When Social Capital Doesn't Impact Political
A case study in social capital theory in El Salvador
The Situation: Poverty in El Salvador
In 1999, the World Bank, recognizing that "the poor are the true poverty experts," conducted an extensive research project bringing together data from over 130 studies, which compiled an excess of 60,000 individual poor persons experiences in 60 nations across the globe. This project, entitled "Voices of the Poor," or "Consultations with the Poor," was able to contribute more in-depth, experientially based public opinion data to supplement the mass of statistical data the World Bank currently maintains to assist in its mission of eradicating world poverty. The results of this study indicate that among other major conclusions, in poor communities "insecurity has increased. Violence is on the rise…the poor feel like they have been bypassed by new economic opportunities… the poor want governments and state institutions to be more accountable to them. Corruption emerges as a key poverty issue… and the poor rely on informal networks and local institutions to survive."1
The per capita GDP of El Salvador is US $2,176.2 According to the World Bank's statistics from its World Development Report 2000/2001, 25.3% of the population of El Salvador lives below the international poverty line on less than US $1 per day, and 51.9% of the population lives on less than US $2 per day.3 These statistical data indicate that El Salvador ranks in the lower-middle income range of the world's income levels. Thus, poverty is a widespread Salvadoran reality. The "voices" presented in the World Bank's "Voices of the Poor" research include those of Salvadorans.
Poor Salvadorans today join the rest of the world's destitute members, facing increasing violence, a grueling lack of economic opportunities and the prevalence of government corruption. According to the United Press International, El Salvador has one of the highest murder rates in Latin America. The BBC reports that street gangs have multiplied across El Salvador and its neighbor Guatemala into the thousands, and entrance into these associations increasingly fosters homicide, as "aspiring members often have to participate in random murders."4 Violence is one of the most crucial problems in El Salvador. It affects the daily life and welfare of Salvadorans carrying negative consequences ranging from health to economic concerns. "El Salvador ranks 12th among 102 countries worldwide in the number of assault cases involving Peace Corps volunteers since 1990."5 In many cases, local neighborhood watch groups are the most effective form of protection in poor Salvadoran communities. Community development is truly a life-line for the millions of Salvadorans living in such conditions of perpetual hardship.
Social Capital Theory: An Introduction
Current academic research maintains the theory that social capital contributes to democratization; thus, high levels of social capital yield high levels of democracy. This theory involving a positive correlation between social capital and democracy is the most basic thesis of social capital theory. In order to clarify the implications of this thesis the terms "social capital" and "democracy" must first be defined. For the purpose of defining social capital, the World Bank Working Paper No. 18: Measuring Social Capital gives us the best "conceptual overview."
It describes social capital in both sociological and political terms. The political approach is the one we will be examining in this paper. In contemporary times, the term "social capital" is "most closely associated with political scientist Robert Putnam," and
refers to the nature and extent of one's involvement in various informal networks and formal civic organizations. From chatting with neighbors or engaging in recreational activities to joining environmental organizations and political parties, social capital in this sense is used as a conceptual term to characterize the many and varied ways in which a given community's members interact… it is important to recognize that social capital is not a single entity, but is rather multidimensional in nature.6
Put most simply, "social capital refers to the institutions, relationships, and norms that shape the quality and quantity of a society's social interactions."7 In El Salvador many of these associations take place in communal institutions—church groups, community organizations and NGOs, which pool resources and attain foreign financial assistance in order to address many of the most basic necessities of the community. Resources for health care, child care, youth activities, sanitary provisions, legal assistance, education and even food and shelter are cooperatively provided for by a multiplicity of grassroots and supranational local community organizations. The term "social capital" can refer to so many things that it might seem ambiguous, but if we take it in this context to mean non-governmental community life and participation, this definition will capture the kinds of associations we are examining.
"Democracy" is a term that is perhaps more specific than "social capital," but certainly more debated as well. Alexis De Tocquevilla believed that democracy was not rooted in liberty, but in equality-that is, the legal equality of citizens in the political realm. He felt that in many ways, the ideals of equality and liberty are intrinsically at odds; democracy stifles liberty through the "tyranny of the majority."8 In contrast, modern democratic theorists have created a new definition of democracy which melds the ideas of both equality and liberty that most people associate with the term democracy. Schmitter and Karl assert that there are three criterion for judging a particular nation-state to be democratic: (1) rule of law, (2) the protection of human rights, and (3) free and fair elections.9 For the purposes of this study we will adopt this more current school of understanding democracy.
