Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 260 | Marzo 2003


El Salvador

Could the Community “Over There” Depolarize Politics “Over Here”?

The Salvadoran community abroad helps sustain the country’s economy through the remittances it sends home, but it has not yet exploited the political potential of this economic power. Could it set up a new party, autonomous of ARENA and the FMLN, to creatively link those “over there” with those “over here”? Such a party could help depolarize the country and open the way for development.

ECA Magazine of the UCA of El Salvador

Although there has been no formal census, it is commonly accepted that 25% of the Salvadoran population lives abroad. It is similarly, accepted that the dollars this population sends back to the relatives left behind in El Salvador are an indispensable support for the national economy, though the exact amount of such remittances is not known. Central Bank records cannot register the total number of dollars sent from abroad, as part comes in through informal networks.

A less-known fact is that organized Salvadorans abroad, particularly in the United States, also finance local development projects in areas dispersed all over El Salvador. This economic aid from the Salvadoran communities in the United States has led to the construction or reconstruction of schools, clinics, streets, parks and housing.

Thousands of Salvadoran families now have access to electrical appliances and telephones, and their housing, diet and clothing have improved thanks to the aid from relatives living in the United States. Having music, video movies and television in their homes has not only opened up a broader vision of the world to an increasing number of Salvadorans, it has also generated desires for a new lifestyle. The demographic, economic, social and cultural importance of the thousands of Salvadorans living outside the national territory is more than evident.

Such phenomena are now commonplace, though they have still not been studied in any systematic way. But Salvadoran emigration can be examined from another point of view as well—the political one— about which little if anything has so far been said. This is an area of national life in which the influence of the Salvadoran population abroad has been increasing for some time and it could contribute even more to help society overcome the polarization in which it has become trapped. This polarization may not be the country’s main problem, but nobody denies that it has become an obstacle not only to the search for solutions to more important problems, but also to mitigating the most serious consequences of those problems. So what can be said about the emigrant Salvadoran population’s potential influence on depolarizing national politics?

Salvadorans abroad:
Political participation

Political participation could be understood as the effort to influence the making or implementing of binding decisions. Thus it is not reduced to simply voting on election day, one of various forms of participation, although in democratic systems the emblematic form of intervention in public affairs. Because it provides legitimacy to the authorities elected, it is important to encourage voting when democracy is being put into practice and is credible. When the opposite happens, doubts begin to emerge about the system’s democratic nature. Generally speaking, if there are no other institutionalized means of political participation or they are simply not used, a limited turnout at the polling stations becomes symptomatic of the lack of legitimacy not only of the authorities elected through this mechanism, but of the political system itself.

In addition to voting in elections, citizens can try to directly influence the decision-making that affects them. Running for elected office or simply challenging a candidate are notable ways of participating in this political process. But there are many other ways as well: influencing people’s opinion on public affairs (in the media or just with friends and relatives); helping finance a candidate or party; lobbying public officials to promote one’s interests or viewpoints; taking part in an organized street protest, rally or other activity; communicating with one’s representative to support or reject a specific legislative action and negotiating local development projects and the like with one’s municipal government. All of these are forms of political participation, although some are more conventional than others.

Salvadorans residing abroad have used some of these forms, both individually and collectively, in the last 25 years. Some, for example, joined a network of international organizations and movements in solidarity with the Salvadoran people that the Salvadoran Left organized and promoted until its civil war against the country’s authoritarian regime ended in 1992. Others abroad participated in the political life back home in other ways.

This participation was not exclusive to the political Left, however. People and groups aligned with the Salvadoran Right or just opposing leftist individuals and groups, including both foreign service officials and ordinary civilians who supported the US counterinsurgency policy in Central America, also engaged in activities to influence their country’s domestic politics. It should be remembered that a number of Salvadorans took up temporary residence in US cities, particularly Miami, from whence to influence national politics, including those who individually or organizationally supported the local activities of the ominous death squads during the seventies and eighties. Others financed the activities of the ARENA party before it gained control of the executive branch. Still others lobbied certain US congress members regarding El Salvador’s domestic situation.

The aim here, however, is not to provide an exhaustive account of all forms of political activity undertaken by Salvadorans living abroad. All that is intended is to show that Salvadorans, whether aligned to the Right or the Left, have individually or collectively attempted to influence their country’s domestic affairs from abroad over time.

