The San Andrés Pact: Authoritarian or Democratizing?
What kind of country is being forged? A country nostalgic for the harmony that authoritarianism created during decades? A country whose productivity will be only a myth in a few years? A country of menial jobs that aborted its transition to democracy?
Juan Hernández Pico, SJ
Armando Calderón Sol is entering his second year in government with a declining popularity rating. After his first 100 days, his government averaged just over 6 on a scale of 10, according to a poll by San Salvador's Central American University (UCA). After a year that average has dropped below 5. After 100 days, 28.3% of the citizenry polled considered that his government had been good or very good, while 23.9% chose bad or very bad. Most of the rest characterized it as regular. After a year, only 24.4% think it has been good or very good, while 41.3% now consider it bad or very bad.
While the UCA and other opinion polls all show a trend of dropping popularity for the ARENA government with only small variations, the international financial community supported it in the June Consultative Group Meeting in Paris to the tune of $1.3 billion in new financing. Minister of Economic Coordination and Social Development Ramón González Giner noted that the amount would have been less had the Value Added Tax (IVA) not been increased, demonstrating "fiscal discipline" and a very important "domestic effort." In addition, the San Andrés Pact was extra officially praised by ambassadors of the "friendly countries."
Is the Calderón Sol government thus functioning like a lamplit street whose houses are all dark? Or does the pact signed in the Mayan ruins of San Andrés slot perfectly into the only development model the world system accepts a model that taxes the poor majority to guarantee counterpart funding for what that system loans the state?
The San Andrés PactIs the San Andrés pact democratizing or authoritarian? Some see it as a dilemma. For example, some of the country's best analysts agree with poet David Escobar Galindo, rector of the Matías Delgado University, that the Peace Accord signed in 1992 in Chapultepec, Mexico, is politically exhausted. Starting from the idea that there is a "vacuum" about what to do next, Escobar thinks a frame of reference like the San Andrés pact is needed to avoid improvising the transition toward democracy. "Not a new Chapultepec," explains Escobar, who was a government negotiator on that occasion, "since that accord dealt with far more profound aspects and, besides, was the product of an understanding between the war's two major forces."
For its part, the San Andrés Pact resulted from the opportune use of the legislative impasse regarding the government's proposal to increase the IVA. Escobar believes that the pact's viability "is limited because the two signing parties have totally asymmetrical positions, and there is no scheme for guaranteeing compliance." Viability could only come from the fact that what the pact says "coincides largely with what the government has been announcing and is like a government endorsement of its propositions and an additional commitment." He adds that "it is important because from here on out the government can be made accountable for the pact that it has made official."
Escobar Galindo thinks the pact is limited by its surprise birth and its imposition on others. He does not believe that other forces will adhere to it, but thinks that its content could become the basis for "a project shared by all the political and social forces." He sees the differences as resulting more from the procedures used than from the content, and emphasizes that "at this point the government is not being essentially challenged; opinions differ about some measures, but this government has perhaps more legitimacy than any other we have had, so it will have to make this process advance."
But in reality, the government is indeed being "essentially challenged" now and is squandering the significant legitimacy with which the country welcomed it a year ago. According to the UCA poll taken at the end of May, 77.3% of the population considered that the country is not on the right road and needs a change of course.
The Pact: Inadequate and Debatable ContentMore or less like Escobar, FMLN peace accord negotiator Salvador Samayoa thinks that the government used "hasty and exclusionary procedures" to push through the San Andrés Pact. But he also thinks it is short sighted. He discerns a "generalized suspicion that the pact was a political maneuver aimed at wrapping up the IVA increase and gaining publicity advantages for the government and the Democratic Party leaders."
Where Samayoa disagrees with Escobar is around the pact's content. He does not see it only as a question of crude and authoritarian, or exclusionary, drafting procedures. For Samayoa, "the inadequacy, the ambiguity, the debatable theoretical foundation and the dangerous ideological slant of some of its substantive proposals are even more important factors than the clumsy political errors of procedure when analyzing the value and reach of the pact."