An application of these three criterion to El Salvador today yields the understanding that El Salvador is a democracy—a new democracy in the process of becoming more democratic. After a brutal civil war in which the nation had none of the three indicia of democracy, El Salvador now has a civilian police force, an independent judiciary, laws to protect human rights, and free and fair internationally monitored elections. Of course, all of these institutions could become more democratic. For example, the judiciary could become considerably more efficient and impartial. There could be more laws protecting human rights, stricter punishments dealt to those who violate human rights, and fewer human rights violations committed by individual police officers. Elections could be made significantly fairer if there were more political parties, more equal campaign resources, less voter abstention, and so forth. This is why El Salvador is to be considered a democratic nation in the process of democratization—the deepening and further development of democratic institutions.
A further discussion of Social Capital Theory: Applications in El Salvador:
In order to understand how it is that social capital affects democracy, we must review the theory and uncover how it is that social capital and democracy are interrelated. Studies in political science have shown that typically, high levels of social engagement and participation yield high levels of political participation. The correlation between community organization and cooperation, and political involvement is understood to be significant. In an article in the Journal of Democracy, political scientist Robert Putnam explains the theory of social capital stating,
The norms and networks of civic engagement powerfully affect the performance of representative government…Systematic inquiry has shown that quality of governance is determined by longstanding traditions of civic engagement (or its absence).10
As John A. Booth summarizes in an article from The Journal of Politics,
Indeed, many scholars have [like Putnam] similarly argued that citizen involvement in organizations contributes directly or indirectly to political participation (Conway 1991; Nagel 1987; Rosenstone and Hansel 1993; Verba, Nie, and Kim1978), democratic values (Booth and Richard 1996), democratization (Blaney and Pasha 1993; Blair 1994; Cohen and Rogers 1992; Cohen and Arato 1992; Diamond 1992) and economic development (Carroll 1992; Clark 1991; Eshman and Uphoff 1984; Hirschman 1984). Others have argued that civil society shapes the process of democratization in Latin America (Avritzer 1997; Lynch 1997; Olvera 1997; Peruzzotti 1997).11
The tenets of social capital theory are not only widely accepted, expansively studied, and statistically proven, but also theoretically supported through several decades of political scholarship. Political theory today clearly adheres to the belief that strong levels of civil society lead to stronger levels of political engagement. This explains why current scholars of democracy tend to emphasize "the importance of a strong and active civil society to the consolidation of democracy."12 Social capital is proven to be an important factor in the development of a strong and flourishing democratic government. This is because "the quality of public life and the performance of social institutions… are indeed powerfully influenced by norms and networks of civic engagement."13 Civil engagements encourage organizational skills, and foster cooperation and a sense of investment and involvement in the community. Most importantly, they foster social trust, which is crucial to the development of governmental trust and participation. According to Putnam,
networks of civic engagement embody past success at collaboration, which can serve as a cultural template for future collaboration. Finally, dense networks of interaction probably broaden the participants' sense of self, developing the "I" into the "we," or (in the language of rational-choice theorists) enhancing the participants' "taste" for collective benefits.14
Thus, there is significant evidence in support of the theory that increased civil participation leads to increased political involvement. It makes sense that networks of social connections and a high level of social capital would lead to a greater interest in public life and politics.
The country of El Salvador in Central America is an interesting and perplexing region, as it displays high levels of community organization, without reaping the predicted benefits of increased political participation. As a direct counterexample to the theory of social capital, El Salvador fits the prescribed situation of a democratic nation with increased civil engagement, but to little effect in terms of political organization.
