74, P.37.
  3. According to conservative estimates, in the last eight years, the average number of daily emigrants, both legal and illegal, has been between 700 and 800 Salvadorans. See the Informe sobre de Desarrollo Humano El Salvador (Report on Human Development in El Salvador) or IDHES, 2005 http://www. pnud.org.sv/migraciones/content/view/9/105/
  4. Red de Información Tecnológica Latinoamericana, RITLA Latin-American Information Technology Network. “Mapa de la violencia: Los jóvenes de América Latina 2008” (The violence map: The Latin American Youth, 2008.), 15. Can be accessed at http://www.ritla.net.
  5. Ibid.
  6. In 2006 this office investigated 26 of the homicides that followed the pattern of the death squads. Eight out of the 26 (30%) were linked to either officers or structures of the PNC Policía Nacional Civil, or National Civilian Police, who sometimes used patrol cars or other resources of the institution. In 2007, eight homicides out of 29 (27.6%) of the social cleansing summary executions investigated by the Archdiocese’s legal counsel appeared linked to PNC officers or structures. Annual Report 2006 (Informe Anual 2006) p. 131; Annual Report 2007 (Informe Anual 2007) p.118 The report from 2006 can be accessed by choosing Tutela Legal Report at http://www.tutelalegal.org/paginas/boletin.htm
  7. As a result of this case, in August 2007, the Attorney General for Human Rights, Oscar Luna, proposed the creation of a commission to investigate the PNC National Civil Police, since the PNC lacked effective checks and balances. He was not able to garner the support of the public safety authorities.
  8. Jon Sobrino, “Fuera de los pobres no hay salvación” (There is no salvation without the poor) UCA Editores, 2008, 118.
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