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Central American University - UCA  
  Number 159 | Octubre 1994
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El Salvador

Calderón Sol's First 100 Days

With such an unpopular government, one might think that the opposition would win space by presenting creative alternative policies. But that’s not the case. The left continues to be immersed in a labyrinth, seeking their new identity.

Juan Hernández Pico, SJ

It is not easy to discover where the new Salvadoran government is putting its emphasis, based on its first 100 days. There is a notable difference in the personal styles of Presidents Calderón Sol and Cristiani, but more by omission than commission. There is also a notable and silent continuity to the neoliberal economic program. It remains to be seen if the effort to investigate and combat organized crime will be complemented by a fiscal ministry that fulfills its responsibilities. Then there is the evaluation of the country's judges, presented to the Supreme Court by the National Judiciary Council: 35 are defined as very bad, 3 as bad, 55 as fair and only 21 as good.

It is also not easy to find a feature that characterizes the political opposition, above all the new leftwing opposition. Perhaps concern with its own disintegration or identity has kept it from heading up an alternative legislative program that can correct the extreme doctrines of the right wing or find areas of consensus.

Economic Continuity: Criticism from the Right

On September 1, El Salvador's Central Reserve Bank published the main "positive results" of the first six months of 1994. Inflation, as measured by the consumer price index, is down from 23.5% in July 1993 to 8.4% in July 1994; the bank forecasts annual inflation at 8 to 10%. There was a 7.6% greater volume of economic activity in June 1994, based mainly on expansion in commerce and construction, but also in industry. Exports were up by 11.4% at the year's midpoint, based on coffee price increases and piecework assembly (maquila) exports. And currency reserves, programmed to reach US$684 million by June, were US$773 million (13% more).

President Calderón Sol also noted the achievements in stabilizing the colón against the dollar, dropping interest rates, expanding credit, privatizing state sugar production and modernizing the state. None of these can be questioned, but the majority are the result of longer term economic trends and policies begun during the Cristiani administration. Analysts from El Diario de Hoy, the most stridently rightwing newspaper, criticize Calderón Sol for not having taken specific measures which, had there been a different plan, would already be demonstrating the country's new direction. This critique reveals that the traditional Salvadoran agricultural oligarchy still see its interests at a disadvantage with respect to speculative financial capital and import trade capital.

A Minimal Minimum Wage

The drop in inflation brought no improvements to the majority of the population. It only means that prices rose less rapidly than in 1993, but they are still rising. The last 100 days has seen a drastic increase in the price of electricity, cement and corn. Meanwhile, minimum wages cannot compensate for inflation and are too low to purchase even basic goods.

In December 1992 an average family in El Salvador needed 3,160.39 colóns to cover basic costs, an amount that had increased to 3,722.90 by June 1994. With the 12.9% increase decreed in July, the minimum urban wage went up to 1,050 colóns. But it was hardly enough; it still takes three and a half minimum wages to cover a family's basic needs. Considering that food costs alone are 1,669.70 monthly, just eating requires a salary and a half.

The emphasis on the increase in exports as an important economic indicator ignores the importance of increasing productive investments and consumer demand, only possible by raising wages and creating a larger productive wage force. It forgets that only an increase in the domestic market can provide true growth in national income.

These forgotten issues are why no one in El Salvador questions that between 54% and 71% of the benefits of production increases will be appropriated by businesspeople as earnings and only 23% to 16% by workers in the form of wages. These forgotten issues also mean that dollar remittances are not efficiently used to increase productive supply and reduce the trade deficit.

The Cristiani Group

Nothing has changed in the Salvadoran government's economic program. Speculative financial capital and commercial capital, predominant in the Cristiani administration, continue in the current government, even though President Calderón Sol originally represented other subsectors of capital.

The economic ministers have been centralized under the leadership of Vice President Borgo Bustamante, who represents the Cristiani group's interests in the current government. The awarding of the state sugar refineries being privatized will show if the same pattern of capital concentration as occurred with the re privatizing of banks during the Cristiani government will be reproduced.

The budget has not been programmed to increase allotments to education and health. There is still a dependence on loans to address the social compensation programs that here, as in all Latin American countries, try to mitigate the effects of the anti popular neoliberal policies.

The Interamerican Development Bank has granted a loan of US$1 billion, half of which is for health, education, sanitation and urban development, and the other half for modernizing the state. That the state cannot meet its priority needs without increasing its foreign debt is a clear sign of the neoliberal economic model's lack of success.