Democratization in El Salvador
In order to examine this case more thoroughly, we must first examine the political structures in El Salvador. According to the Constitution of the Republic of El Salvador, implemented in 1962, El Salvador is "republican, democratic, and representative."15 However, during the 1970s, the disparate economic and social gap between the wealthy and the peasant class grew to an unprecedented level. As the economic situation worsened throughout the decade and the political system offered no opportunity for change or compromise, the nation erupted in a brutal civil war that lasted from 1980 until the signing of the Peace Accords in 1992. Prior to the signing of El Salvador's constitution in 1962, military dictatorships had assumed governmental powers. However, in 1972, a broad coalition of political parties experienced a wide electoral victory, only to be immediately overturned by the military. As the book El Salvador's Civil War explains, the
failure to bring about change in the political system through elections and other legal means convinced many would-be democrats that reforms could only be achieved through extralegal methods. This closing off of the possibility of democratic change was crucial to expanding the viability of the revolutionary option.16
Thus, one of the major goals of the Peace Accords was to reinstate the democratic process with free and fair elections in order to provide for a nonviolent means for change within El Salvador. Important to this task was the demilitarization of the government, which had been able to suppress the democratic process through violent means. In 1999, the United States Institute on Peace reexamined the effects of the Peace Accords and through their initial stated goals, expressed that
major accomplishments of the peace accords were the end of hostilities and political violence, the disarmament and demobilization of the FMLN, and the retreat of the military from politics, as the army was downsized and subjected to civilian control and its constitutional role confined to national defense. Eventually, the government purged high-ranking members of the military, and subsequently, an amnesty law, favored by both sides to the conflict, was passed, exempting all those responsible for extrajudicial crimes during the war.17
Consequently, today El Salvador is recognized as a real, functional democratic nation—one with a meaningful constitution, free and fair elections, an operating legal system, human rights requirements, a controlled military, and governmental institutions ultimately designed for civilian control. Thus, as an established democratic nation, El Salvador satisfies the social capital theory's qualification of existing as a democracy. Now we must examine whether or not it satisfies the criterion of containing a high level of community participation.
My initial fascination with the nation of El Salvador occurred when I visited during an immersion trip in late March of 2003. What interested me most as a student of political science was the depth and scope of civil society on the local level. As I lived in the rural community of Guarjila, in the providence of Chalatenango, I was amazed to find a strong and established city council, which had a president and board members, and worked to resolve communal issues such as agricultural land distribution and oversight, water services, and crime. In order to combat gang violence and crime, they had established an elaborate neighborhood watch program, and found creative non-governmental ways of dealing with their local concerns. I found it interesting that the "president" of the local community had been elected amongst the members of that community in a formal process that was entirely separated from any state activities. Thus, he was the town president, rather than mayor, and had no ties or obligations, and in fact very little interaction with any of the state elected governmental representatives. In addition, I found it quite remarkable that the members of the community respected this local, self-started organization much more than the official government, and attended meetings, spoke with community leaders, and voiced concerns.
Six months later, in September of 2003, I returned to El Salvador through a research grant from the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, in order to more thoroughly examine the phenomena of community participation and political participation on a more academic level. What I found was that indeed, El Salvador has a positively useful and successful civil society, which is need-based and entirely separate from the Salvadoran government. It derives the majority of its funding from United States refugees and church groups, and more importantly, does not desire additional governmental funding for fear of having to provide some self-interested governmental service. Also, in direct opposition to the theory of social capital, the citizens express a great deal of distrust, non-interest and non-participation in political activities.
Summary of Interview Findings
In September 2003 I traveled to El Salvador through the generosity the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics and the Hackworth family to conduct interviews with members of the lower classes, community leaders, academics and politicians. In a series of eight interviews in the capital city of San Salvador and four in the campo, or rural areas, I was able to complete twelve full in-depth interviews about everything from what services local community programs provide, how they are financed, and how many people depend on their services, to how much contact community leaders have with elected government representatives, whether or not people vote, how much confidence they have in the government, what their greatest problems and needs are, and whether or not they believe the democratization process has improved the quality of their lives. Part of the project was similar to the World Bank's "Voices of the Poor" project; I wanted to hear from the people who were the experts in poverty and community organization in El Salvador—the poor and the community leaders themselves. However, I wanted to supplement this knowledge with knowledge from those who work and study on the other side of things—the Salvadoran academics who view the problem on a wider, more theoretical, albeit once-removed perspective.
Throughout my interviews, common themes did emerge. Here I will discuss them from within the specific contexts of the four perspectives involved: (1) the perspective of those in poverty, (2) the perspective of local community organizers and leaders, (3) the perspective of academics, and finally (4) the politician's perspective.
