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Central American University - UCA  
  Number 138 | Enero 1993


El Salvador

The National Dialogue--What's in Store?

The economic expectations of the 83% of the Salvadoran population who don’t live in the areas affected by the Reconstruction Program and who contribute 90% of the national product are centered on the “Concertación” Forum, which should begin to funciton in 1993.

Joaquín Arriola

The January 16, 1992 peace accords commissioned the installation of an economic and social forum for dialogue known as the Concertación Forum. Its objective: "to reach a set of broad agreements towards the country's economic and social development, for the benefit of all its inhabitants." The economic expectations of the 83% of the Salvadoran population that does not live in areas affected by the Reconstruction Program, and who contribute 90% of national production, are centered on this Forum, which should begin negotiations in 1993.

The Participants

The Salvadoran Government. Through this Forum, the Salvadoran government seeks to create the prospect of medium term stability, in addition to broadening its own space for exerting influence in the social sphere. To this end, it is amenable to a certain kind of concertación: a new Labor Code, attention to marginal urban and suburban communities particularly in infrastructure and housing and mechanisms with which to compensate for the effects of economic structural adjustment policies. The government's strategy is to backslide on what was achieved in 10 years of reforms rather than reach new levels of peasant and labor organization that would allow the reestablishment of productive activities.

The Patronal. The Patronal, or private enterprise, is being called to participate in a forum for which it is not prepared either politically or programmatically. The business delegation, formally under the umbrella of ANEP (National Association of Private Enterprise), is not representative. The proof is that the eight associations called to the Forum have participated separately, even though six are formally ANEP members.

The Patronal is divided around the sectoral interests of its associated organizations. It is subordinated ideologically to the neoliberal project and politically to ARENA, the governing party, and has no national proposals except for the discussion of a new legal framework for labor. But since the neoliberal program has adversely affected some business sectors, a conflict of interests has arisen between small and large enterprises, particularly between financial and commercial interests and the manufacturing sector. The magnitude of this contradiction is still unpredictable.

In the Concertación Forum, the Patronal seeks social stability without sacrifices by private enterprise. It wants a tax reduction but opposes an increase in social burdens. At the same time, it seems to be again demanding a protector state, and certain sectors promote putting a stop to the neoliberal model altogether. The faction dominating capital interests, however, which includes agroexporters, large commerce and the financial sector, remains faithful to this economic doctrine of the party that represents it.

The Intergremial. The Intergremial (IG), which groups together all the unions of different political tendencies, maintains a low level of unity that does not yet allow for global or shared proposals. Its representativity is limited by corporative interests and personalism. Given strong subordination to party politics in some cases, or to international organizations in others, it lacks autonomy of analysis, proposals and action beyond short term demands.

Though the desire predominates in the IG for a Forum that allows it "to make gains" and goes beyond the framework of collective bargaining, the IG still lacks sufficient internal coherence to reach a united, long term position for making proposals. Sectoral platforms only contain short term demands that seek improvements from the perspective of the different union members, and not even for all the workers represented in the IG as a whole. The Intergremial thus moves between sectoral/corporative demands and the future political line that could come from the FMLN.

Key Questions for the Key Players

Will the FMLN accept its role as underdog to the government in the economic social arena one of the Accord's main areas for development? Will it have the capacity to conceptualize its influence based on the autonomy of the labor and social movements, or will it have a more instrumental vision of the delegates participating in the Forum? The answer to these questions will weigh definitively on the fate of the Concertación Forum.

Equally critical will be the orientation of ARENA's political project. Will the party leadership consolidate more open positions in order to reach agreement and legitimize the spaces of power that correspond to the opposition? Or will ARENA again take up orientations from its most extreme tendencies and close the territory opened up for the concertación? Will it accept the Intergremial as a valid interlocutor with which to negotiate key issues for the country's future? Or will it act according to the traditional behavior of El Salvador's right wing, which subordinates, buys off or destroys all that is the expression of an autonomous labor movement? For its part, will the Christian Democratic Party (PDC) try to project itself toward the 1994 elections by making its influence felt in the Forum?

The FMLN is aware that the Forum is a responsibility that the labor movement, the weakest wing of the popular movement, is incapable of leading to an effective place by itself. It is to be expected, therefore, that the Concertación Forum will either temporarily fail and the popular movement will immediately mobilize, in a short term perspective tied to the 1994 elections based on wearing down the government, or it will be subordinated to the negotiations around the National Reconstruction Program or both. Either of these strategies, imposed outside the IG's own dynamics, will imply the rupture of the unitary effort. The same thing would happen if some international union organization were to try to influence its participating organizations in the IG with which it maintains ties of ideology and economic dependence.

The Workers' Agenda

The Accords signed a year ago in New York open certain spaces for negotiation through the Forum but indubitably close others. Though these closed spaces (summarized below) necessarily form part of the labor sector's demands, this sector lacks the strength and initiative needed to impose its discussion at the negotiating table.