The Drama of the Jails

The newest element in the Calderón Sol government is its efforts to fight impunity, delinquency and organized crime. The new government is more politically willing to confront the impunity of "organized" criminals, who are hard to distinguish from those who organized years ago to commit political crimes.

It is not easy to cut out the roots of this kind of criminality, which is now being termed "capital crime," but it is being confronted; it remains to be seen if the highest levels will be touched. Meanwhile, the country's "little" common criminals are rotting away in abject jails renowned for horrendous overcrowding.

Since last year, these criminals, most of whom were dispossessed of their means of life and work, condemned and finally imprisoned by the system, have rebelled in one prison after another, sparking horrible incidents in a chain of killings and repression. The two most recent of these rebellions took place in Mariona, the country's biggest prison, located in the metropolitan zone of San Salvador, and at the San Vicente prison.

This is an old problem also faced by the previous government. While President Calderón Sol declared that he will put 500 more guards in the prisons, the penal bench of the new Supreme Court noted much more serious problems, among them that many prisoners endure unjustly delayed trials and legal processes, and spend far longer in jail than corresponds to the crime they committed.

No Economic Forum

The greatest national conflict in recent months has been led by state workers, who are demanding better salaries or protesting the insecurity they face with the privatization of state services like the telecommunications institute, the Río Lempa Electric Company and even the country's school system.

In general, the government has reacted angrily to these conflicts. Together with the municipality of San Salvador, it is seeking to "regulate" the right to public demonstrations, burdening them with so many limitations that they will for all intents and purposes be suspended.

The government does not appear interested in promoting a new Social Economic Forum, born originally out of the peace accords. Together with the business sectors, it is suggesting that the new National Labor Council provides enough room for dialogue to resolve labor problems, thereby eliminating any other space for greater and more intense debate about the country's economic policies.

Self Absorbed Opposition

Since the government is not very popular and is offering few new policies, one would expect the opposition to be developing creative policies to organize alternative national opinion. One would also think that the leftwing opposition, in particular, would be going back to its own base and the grassroots majority in general, to listen to what they have to say so as to develop a new platform in the National Assembly with proposals for programs to benefit them, or to correct government proposals. This is not happening. The opposition's projects are much more modest, and in some cases disappointing.

Up to now the opposition's main achievement has been its role in the election of the new and promising Supreme Court justices. But before and after the two months that this fight took, the different opposition parties seem to have focused on dealing with their own fissures, losing themselves in the labyrinthine search for a new identity. Meanwhile the people, with new opportunities to democratize the country, resent the opposition's absence.

The FMLN: Two Positions

Since the public revelation of the vast differences in the two FMLN projects on May 1, opening day of the National Assembly, the FMLN seemed to Salvadoran society to be extremely divided. At that time, the ERP and the RN spoke of a party project based on a new pact that would end the need to maintain consensual or majority accords among the five FMLN tendencies, and would open the door to more pluralist expressions.

Those in the FPL put forward the need for a new party that would end the coexistence of such different projects within the FMLN and be unified around program content, making it more organically democratic.
They even spoke of the end of the FMLN's historic usefulness and the need to construct another type of political force around the diverse projects, without excluding later political pacts based on the new identity. The PRTC declared that it supported the FPL line and a fraction of the ERP the Democratic Tendency also leaned toward the FPL. The Communist Party tried to arbitrate between the two positions.

The struggle for the election of a Supreme Court and the not so easy realignment of the ERP in the Socialist International the MNR is the Salvadoran party traditionally recognized by the SI as social democratic delayed the confrontation of these diverse positions. They are in essence two: a social democratic center that defends the popular majority, from that position and a democratic left that does not think it can organically link up with a center and defends the value of a leftwing popular identity.

There Is No Counterweight

The FMLN finally held its Extraordinary Congress on August 28 to address the issues of the division created in the Assembly on May 1 and the diverse proposals for a party. A sizable majority came out in favor of addressing the first point, but lacked the two thirds necessary to do so. All that finally happened was that the various party proposals were made known and an ordinary convention was scheduled to address both points. Some of the five FMLN organizations will go through a rapid democratic process first to determine their own positions.

The Christian Democratic Party, meanwhile, has not shaken free of its own crisis, which creates serious doubts about its ability to form a parliamentary bloc on transcendental issues with a fraction of the FMLN, the Democratic Convergence and the religious based Unity Movement.

In this context, it is difficult for the Salvadoran political opposition to act with the vigor and creativity needed to present a genuine counterweight to a strongly defined right that has already formulated its legislative program.

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