The Poor Speak:
In interviews with impoverished individuals in El Salvador—those subsisting below the international poverty line on less than US $1 per day—the most common underlying theme was a feeling of non-importance and non-participation. Poor Salvadorans experience the central government as distant, self-serving, and indifferent to the needs of the poor. The poor do not feel as if there are avenues of communication available to them regarding their needs as individuals and communities through the process of active listening and response by the central government. Attitudes toward the local, municipal government were a bit more favorable, but ultimately my respondents felt these were inadequate as well. I heard many people express dissatisfaction about how few resources the municipal government possessed to assist their local communities. All poor persons I interviewed except one indicated that they did not vote because it was difficult to obtain the proper voting card and to get to the correct voting place, and all the effort seemed futile as both poles of the political spectrum are viewed negatively. The one who did vote was from the campo and voted always, regardless of issue or platform for the FMLN, which is the political party formerly experienced as the guerilla force during the twelve year civil war. All in all, the poor's perspective of government was overwhelmingly negative. I noticed common experiences of corruption, disappointment and distrust leading to apathy and hopelessness. As Julia Alfaro, a peasant mother living in Guarjila, a rural agricultural sector of El Salvador, explained when I asked her whether she believed life in El Salvador had improved since the establishment of democracy after the signing of the peace accords in 1992,
I don't know if things have gotten better for other people-those in the cities maybe. All I know is that before the accords we received more money for our corn. We had more means to purchase things. Prices for everyday goods were much lower. Since the changes we can hardly afford soap to wash the clothes. We have a large debt at the store now. Before we were at least able to scrape by. Now we are running further and further into debt. I am glad that there is peace, no more bombings. But I have not seen the benefits of democratic freedom beyond that. I am not educated, so how we live is all I know.18
One positive common thread in the responses of the poor in El Salvador was a sense of gratitude for and confidence in community organizations. The poor expressed repeatedly how important and indispensable community organizations were to the personal survival of themselves and their families. Church groups, NGOs, community initiatives, youth groups, community clinics, neighborhood watch groups, and services for the elderly were praised time and again for their assistance, leadership, and commitment to the needs of the community. Through the interviews I conducted in September 2003, I was able to support the initial impression of the importance of community organizations that I experienced upon my first visit to El Salvador in March 2003. Interview findings emphasized the prevalence and effectiveness of community organizations in El Salvador.
Community leaders speak:
In my discussions with local community organizers and leaders, I began to understand their motivations for assisting marginalized communities and their impressions of government in this process. The majority of community leaders I spoke with had a real connection to either a church or humanitarian organization in the United States or Europe. Whether layperson or clergy, community organizers felt compelled to address the needs of the poor because they witnessed their marginalization and did not have confidence in the central government to address the problems of poor communities. All community leaders interviewed expressed the belief that the central government was not responding to the needs of their particular communities. Whether in the city or rural communities all major problems cited were basically the same—unemployment, crime, and the lack of health care, education, and basic services.
Community organizers described finances linked to foreign sources in the United States or Europe. For example, Ana Beatrice, a leader of a community organization run by a local church in San Ramon, a poorer urban community on the outskirts of San Salvador, explained that her group was linked to a parish in Kansas City. Additionally the local church collected donations of 25 cents per month from the hundreds of families assisted by their programs, which provided school scholarships, youth services and counseling. The community had organized an emergency fund, which went to cover family emergencies such as a burial or medicine for an illness. Otherwise, families would have no financial support for these unforeseen but fact-of-life emergency situations.
Interestingly, when asked if her organization would desire financial assistance from the government, she responded, "No. We do not want government assistance because if they help us they will want something from us…. There are political interests, you know, and we don't want any of that corruption."19 Across town in Mejicanos, another neighborhood near San Salvador, Ortiga Guardal, a community leader for the Christian Association for Children, voiced almost identical sentiments of distrust and disillusionment with the Salvadoran central government. Her organization, which coordinates with eight parochial systems and communities in Mejicanos, provides clothes, shoes, medicine, medical consultations, school supplies, parenting classes, domestic violence counseling, and tutoring services for children having difficulties at the secondary and university levels. The financial structure of this organization, like most others I learned about, focused upon donations from the United States, with additional monetary supplements coming in from the local central offices of churches in El Salvador.