Generally speaking, political analysts and the media present this participation as exclusively by people or groups linked to the Left. But the fact is that the Right has also influenced and intervened in El Salvador’s internal affairs, meaning that many Salvadorans residing abroad have contributed to the country’s political polarization. Even when living abroad, they have not given up participating in the local struggle between Left and Right. Their political behavior where they are responds to the ups and downs of the polarization where they left. Since the end of the war and the installation of a new political system following the negotiation and signing of the Peace Accords in 1992, however, the political participation of Salvadorans living abroad has taken on new aspects. New problems and interests have emerged among the Salvadoran community abroad, particularly the one living in the United States, where most of the illegal emigrants reside.

From confrontation to cooperation

The organizations representing legal Salvadoran residents in the United States have now assumed the task of defending and promoting the interests of their still illegal compatriots and have engaged in a dialogue with US and Salvadoran political authorities to that end. Such organizations, some of which originated in the international solidarity movement that developed in the eighties, now exist in the US cities with the biggest Salvadoran communities. For some involved, their task represents a new experience, a learning process about how to channel civic demands through institutional channels.

The issues have unquestionably changed, along with the form that their relationship with US and Salvadoran authorities takes. While the attitude of such organizations previously leaned toward confrontation, they now look more for cooperation, though not completely abandoning their old attitude. A fundamentally confrontational posture toward US authorities, whether Democratic or Republican, cannot be sustained over the long term without jeopardizing the interests of the Salvadoran community being defended.

For similar reasons, it is not in the interest of organizations defending the cause of the illegal Salvadorans living in the United States to maintain conflictive relations with the Salvadoran government. If the aim is to build their strength to better defend the Salvadoran community there and promote it more efficiently, the best idea is to join forces with the authorities here. Thus, though the Right governs El Salvador today, the organizations more closely linked to the Left have had to open themselves up to cooperation, without this implying complete subordination.
This in itself is a departure for Salvadoran political activists living abroad, particularly in the case of organizations aligned with the Left. It shows that cooperation is possible among political adversaries when the “cause” transcends immediate particular interests. Cooperation generally tends to open the way for moderation, which helps reduce polarization.

This situation has likewise obliged the Salvadoran government to change its attitude toward these organizations, only a few years ago considered bitter enemies. It is most probable that this new attitude has not been thoroughly embraced, but if that is the case, it is more a problem for the government than for the Salvadoran community abroad. There is no need, however, for the motives of the Salvadoran government and the organizations safeguarding the interests of Salvadoran emigrants in the United States to coincide. The government, for example, could be interested in defending the undocumented community there because it is so large that its fate directly conditions El Salvador’s own future.

Emigrants are preventing
complete economic collapse

According to official figures (available on the web page of the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s Dirección General de Atención a la Comunidad en el Exterior), some 2.7 million Salvadorans are living abroad, of which 2.5 million live in the United States, most of them illegally.

Thousands of families in El Salvador depend on this community. For many, the reduction of their poverty has been largely due to the work of those who went “over there” and send dollars back to relatives who stayed behind. Given the economic and social vulnerability of most of the population in El Salvador, there should be more poor people but, even without the remittances, the mere annual exodus of thousands of citizens reduces the number of poor left in the country. This gives the Salvadoran government important reasons to be more interested in the economic dimension of emigration to the United States than in its legal dimension. It is not that the government is disinterested in the emigrants’ human rights, but such an interest is subordinated to their economic contribution to the economy at home, which would most probably have collapsed without it. From the political perspective, this massive contribution has almost certainly stopped El Salvador from becoming another ungovernable Latin American country.

Remittances are now
financing local development

This new influence of the community abroad is also being felt strongly at lower government levels. Various municipal councils have found that particularly the community in the United States is becoming a strategic partner in promoting local development. According to the Foreign Affairs Ministry department mentioned above, Los Angeles alone has at least 48 organizations, made up of Salvadorans from municipalities throughout the country’s 14 departments, are providing direct aid to El Salvador together with similar associations in other US cities. The members of these organizations have already begun to see what their assistance can achieve back home.
One of the most significant cases is that of Intipucá in the department of La Unión. Help from emigrants of this municipality currently residing in Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia made it possible to pave the streets, build a municipal stadium, extend the cemetery, provide pews for the local Catholic Church, donate computer equipment to the Intipucá Educational Complex, supply electricity to some rural settlements and remodel parks, among other things. Aid sent from the United States to relatives who stayed behind has thus started expanding into a new area: local development projects. And this financing is the key by which the donors can lobby mayors and their councils regarding certain decisions. The power of this new aspect of the Salvadoran emigrant community’s participation in the local political process is gradually being revealed.