Samayoa sees major errors, reductions and distortions of constitutional precepts in the pact's text regarding the state's responsibilities. He denounces the "omission of the wellbeing of the majority population as a 'priority principle' of economic policy" and notes the absence of plans for such potentially explosive problems as the marginal settlements and the insufficient way it deals with other problems such as the lack of water supply, restoration of the environment or privatization. On the latter point, for example, the pact does not address what should and should not be privatized or the potential harm that indiscriminate privatization could do to important sectors of the population.
FLACSO director Héctor Dada sees the pact's problem as a misunderstanding of democracy. "Democracy is confrontation to achieve a compromise," he explains. "Totalitarian systems are the ones that require social harmony without fissures." What seems to have occurred was a caving in to nostalgia for the harmony that authoritarianism created over El Salvador's political history.
Weak Civil SocietyIt should be remembered that the political forces that hammered out the Peace Accords, and with them, a process for democratizing society, were not born for or from democracy. The FMLN's immediate goal was a dictatorship of the proletariat and ARENA's was to militarily smash the subversives. Both forces still have to get accustomed to democratic procedures.
On this occasion, the government must have bolted at the difficulty of getting the National Assembly to approve its IVA proposal. For its part, Joaquín Villalobos' Democratic Party (PD) confused government stabilization which is why it agreed to the pact with stabilizing of the democratic system. The result was an authoritarian pact, in both its drafting and approval procedures and its content. The situation reached the extreme of stating that the negotiated text could not be made known to the other parties before being signed "so it won't be changed." Of course, making it known to the social forces, the urban and rural worker organizations, was not even considered. Even the support of the business associations was hastily sought, and was given with vacillation and reticence.
Héctor Dada thinks that El Salvador still has a very weak civil society, in which neither the unions nor the business organizations are very representative, even though the unions are weak and the business associations powerful. He also thinks that two demobilizing currents run through society. The first is the unions that cling to the "combative" mass demonstrations of the past, which today get no echo from the masses, and the second is the parties that confine political debate to the Assembly and do not appeal to the people.
Salvador Samayoa is warning the government not to deceive itself into thinking it has put together a national project, when its only objective is to gain adherents or politically ostracize those who do not align with it and instead demand a broad debate based on multiple proposals. "If the government obstructs the natural process of seeking real consensus, it will be falling into the very opportunism, demagogy and politicking that, according to the San Andrés document itself, it aims to eradicate."
In Twenty Years, a "Tiger"It is precisely opportunism into which the government is falling. Finance minister Manuel Enrique Hinds was interviewed by La Prensa Gráfica a few days after the pact was signed, and his euphoria was over the top. He sees no inconsistency in the government's globalization oriented economic plans, whereas Samayoa accepts globalization as a "partial model or goal in economic organization" but not as its "guiding principle." Hinds congratulates himself for "the vision of a democratic, stable country integrated into the world economy that bases its competitiveness on the productivity of its human capital and its people's capacity for work."
Hinds expects El Salvador to reach the level of the "Asian tigers" in 20 years, but not by using authoritarian government models like those of Singapore, Korea or Taiwan, nor a Pinochet like dictatorship, but "within a democratic scheme." The comparative advantage El Salvador offers investment is "the democracy that gives a stability no dictatorship can guarantee." Hinds adds that "particularly with the signing of the San Andrés pact, El Salvador is leaning ever more toward putting itself in a very privileged position, with a stable democracy right for investment." Apparently feeling no contradiction, he states that "the other parties will have to enter into [the pact] or, if they do not, they will remain behind." Hinds seems to see no problem for "democracy" in the fact that only two parties, one of which is still in the process of formation, signed the accord.