When asked about the government, Ortiga was quite passionate about emphasizing how little the government does for the local communities. She said, "Look at these communities. When there are medical emergencies, people have nowhere to turn. Their houses are made of garbage, pieces of cardboard and plastic; our people are there getting wet everyday from the rain. The streets are horrible and the children malnourished. The government does nothing for these people."20 When asked if she and the organization she works for would like to receive government assistance payments, she responded, "Want? Yes, but only if the government would not expect anything of us, so at this time no. We have no government contact and prefer it this way."21
One of the most interesting community organizations that I encountered was the Community Directive of Guarjila in Chalatenango. This organization had impressed me upon my first visit to El Salvador. It is fully community organized, having nothing to do with the national government. Leaders are elected throughout the community and the only qualification is that candidates must be active in assisting with community projects. The organization provides for necessities of the community, such as water, and is a focused land directive. Some of the projects are self-sustaining, but the majority of its budget comes from outside sources in the United States, Germany and England. The "president" of the community, Jose Santos Alfaro Villena is young and very well-spoken. He told me that while he is incredibly active in his own community, he has never voted in the actual elections because he has never been convinced by any of the politicians that anything will change. He said that he had "never seen the government respond to any of the needs of this community."22 The community provided for its own safety and health care, running a local neighborhood watch program and a clinic.
The experiences of community organizations across El Salvador seemed very similar in their financial structure, provision of basic needs and detachment from the political system. When asked if community organizers mobilized their communities in order to vote, all responded no. Thus, politics and politicians in these community organizations are seen not as resources or partners in solving problems, but as problems themselves-sources of corruption and bureaucratic inefficiency.
The academic perspective on the political and social systems operating in El Salvador was quite illuminating. I spoke with several professors at the Jesuit university in San Salvador, the University of Central America (UCA). According to Alvaro Artiga Gonzales, a professor of political science at the UCA, the most marked result of the peace accords signed in 1992 along with the cessation of violence was the installation of clean, fair, free and competitive elections beginning in 1994. Thus, since 1994 the people of El Salvador have had a real avenue for non-violent changes in power. Before this time, the country had a history of military dictatorships in which the left side of the political spectrum was entirely excluded. There were elections, but they were fraudulent, especially in 1972 and 1976, when overwhelming electoral results were not respected.
Free and fair elections, however, did not solve problems as people had hoped for. Politics in El Salvador is dictated by the political parties. Political parties do not serve the needs of communities, and people do not feel represented on the national level. The political strategy in El Salvador is much more centered around winning elections than solving problems. People really turn to community organizations for their basic needs. Yet, in the majority of cases, communities do not have strong contacts with political parties. Even in instances where they do—say if a party member is from a certain town—there is no real contact until the pre-electoral period. Politicians are concerned with campaigning, propaganda, and fundraising for re-election rather than community development. This is the situation on the level of central government.
The relationship between the municipal government and local people and institutions is quite different. Those local politicians do participate in a lot of the community development issues; however, municipal governments receive only 6 percent of the total tax revenue in El Salvador. Therefore, they have very little money to cater to their population's local needs. Currently there is talk about augmenting this percentage to 8 percent, but that is still a limited budget. Also, there is a lot of corruption in the distribution of services. If the municipal government is of the same party as the national government, then those communities receive some additional attention from the central government. However, if the municipal government is from the opposition, services suffer in these areas. Therefore, there is a lot of incentive for local people to elect the local government according to party rather than platform or understanding of needs. Big cities with larger populations also get a lot more resources than rural communities.
Professor Artiga emphasized that the stagnation in the development of political parties in El Salvador has contributed greatly to a lack of action on the national level. In his research, he has discovered that in terms of two of the greatest problems facing the nation today, security and economics, in the case of the former, the parties aren't much interested, and in that of the latter, they are very set in their ways. In addition, voter abstention has been a serious blow to the democratization process. As he stated,
In the 2003 congressional elections, statistics show that around 41.5 percent of eligible voters nationwide cast their votes. Now this is very low if we consider that in all of Latin America only Guatemala and Colombia have lower levels. There is a general sense that whoever wins, the problems don't change. So voter apathy is a serious issue. Some say that the problem of voter abstention is located in the organization of the voting system. It is difficult to get voting cards and voter centers are poorly located. But all political parties need to see to it that the population feels more represented in their interests. Only then will people vote more.23
Like Professor Artiga, other academics and professors expressed beliefs that the nation of El Salvador is very disjointed between local and national institutions and organizations. Professor Cruz Portal, a professor of arts and languages at the UCA, said that the academic opinion is that the democratization process in El Salvador has not developed much since the peace accords. After the Accords in 1992, the left was allowed to participate. This was a big step, but since then the system has remained very polarized. The center is only now beginning to exist, but they still have not developed parties. According to Professor Portal, the central government is very aware of the nation's problems, but, he said, "when it comes time to make decisions that could help these people, there are other influences that pull upon them."24
After hearing so much negativity from the population of El Salvador about the structure and actions of the national government, I was very intrigued to hear what sort of perspective the politicians themselves would bring to the discussion. I was shocked at how difficult it was to get in contact with politicians. The amount of red tape I encountered when all I wanted were some simple conversations about the work they were doing really surprised me. The two main parties, the FMLN and ARENA have party offices all over the nation. I was astounded then at how difficult it was to speak to people. I waited in offices around San Salvador. I spoke to guards who encouraged me to give up and go home. The few people who I got through to gave me five minutes of their time and all kinds of acronyms without much information. As I was turned away from offices, buildings and police stations, the blatant lack of transparency forced me to concede—there is something corrupt about the political system in El Salvador. Whether it goes deeper than disorganization and secrecy I am unsure, but things do not run smoothly. I can attest to that.
