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Central American University - UCA  
  Number 153 | Abril 1994
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El Salvador

The left's response to two Historic Challenges

Rubén Zamora, presidential candidate of the left coalition CD-FMLN-MNR, spoke to envío shortly before the elections in El Salvador, analyzing in broad strokes the project, and dream, of the Salvadoran left.

Rubén Zamora

In my opinion, El Salvador is facing two key challenges with these elections. They are such enormous challenges that they will require all our creativity and efforts far beyond these elections and well into the coming decades. Only by resolving them may it become possible for us as a nation to enter the 21st century.

The Challenges Are Truly Historic

As a result of the prolonged war and its culmination in the peace negotiations, Salvadoran society has entered into a difficult transition process that carries with it these two fundamental and truly historic challenges.

The first is of a political character. I see it as a question: How will power be conceptualized and practiced from now on? For centuries, ever since the Spanish came to our country, political power here has been an instrument of exclusion. To the excluded, the owners of power have presented a simple, and simplistic, alternative: obedience or repression. Other mechanisms of relations between the governing and the governed were nearly totally rejected in the practice of political power, and thus were absent from the culture.

The war showed that this exercise of exclusive power was inefficient in the measure that, over 13 years, the war created, institutionalized and relatively legitimized a third alternative: those who refused to be submissive, to accept being obedient or repressed, declared themselves in rebellion. Not only that, they also "repressed" the other side at the point of a gun. The war showed that the tradition conception and practice of government as an instrument for concentrating power to one in which it is an instrument for distributing power.

The second challenge is of a socio-economic character. We all now recognize that social injustice, the abyss between the rich and poor, was one of the fundamental causes of the war. Nonetheless, the peace accords referred only slightly to these roots of the conflict and solutions were barely sketched out.

But the roots are still there. They go deep and must be cut out. The challenge, then, is to make the transition from an economy and a society that are capable of producing, but only for the concentration of wealth, to an economy and society that, by developing this already existing capacity, create the mechanisms for a just distribution of wealth. We must move from an exclusive, concentrated economy to one based on participation and equitable distribution.

Four Short-Term Goals

The short-term political challenge is summed up in four key goals. Moving from exclusive to inclusive power means for us:
* Complying totally with the peace accords. The peace accords give us a map for the transition process and thus they must not be either shelved or only half-heartedly fulfilled, as the ARENA government has done and intends to keep on doing. Once its central objectives of the negotiation were met--an end to the armed struggle and the closing off of any possibility of renewing that struggle--the ARENA government lost all interest in complying with the rest of the accords, which are what will make this transition possible.

* Reforming the state. From a political point of view, this means breaking with the marked centralism of the Salvadoran state. We are proposing a through-going decentralization of the state, which is one of the tasks that has historically been postponed in our country and which we must carry out in the coming years. Reforming the state means both constitutional reforms and educating the people and the state bureaucracy so they will be able to take on these changes as their own and implement them.

Clearly, these reforms cannot be carried out overnight or all at once. They must be based on pilot experiences that are developed gradually, but with a constant rhythm of development. The Salvadoran state should be structured in such a way that a significant amount of its responsibilities and resources are transferred to other social-political units-the municipality, the department and the region-that are closer to the social base, to the community.

* Developing a policy of absolute respect for human rights. The basic premise of exclusionary power in our country is that human rights need not be respected and that there be a climate of impunity. The consequences of this vision have been increasing repression that goes well beyond any legal standard. This has been our historic tradition, but it cannot continue to be so; we must change it. A policy that guarantees total respect for human rights is fundamental to a positive outcome of the political transition.

* Promoting the redefinition of relations between civil society and the state. A characteristic of exclusionary power is that the state absorbs and occupies spaces in civil society, subordinating civil society to political society. In El Salvador this can be seen in the extreme degree to which typical organized civil activities are politicized. It is also apparent in the tendency of grassroots organizations to become super-politicized. We believe that from now on the balance must shift to an emphasis on civil, rather than political, society.

We have the basis for this: our people have developed an enormous organizational capacity. It is one of our characteristics as Salvadorans-organizing ourselves. And I'm not thinking only of the best known or broadest grassroots organizations, which have played an essential role in the country's organizational efforts but do no represent even 10% of the organizations in El Salvador. I refer to the enormous variety of essentially spontaneous organizations that have emerged around concrete needs in communities throughout the country, demonstrating Salvadoran civil society's tremendous capacity for organization, repressed for so long. It is the moment to strengthen this huge organizational wealth, to reject any attempt to paternalistically direct it from the state. The state should facilitate this empowerment, understanding that its role is to let itself be eaten away by civil society.

The Weight of the Tecomate

The challenge of the economic transition is also immense. The economic structure of our society can be graphically symbolized by a tecomate, the recipient peasants use to store drinking water. The tecomate is a gourd with two sections-a small one on top, connected to a much larger one on the bottom by a tiny neck. Even if the tecomate falls over, the small part always ends up on top. This is like Salvadoran society, where a quarter of the population is always on top and the other three quarters on the bottom.

For may years now, we believed that the motor force of national development was in the top part of the tecomate. Historically, the government has been plugged into those on top. In the past, this conception had an economic logic: the central point of accumulation was in coffee farming and the owners of the huge extensions of land dedicated to coffee cultivation were thus the motor that powered the country's economy. A significant part of our industrial development during the 1950s and 1960s was financed with the accumulation of profits from the coffee sector.

But the situation today is totally different. The key source of hard currency in El Salvador is no longer coffee, or any other export product for that matter. It is the millions of dollars the country receives monthly in the form of remittances that Salvadorans working in the United States send to their relatives back home.