Remittances: Economic reality
with a political dimension

As long as the aid does not exceed the family sphere, the radius of intervention from the community up there is limited to the family economy of those down here. But even so, with thousands upon thousands of families participating in this phenomenon, it has an impact on the national economy. In addition, the development opportunities that open up for the families that receive economic aid turn the overseas community’s actions into a factor of social and cultural change.
Family aid involves both those who send it and those who receive it, with one or more family members living abroad, particularly in the United States, sending remittances to relatives who stayed behind. The aid thus circulates mainly among relatives, although it extends further when the senders use official money transfer agencies as intermediaries. It is no coincidence that some Salvadoran banks have opened branches in the US cities with the biggest Salvadoran communities, thus allowing them to benefit from the sending of family remittances as well. Even so, the impact of family aid is limited to the economic sphere and is an economic phenomenon.

The political dimension appears when the aid is sent to the community. Community aid has a dual sense just as family aid does. It amounts to a Salvadoran community in the United States sending aid for the development of its community of origin and is therefore community-to-community aid. The names adopted by some of the Salvadoran associations from Los Angeles play on this solidarity: Committee for the Improvement of Tonacatepeque (COMPROMETO), Committee for the Pro-Aguilares Brotherhood (COMILPA), Chalchuapaneca Community Living in Los Angeles (CHARLA), Friends of Zaragoza Committee, Salvadoran Committee for the Development of El Piche, International Society for the Improvement of Atiquizaya (SIMA/Atiquizaya), San Juan Nonualco Aid Committee (CASAN), etc.
They think up different activities to raise funds that are then sent down to promote the development of their hometown. This has proved to be a successful way to work, as demonstrated by the proliferation of such associations in different US cities and by the fact that they have sprung up in most places where there is a Salvadoran community. One need only visit the above-mentioned web page to find an impressive list of such associations around the world.

Sometimes, depending on their objectives and number of members, they are set up as associations of Central Americans, not just Salvadorans. The latest novelty is the joint organization of Salvadoran, Central American and Mexican activities in the United States and Europe.

Residents “over there”
and authorities “over here”

The Salvadoran community abroad has various motives and objectives in creating such associations. Not all have a community character and not all of their members come from the same place or were neighbors. The important thing at the end of the day is that they can influence domestic Salvadoran politics. This potential political clout is only just starting to develop and make itself felt. Sometimes it simply takes the form of sporadic contact with consular representatives, while other times the activity is symbolic, such as the celebration of national holidays abroad. But although the Salvadoran community’s independence celebrations in Milan last year were featured in the Salvadoran national press, the communities in the United States are the ones with the greatest possibility of transforming their participation into national politics.

The different associations of Salvadorans living there are gradually starting to influence municipal administration here. The final destination of the aid directly relates to the origin of those who belong to the association and their negotiating power with the municipal authority depends on the economic aid they are channeling. It is not so much a matter of how many dollars they can collect and send, but rather what such aid represents in relative terms. It can be small in absolute terms, but very important relative to the number of inhabitants in the target location. It can thus constitute the basis of a political relationship between the community there and the municipal authority here. It is now common for mayors here to be visited by delegations from some Salvadoran community in a US city, or to have to travel there to “negotiate” more aid for the community here.

ARENA and the FMLN
looking to take advantage

The Salvadoran community abroad has evident political potential, and local politicians are exploiting it, as demonstrated by the efforts both ARENA and the FMLN are making to establish links with them. ARENA modified its statutes last year to create a new eighth party sector—Salvadorans living in the United States—and has even hired personnel to mobilize this population and seek support there for its political project.
The FMLN is also competing to attract followers among the members of the Salvadoran community in the United States. They have some experience in this area, as FMLN members and sympathizers who had to flee into political exile fed the ranks of some of the oldest organizations currently promoting the rights of Salvadoran emigrants there. The FMLN is thus seeking support particularly among the solidarity networks it created there during the eighties.

The interference of these two main parties in the life of the organized Salvadoran community in the United States is logical from the viewpoint of the political dispute here. That community could potentially become an important source of financing for their activities here and for financing development projects in the municipalities controlled by the respective parties. It is true that such development aid favors the local community, but in the end, it also helps strengthen the party in power there.

As institutions, the political parties are more interested in their own reproduction than in the benefits they could provide to a community. In fact, any benefits end up being a byproduct of their efforts to strengthen themselves. Many years ago, US political scientist Anthony Downs wrote in his book An Economic Theory of Democracy that parties do not seek power to implement public policies. It is actually the other way around: they promise or implement public policies to get into power or stay there.