One prime interview that I attained was with Ruben Zamora Rivas, a long-time politician and former senator. He ran for the presidency in 1999 with his current party, the Democratic United Center (CDU), attaining around 8 percent of total votes cast. At one time, Zamora was one of the main leaders in the FMLN, but he left to join a movement to the center, which is only recently getting on its feet. According to Zamora, communities in El Salvador do demonstrate a high level of organization and social control. Also, he finds there to be a large rift between the municipal and national government. However, as an insider to the workings of the government, he explained that the people are not the only ones frustrated—politicians are very frustrated, too. Zamora explained that the national government is, contrary to popular belief, very aware and concerned for the needs of the nation. They implement an extensive system of public opinion polls in order to be made aware of local needs. However, Zamora explained,
The problem is not if they are aware or not, but if they take action or not… The government is conservative. They have an economic strategy. It is to support the most wealthy people and companies, and to invest in those companies. They believe that this causes investment to grow; profits will trickle down to the rest of the nation creating jobs and so forth.25
Zamora pointed out that the national government does provide services to the people. Health care is run and financed by the Ministry of Health; hospitals are national. The social security system provides benefits to those who have jobs and pay into it; benefits are concentrated in certain towns, but it still qualifies as a service provided. The Ministry of Education runs public primary schools and subsidizes primary parochial schools. There are some low-income housing projects; however, they are very marginal in what they are able to achieve. Zamora voiced his concerns about the level of voter abstention, but felt that perhaps a clearer distribution of seats at the level of the national assembly could increase accountability and voter participation. Most of all, Zamora's vision for the nation has to do with strengthening political parties. He states, "I have always said that political parties were the forgotten element in the peace agreements." The two parties El Salvador has today came straight out of the war. According to Zamora, people need new options. This is why he is working to develop a new center movement. In addition, members of congress lack education, experience and proficiency. So in this respect, Zamora believes that education, particularly higher education for the leaders of tomorrow is key.
According to Booth and Richard, there is statistical evidence to support the idea that El Salvador does not fit into the social capital theory. In a study of six Central American countries: Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, El Salvador had the highest level of communal activism after Guatemala. Communal activism is defined as involvement in five community group activities: "community development/improvement, school-parent, and church-affiliated; respondents also received a point each for working with and for contributing labor/funds to efforts to better the community."26 In terms of political behavior, El Salvador ranks lowest in all of Central America in voting behavior, which is defined as registering to vote and actually voting in the last election. It also ranks dead last in campaign activism, which is defined as working on campaigns in prior elections or attempting to convince another person to vote one way. In terms of attempting to contact public officials, El Salvador ranks second to last after Nicaragua.27 This statistical evidence is interesting because it places El Salvador in the forefront of community activism, but at the tail end of political activism.
Political theory holds that high levels of social capital yield high levels of democratic participation. My research in El Salvador has demonstrated that El Salvador possesses a very rich civic culture and a high level of social capital. However, statistics and public discourse on four different levels reveal that El Salvador does not demonstrate a high level of democratic participation. While community organizations in El Salvador certainly work as Putnam predicted to develop "the participants' sense of self, developing the 'I' into the 'we,'"28 this widening affect has not bred increased political trust, interest or investment in the political system. Thus, El Salvador represents a divergence from the principles held in traditional understandings of social capital theory.