The bulk of the economy is thus no longer found in the upper part of the tecomate, but in the bottom section. It is the poor of El Salvador who today directly manage the country's principal source of hard currency. To be even more specific, 60% of this foreign exchange is managed by poor women. This reality has changed our society. Our country has lost its center of accumulation and has yet to find another.

For years, we believe that the alternative was to "behead" the tecomate, eliminate the top section, confiscate that wealth and share it out, thus transforming the entire structure from a two-sectioned gourd into a single one. But that alternative has proven impossible. Today it would mean a return to war, and Salvadorans neither want nor would tolerate another war. Nor would we tolerate or promote one.

The task today is to disconnect the government from the upper section of the tecomate and plug it in to the lower one, where three-fourths of the Salvadoran population is found the poorest, yet those with control over most of the foreign exchange. This is the historic task of the economic transition.

What Will We Do With this Economy?

Achieving economic transition means searching for a development model containing three fundamental elements:
* It must be equitable and self-sustainable.

* It must engage in a head-on fight with poverty
* It must democratize the economy.

To achieve these three objectives, we propose a strategic design that can be synthesized in eight key points:
* Promote new economic agents. This is another way to say integrate the majority of the population into the country's economic life. The fight against poverty will be successful only insofar as we are able to transform the poor into economic agents and dynamize the sectors of small and medium capital, the microbusinesses and cooperatives. These sectors are always the ones that generate the most employment, and to the degree that they become more central protagonists in the economy, they will create more employment and wealth and make the lower section of the tecomate more dynamic. An absolutely indispensable step to achieving this is a reform of the credit system. One way to strangle even the simple reproduction level of those in the lower three-quarters of society-as has been done-is precisely to cut them off from credit.

* Guarantee the existence of a market economy. This is the form adopted by economic activity throughout the world at this time.

* Clearly define the role of the state in the country's economic life. We think the state has, and should have, a role. The market is not enough. The market is very useful for distributing resources in the short run, but is essentially useless when it comes to the long-term allocation of resources. In addition, the market has shown itself to be stone deaf to ecological needs and demands. We conceive of a state that would play a key role, one complementary to the market. The state should participate in the country's economic and social life to distribute wealth, establish a legal framework to regulate the economy, promote the new economic actors in an active form and correct the distortions that the market generates in the economy in the course of normal development.

We do not believe in the state as entrepreneur, because it has many other, important problems to resolve and should not get involved in creating and managing companies. But we do believe in the need for a strong state, in the sense that it should have the capacity to act decisively and strategically.

* Introduce the principles of competition and efficiency into El Salvador. In our economy, the generalized tendency has always been the formation of monopolies and oligopolies, which we see as negative. It results from the scarcity of a consumer market, in turn a consequence of poverty. Incentives must be provided to generate new actors and make available to them the opportunities they need to compete in the market. At the same time, efficiency must be increased, without measuring it only in terms of capital profitability, though that is one important element. We must also take into account broader terms: the social stability it creates and the environmental efficiency it assures. Only methods that preserve our environment can be considered truly efficient.

* Articulate economic policy to a social policy aimed at developing women’s capital. This is a central point of our design. If social investment in the country continues to be as low as it currently is, we will never be able to develop the nation. We are one of the four countries in the world that spends the smallest percentage of our gross domestic product on education and health care. These two services on fundamental importance in our design, which not only means allocating greater amounts of resources to them, but also reforming them. The way these services function today, they will never be able to even minimally respond to the country's social challenges, no matter how much money is invested. It means decentralizing the administration of these two services--and, in general, the mechanism for developing our human capital-with the participation of civil society.

* Implement an economic policy based on concertación. Concertación, or broad-based negotiated consensus, will be a key instrument for developing our economic project. A lesson of the country's history, and particularly of the war, is that by trying to exclude some we ruin any possibility of development for the rest of us as well. At this point in our history, it is absolutely critical that the state promote concertación. It cannot continue to do what it does today: ARENA "allows" the existence of a Social and Economic Concertación Forum-a fruit of the peace accords-but sees it only as an appendage of its own package of economic policies.

We must place concertación at the center of the government’s economic policy, and even incorporate it into the drafting of governmental policy as a whole. Only by doing so will we be able to reach solutions that give the country the stability it needs to move forward.

* Restore the environment. The ecological crisis is one of El Salvador's most pressing problems. In all of Latin America, only Haiti has a worse soil deterioration problem. With our rivers dying and our lakes polluted, we are mortgaging off the entire country's future.

Ecological policy is thus key. This should include the passage of legislation regarding these important topics-which involves, among other things, legal recognition of crimes against the environment. This policy must also include the development of environmental recovery programs throughout the country, especially the Lempa river basin, which would in turn guarantee the future or our drinking water and energy supply. These programs will absorb much of our effort, and we offer them as a challenge to the youth of El Salvador.

* Fight for Central American Integration and concertación with the rest of Latin America on economic issues. The challenge of the current economic globalization process is not reduced to globalizing or not globalizing. The latter option does not exist. The only real option is to globalize or be globalized. It is better for us to move towards globalization, appropriating the process ourselves in a conscious and creative manner, than to be passive and end up globalized under the worst possible conditions for our countries and our peoples.

To positively take on this pressing challenge of our times, it is indispensable to be larger. The only way to do that is to integrate ourselves with the rest of Latin America. An insolated El Salvador has no hope of discussing anything with anyone or reaching any kind of medium-or long-term growth. Central American integration is not only a historical necessity, it is economically and socially key to responding to the current global challenges.

From a unified Central America, with more negotiating leverage, deciding according to its interests, we can open ourselves up to that vast terrain of integration-Latin America as a whole-to which we are united by so much suffering and such long-held hope.

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