ARENA holds the advantage

One direct result of the emigrant community’s insertion here is that the political polarization into which these two parties have submerged Salvadoran society here is being transferred to the community in the United States. Apparently, ARENA holds an advantage over the FMLN in this effort, as it has the support of mass media that go to great pains to include the Salvadoran community abroad among their audience. Thus television, newspaper and radio products from here are exported to the Salvadoran community there. Far from being a simple means of communication desirous of putting the community there in contact with the community here, these media manufacture and disseminate a representation of national reality in accord with the strategic objectives of any company: to guarantee and expand the reproduction of the capital invested and the conditions for that reproduction. It is no easy task, as the Salvadoran community was created precisely by those who fled the conditions by which capital was reproduced here. Most of those living abroad, particularly in the United States, thus mistrust anyone who tries to woo them.

Following the two earthquakes in 2001, the Salvadoran community abroad had the power to control the sending and distribution of the emergency aid it had collected for those affected. Its use of churches rather than official channels to get this aid to its destination is a strong indicator of its suspicion of the ARENA government and those close to it. To avoid being associated with such suspicions and maintain their “immaculate” conception, the media were forced to step back from the official management of the aid and put themselves at the service of both Salvadoran communities. They provided a commendable service, trying to help those abroad find out about relatives and friends here and allowing those locally to communicate with those living abroad. But once the emergency was over, most of the more important media again began to close ranks with ARENA and President Flores’ administration. They are still keeping their distance from the legislative and judicial bodies, building and projecting a negative image of both, but are doing just the opposite with the executive branch. There is no way that the legislative and judicial branches could be so riddled with faults if the executive branch is so overflowing with virtues.

A dual community

Vice President Quintanilla’s frequent visits to the Salvadoran community in the United States must be interpreted in this context. His trips are so frequent that it has even been said that those of us here are being governed by President Flores, while those over there are governed by Vice President Quintanilla. The abiding impression is that the latter actually lives there, occasionally coming back to visit. The importance given to the emigrant Salvadoran community is confirmed by the existence of a ministerial Department for Attention to the Community Abroad.

The ARENA government is clear about the economic potential of the emigrant community. Certain companies have also realized it and are extending their activities to include it. Some of them sell the traditional cornmeal pancakes known as pupusas, tropical fruits such as mangos and jocotes and information products; others offer banking and real estate services; and a third, recently-created group promotes what is known as the “nostalgia market.” All this increases the risk that in the duality of those “over there” and those “over here,” the latter will be relegated in importance even more due to the apparently greater purchasing power of the former. Commodities always seek a market and if the market for Salvadoran goods is in the United States, it is logical that they will turn up there. In fact, for some time now even housing construction in El Salvador has been geared to satisfying the needs and acquired tastes of the emigrants, particularly those still contemplating the possibility of returning. Musical groups that used to compete for the small domestic market have realized that tours abroad are more lucrative and now only return to rest.

The Salvadoran community abroad has already grasped this trend and some of its members are seeking ways to make their economic importance count and to influence the country’s political decisions. They feel torn because they don’t really “belong” to either place, and are also challenged by trying to live their lives there while dealing with the problems of their relatives here. Succeeding at this requires the support of the Salvadoran government, which has understood the situation and tried to exploit it.

But time has created a fundamental difference between those “over there” and those “over here.” Among other things, the emigrants have adopted a different political culture. They are learning to respect the “ground rules” and as they have come to realize that these rules can obtain positive results, they are more inclined to channel their demands institutionally. The experience of dealing with the problems of being a foreigner, whether legal or illegal, means having to interact with the US political system, with certain institutions that function much better than Salvadoran ones. They are thus learning the art of negotiating and lobbying, exerting pressure on institutions to promote or defend their interests. They have also learned which instruments to use to influence public opinion or to seek alliances with other actors. The Salvadoran Vice President knows this too, so all official delegations make a point of visiting those communities, fully aware that it is not as easy to sweet talk these Salvadorans as it is the ones back home.
Paradoxically, the Salvadoran government has fallen into the dynamic of the duel community. It treats the community abroad very differently than the way it treats the community at home. It considers the community abroad a “strategic partner” and the one at home as an irresponsible and ignorant minor. But even those abroad have an inferior political status. Those who are undocumented emigrants cannot become citizens there, but neither are they effectively citizens here because they cannot exercise the vote to which they have the right.