Why? (An Alternative Hypothesis)
What is it about the kind and character of civil society in El Salvador that makes it different from the kind of civil society that inspires increases in trust and democracy? According to the Booth and Richard study, El Salvador ranks merely average or below average on a comparative Central American study of levels of information and interpersonal trust.29 These two indicators of social capital should be higher, according to how high El Salvador's level of communal activism is. Booth and Richard note that El Salvador has the lowest level of group activism, which is defined as "at least sometimes attend union, civic association, cooperative, or professional association."30 This is a distinction that I believe ties into another observation which I noticed throughout my interviews: In El Salvador, as Booth and Richards noted, while levels of communal activism were very high, people were not very interested in the civic forms of association. They were primarily interested in working with community development groups, all of which derived all or the majority of their funding from sources abroad. Because it seems as though Salvadorans are not so much helping other Salvadorans, but that foreigners are helping Salvadorans help themselves, perhaps the characteristic of investment in the community through community involvement is lacking. People are interested in working with community organizations, not for what they can do for the community on the wider level, but for what they can do for themselves and their particular families. If this is true, then it would help explain the discrepancies in community involvement and political participation. Perhaps another important aspect of social capital which has been neglected is the aspect of funding, leadership involvement, and civic and professional associations. However, this is an area which requires further research.
1. Voices of the Poor: Listen to the Voices. 17 April 2004. http://www.worldbank.org/poverty/voices/listen-findings.htm.
2. "Indicators on Income and Economic Activity," 2002. Statistics Division of the United Nations Secretariat and International Labour Office. September 2003. http://unstats.un.org/unsd/demographic/social/inc-eco.htm.
3. World Development Report 2000/2001. "Selected World Development Indicators. Table 4: Poverty." November 2003. http://www.worldbank.org/poverty/wdrpoverty/report/index.htm. p.280.
4. United Press International, July 5 2003 Saturday, "Young women targeted in El Salvador, San Salvador, El Salvador, July 5 (UPI).
5. Carolo, Russel. "Volunteer fears community she was trying to rebuild." Cox News Service, October 12, 2003 Sunday. LexisNexis news content.
6. Grootaert, Christiaan, et al. World Bank Working Paper No. 18: Measuring Social Capital. The World Bank, Washington, D.C. http://poverty.worldbank.org/files/11998_WP18-Web.pdf
7. What is Social Capital? World Bank Group 17 April 2004. http://www.worldbank.org/poverty/scapital/whatsc.htm.
8. De Toquevilla, Alexis. Democracy in America. Volume 1. New York: Vintage Books, 1990. p.230-330
9. Schmitter, Philippe C. and Terry Lynn Karl. "What Democracy is… and is not." Journal of Democracy 1991. 75-88.
10. Putnam, Robert D. "Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital." Journal of Democracy 6:1, Jan 1995, 65-78. p.1
11.Booth, John A. and Patricia Bayer Richard. "Civil Society, Political Capital, and Democratization in Central America." The Journal of Politics 60:3, Aug 1998. 780-800. p.780-781.
12. Putnam, Robert D. "Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital." Journal of Democracy 6:1, Jan 1995, 65-78. p.1
13. Putnam, Robert D. "Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital." Journal of Democracy 6:1, Jan 1995, 65-78. p.2
14. Putnam, Robert D. "Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital." Journal of Democracy 6:1, Jan 1995, 65-78. p.3
15. Constitution of the Republic of El Salvador, 1962. Article 2. Washington, D. C.: General Secretariat, Organization of American States, Pan America Union 1966.
16. Byrne, Hugh. El Salvador's Civil War: A Study of Revolution. Lynne Rienner, London: 1996. p.25
17. Studemeister, Margarita S. El Salvador : implementation of the Peace Accords. Washington, DC : U.S. Institute of Peace, 2001. <http://purl.access.gpo.gov/GPO/LPS11631> p.4
18. Alfaro, Julia. Personal Interview. September 2003.
19. Landabernes, Ana Beatrice. Personal Interview. September 2003.
20. Guardal, Ortiga. Personal Interview. September 2003.
21. Guardal, Ortiga. Personal Interview. September 2003.
22. Villena, Jose Santos Alfaro. Personal Interview. September 2003.
23. Gonzales, Alvaro Artiga. Personal Interview. September 2003.
24. Portal Sanchez, Cruz Antonio. Personal Interview. September 2003.
25. Zamora Rivas, Ruben. Personal Interview. September 2003.
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Jun 1, 2004
As new Curriculum Development Manager for Character Education, Procaccio will work on product and audience development
Marty, a native Santa Claran and published author on special education, recently joined the Ethics Center staff. He has a bachelor’s degree in religious studies and a master’s degree from SCU.
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