This is where one sees the totalitarian "requirement for harmony" of which Dada spoke, as well as the "self deception" to which Samayoa referred: to believe that it has now prepared the national project and seeks "formal adhesion" while threatening dissenters with "political isolation." A national project requires the government not to flinch at the need to negotiate with a political opposition that offers other proposals. It also requires the opposition to connect its proposals to civil society and thus avoid a generalized lack of participation.
Bigger WordsIt is becoming clear to just about everyone that the San Andrés Pact arose out of the immediate need to get the legislature to approve the government's plan to increase the IVA from 10% to 14%. On June 3, a 13% increase was finally passed. Why that reduction? Either because the government had originally left enough room in its proposal for negotiation or because the PD traded its support for the IVA by squeezing another percentage point out of the government.
Social Development?It is also clear now that the IVA increase is not only about financing the fulfillment of the Peace Accords, as was originally stated. On his return from Paris, González Giner, who heads what had been the Ministry of Economic Planning before neoliberalism erased the word planning from the Salvadoran lexicon, cleared up any doubts. "We were always very clear and I personally said it many times," Giner stressed. "The increase in the Value Added Tax was not exclusively for the Peace Accords. Here in the country there are levels of poverty that cannot go on, and necessitate a tremendous investment by the government."
Ever since the President announced his social development plan in April and stated that he wanted to come to the last budget of his mandate in 1999 with 50% of the budgeted spending earmarked for social development, the question has been: what financing sources will make this plan viable? Now the economic minister is saying that the $1.3 billion the Consultative Group of the World Bank and Interamerican Development Bank assigned El Salvador for the next four years will be used for education, health, drinking water, housing, infrastructure, local development and the environment. They are big words that will commit this government for a long time.
The general budget director already announced that social spending would climb to 31.2% of the next national budget (up from 26.7%), and that health, education, public safety, housing and the municipalities will have increased allocations, while defense, administrative management and debt service will shrink. If true, it will be the first time in the country's history that defense spending is reduced.
The lack of government coordinating leadership which is reflected in the President's declining popularity and even in a spate of new jokes about him personally threatens the fulfillment of these plans. The other and far more important threat to the social plan is its likely incompatibility with an economic plan that is relentlessly focused on globalization and is already having visible effects in shifting the economy to tertiary (commerce) activities. Why train and improve the population's health if productivity and the capacity for productive labor will be nothing but a myth in a few years? Why do it in a country shifting toward commercial employment and tourist services with little technical quality and low salaries?
Education: A Realistic ProposalIn June, the nine month old presidential commission on educational policy presented an excellent proposal. It is still not a project with strategies or diverse concrete programs, but it is indeed a sincere assessment, with a pertinent concept of education as an instrument to make democracy possible and start making the new social conditions created by peace more fertile.
The proposal argues the need to reform the teaching profession, providing better training and opening access to a standard of living and a social recognition that corresponds to the relevance of its service to society. At the same time, a much higher ethical and professional performance is required of it than now exists.
The report requires families to come up with integration and stability goals that create favorable conditions for today's deteriorating educational processes. It also notes that the mass media sow negative values in people's minds violence, consumerism, superficiality that undermine educational efforts. The proposal's real importance is its clarity in making society see that it cannot ask of education what other fundamental institutions impede it from doing.
The cost of financing a proposal of this sort is obviously a challenge for the state, particularly because it is based on a vision contrary to what neoliberalism suggests when it proposes a state that "privatizes" its social responsibilities.
Shaky UnderpinningsThe horizon is still confusing. For example, the specter of deportation (and thus of curtailed family remittances) is again becoming a pressing concern for the whole country, since the extra deadline the US government gave to undocumented Salvadoran emigrants ends in September 1995.
During a visit to the United States, President Calderón Sol tried to work out the problem with President Clinton and did gain something. It is probable that no massive deportation will be unleashed, but the mere suggestion of it, together with the already visible restrictions on exports to the United States by assembly plants in El Salvador due to the imposition of textile quotas, show the shaky underpinnings on which the "new" economy of this country is being built in the new "world order."