The ARENA sector of the Salvadorans living abroad is pressuring for the institution of the absentee ballot. According to the party, that community will not be satisfied with a representative in the Legislative Assembly; it wants the direct vote. It is highly probable that the FMLN will side with ARENA’s position on this point. Both parties are losing votes here and are quite willing to try to recuperate them there, thus seeking the political support abroad that many deny them back home. In so doing, the parties that polarize the Salvadoran community at home will try to polarize the community abroad. But it is very probable that most emigrants will prefer to remain on the sidelines of Salvadoran party politics, just as is happening here. Those abroad enough problems—both their own and those of their relatives back home—without lending themselves to the political game to which ARENA and the FMLN have accustomed the country.

Huge political potential

Analysts who have studied the national economy have recognized the emigrant Salvadoran community’s influence on it, but few have noticed that this economic power is not concentrated in few hands. Quite the contrary, the small contributions by thousands of Salvadorans add up to a substantive economic power that could be seen as a democratic form of economic power. Some might prefer to speak in
terms of fragmented economic power, but in any event it is an economic power that El Salvador cannot do without. This hard fact provides the emigrant community, particularly the one living in the United States, with a reservoir of power for political pressure whose depth is only beginning to be plumbed. It is thus worth exploring this power and the possible consequences of exerting it more fully.

The Salvadoran community abroad helps sustain the country’s macro and micro economy, but has not yet exploited the political potential that implies. Granted, Salvadoran emigrants have already experienced some political power by helping their communities of origin, but it is incipient, providing only glimpses of what could be a major political contribution. The members of the numerous associations abroad have become social development agents, but when they negotiate with or pressure local authorities they become political actors. Since the Salvadoran community abroad possesses economic and social power, the only thing missing is for that power to be expressed politically. But it should not be expressed through ARENA and the FMLN, because that would limit its potential to the interests of those parties and risk manipulation by them. If that were to happen, this power would lose the transforming potential of being an autonomous political force. The circumstances in which this economic and social power has emerged and its intrinsic nature provide it with such a degree of freedom that it could well go further than simple activism or support for either party.

“Distant brothers” with “local cadres”

Converted into an autonomous political force, for which it has the necessary economic and social power, the emigrant community could break the polarization that is beating down the community at home. A number of Salvadorans living in the United States have studied and obtained US university degrees; others are successful businesspeople who have achieved the “American dream”; and yet others are simple residents with a decently-paid job, which allows them to live as part of the US middle class. These sectors could provide certain leaders and groups interested in working for the country they once had to abandon. Nostalgia could thus be forged into the engine for growth and political commitment.
Not all would have to participate in this enterprise. It would be enough to have a critical mass networking throughout the United States to build an autonomous political force whose social base would be here in El Salvador, made up of them and all others who agree on the need to depolarize the local political dynamic. Its field of action would not be in the United States, but rather in El Salvador. It would be a political force fed by cadres of overseas buddies and family in alliance with local counterparts. It would involve pulling together a “global community of Salvadoran brothers and sisters” willing to work together to care for a common mother: the nation to which they were born.

They will certainly find allies in the effort to depolarize El Salvador, or at least to alleviate the great problems afflicting the Salvadoran community at home. People and groups unhappy with the way the ARENA government is running the country and with the methods the FMLN would adopt if it were to win the presidential elections abound here too. Economic power in the Salvadoran community abroad is concentrated in the Right, which favors ARENA, so the FMLN’s accumulated political power will be of little or no use if it has no economic base to sustain it. That political power, together with the economic and social power of the organized Salvadoran community abroad would have been an ideal formula for counteracting ARENA’s economic and political power, but the FMLN has been unable to hammer out such a formula, and it may be too late to do so. The level of polarization it reproduces through its actions will probably lead it to seek simple support in a top-down relationship rather than strategic partners in a horizontal one.

A social base both here and there
in need of a political platform

The creation of an autonomous political force could take the form of either a political party or a pressure group, but the latter already exists in the various associations promoting local development projects. Perhaps the party alternative would have to be developed in the immediate future. In fact, the existing parties’ attempts to win the support of these groups point in that direction. But instead of the groups coming in to play a subordinated role and thus continuing the political polarization imposed by ARENA and the FMLN, the moment seems ripe for them to take a lead role independent of the traditional political scheme. In theory, an organic linkage with the parties could provide good results, if this new force were to use its power to make them serve the communities of its relatives at home. But this does not appear possible, as the distance involved imposes serious difficulties in trying to control the activities of both parties. If the attempts by local Salvadorans to reorient the activities of ARENA and the FMLN toward servicing general interests have not born fruit, it seems unlikely that Salvadorans abroad will be able to achieve it.

As has already been mentioned, the idea is not that the Salvadoran community abroad—particularly in the United States—organizes and creates a party “there.” That is not viable in practice, considering the economic and social conditions of the thousands of illegal Salvadorans who individually send remittances to relatives here. Many others, however, are already organized in direct aid associations. What is needed is for those associations to form the social base of a political party there that also has a social base here. Their experience with institutions in their adopted country plus their moderation and proven inclination toward finding solutions to their home communities’ concrete problems could be the starting point for a party that places itself at the center of the Salvadoran ideological spectrum. Such a party would likely draw relatives at home plus others who are unhappy with the existing political parties, people who want to contribute to the country’s depolarization and work to improve the living conditions of the population in general.
A political platform explicitly aimed at improving the country’s underdeveloped zones could provide common ground for various social and economic actors to link up as a new political force. It is evident that taking such a path would not be at all easy or automatic and many from “over there” will probably have no interest in such a task. It would be an immense challenge for the most aware and conscientious sector of the emigrant Salvadoran community, but no more immense than the one they had to overcome when at risk to their very lives they decided to take the path that led them to where they are now living.

A project with backing:
The first step is to debate it

It is probable that the United States would accept such a project for two simple reasons. First, a political force with one foot planted there would not go against US hegemony or create problems with US authorities by complicating the situation of the Salvadoran community, particularly those still living there illegally. Second, it could potentially even reduce the flow of illegal emigrants to the United States by helping improve the living conditions of the Salvadoran population here, as it is already doing.

Other organized actors here would surely look kindly on this initiative and support it. Churches, universities, professional associations and small and medium businesses, among others, could jointly contribute to this effort, because it would be a political enterprise providing general benefits. Introducing such a novelty requires a great deal of work and an innovative spirit, given that in the final analysis it is about challenging reality itself. None of this has been lost on the Salvadoran community living abroad. The basic experience of the emigrants has been made up of these very elements, which is why they have ended up where they are. The remittances they send back are the fruit of their hard work to obtain dollars that will allow them both to live there and help their relatives here. They have had to be creative to develop survival strategies—including mutual aid and networking—in a hostile world. Their effort to challenge reality led them to be innovative and to create that new reality for themselves.

The road ahead could be easier if there were a local organized structure open to the activities of Salvadorans leading direct aid associations up there. Another path opening up is the idea of aid that is not only from community to community but also from groups of associations to groups of communities. The radius of political influence is thus spreading from one municipality to a group of them, which is an advantage for the smaller ones. With the support of their relatives abroad, the residents of such municipalities should assume a more active role, exerting more pressure on the local administration.

The greatest task, however, is to create a national autonomous political force. In this regard, perhaps the first step would be to spread the idea, debate it “over here” and “over there” so that those most interested can start working out the next steps. It would be really worthwhile to organize discussion forums through the Internet and promote debates in universities, gauging the interest shown by the emigrant community in this enterprise and using spaces available in the mass media to explore the idea’s viability.

This proposal might seem an unattainable dream. More than a few people might object that the Salvadoran community living abroad has fewer virtues than might be thought. Floating this idea might therefore seem incredibly ingenuous. But accepting such criticism would be to accept that nothing can be done until the two big parties make it happen. Doing nothing or continuing to do the same thing would perpetuate the political polarization based on El Salvador’s current social and economic polarization. Not daring to try anything new amounts to condemning El Salvador to business as usual, to following a road that will not lead to general well being. This was exactly what those who left years ago understood all too well. They sensed that the country was not on the right course, refused to accept that destiny and decided to seek new horizons.
It can be argued that the idea is worth attempting and certain dynamics in today’s situation suggest this. The challenge is to take them up and start working to turn them into reality. This reality would then reproduce itself, because reality has to be used as the source for creating more reality. Undesired realities might emerge, but the reality created might just be good, and perhaps the good will overcome any bad. Depolarizing the political system would in itself be very positive for El Salvador; we would then have to see what happens next. Only time will tell whether it was worth giving it a go. Right now, it is simply a possibility with a great deal of transforming potential, a road sign inviting us to test that particular route. This must not be thought of as an easy task or a quick fix; it may only be possible to tell after a number of years whether it was worth dreaming, worth trying. There is a lot of desperation in today’s El Salvador and it must be fought. Helping to depolarize national politics would be a highly positive contribution from the Salvadoran community “over there” to the community “over here.”

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