* The requirement that agreements be made by consensus is one specific factor that limits the Forum's potential. Economic and social agreements should respect the current constitutional framework. The only probable exception is the consensus that should be reached about the need for a new framework for labor relations that includes state workers. The legislative development that this implies could, in fact, end in a constitutional change.

* The existence of a separate section of the Accords dedicated specifically to the "Agrarian Problem" makes it very difficult to introduce specific aspects of this issue into the Forum. COPAZ's special commission will continue to have responsibility for this issue.

* The Accords themselves establish three phases in the contents of the Concertación Forum: 1) stabilization, 2) problems arising from the cessation of the conflict and 3) reconstruction. There are also three subjects to be negotiated, the first two at the government's initiative: 1) the reform of labor legislation, 2) the situation of urban and suburban communities and 3) measures to alleviate the cost of the structural adjustment program. This third topic has been somewhat developed in the Accords through the inclusion of worker participation in privatization, social compensation and consumer protection programs.

A condensed summary of the agenda that the Intergremial is taking to the Forum includes the following issues:

-The peasantry's problems: property and credit/debts.
-Labor problems: labor legislation and improvement of work conditions and wages for farmworkers.
-Social problems: increased social spending, environmental laws and legislation for the development of the informal sector.
-Economic problems: job creation, the promotion of productive investments and tax reform.

What's to be Expected?

Given these limits and expectations, the following is foreseen for the Forum:

* It seems inevitable that some short term but far reaching labor demands will enter into discussion, since raising them would open previously inaccessible spaces for collective bargaining. Demands related to the urban and rural minimum wage as well as to labor conditions for farmworkers are elements whose negotiation in the Forum would serve as a gauge of the participants' willingness to come to more far reaching agreements.

* The reform of labor and union legislation seems to be a subject whose discussion is accepted by all parties, apparently with diametrically opposed positions in some cases. But the agreement about the need to enter into negotiation is already a step forward in improving working conditions and the situation for worker organization. Above all, progress will be made if consensus is reached temporarily, until there is an accord regarding the new legal framework for labor, based on the recommendations and agreements of the International Labor Organization's reference legislation on negotiations between capital and labor.

* The measures for the productive insertion of marginal and informal urban and suburban sectors including legal matters, technical support, infrastructure improvements and the affected sectors' participation is an explicit negotiating point in the Forum according to the Accords themselves.

* Tied to the measures to compensate for the adverse social affects of economic adjustment policies, improvements could be proposed in the efficiency of essential public services: education, health, pensions, water, electricity and sewage. Comparably, improvements could be proposed in social protection services employment insurance, daycare and school lunches as well as in other basic social services job training, professional formation, literacy and urban and rural infrastructure.

* Worker participation in privatization decisions was an agreement made in principle prior to the installation of the Forum and, to that degree, slows down the neoliberal project. The Forum should reach consensus regarding the characteristics of that participation.

It is unlikely that there will be space in the Concertación for other issues of great importance. It does not seem feasible to enter directly into debate about specific elements of the neoliberal model, such as tax, fiscal, tariff, credit and financial policies. There is also little possibility that the peasants' demands, expressed in the ADC's platform, will have space for discussion in the Forum.

In any case, the single fact that there were 14 meetings though all were related to procedural issues since the installation of the Forum in 1992, together with the permanent presence of worker and business representatives at the same negotiating table, could contribute to diminishing distrust and rein forcing, among all parties concerned, their mutual recognition as social interlocutors.

The Left's Alternative

In El Salvador, the left has changed not only its methods of struggle but also its goals and strategy. The Peace Accords had three basic components: demilitarization, institutionalization of the rule of law and the transfer of land. The latter is the goal that, in practice, the FMLN has pursued most insistently and meticulously. The reason is obvious: ending the war without a victory obliges it to compensate those who spilled their blood during the war years.

The emphasis on transferring land to its ex combatants reflects the FMLN's peasant base. But the guerrillas have not proposed an agrarian reform. Of a total 3,586,000 acres in farmland, the government's counterinsurgency agrarian reform, conducted during the war years, distributed 827,191 acres from large properties of more than 1,235 acres each. Though its impact was limited, this reform meant a certain redistribution from large landowners to poor peasants.

In the land inventory negotiated as a result of the Peace Accords, the FMLN inventoried 649,813 acres, but 82% of those properties were under 170 acres each. Of the state lands claimed (16.3% of the national territory), a substantial part were assigned to agrarian reform cooperatives or are under bank seizure.

The land problem in El Salvador continues without definitive solution, and the weight of large property remains determinant in defining agrarian social and economic structures. Nevertheless, 18% of the land in the FMLN's inventory constitutes productive capital on which the former guerrillas can initially rely to carry out its project.

The FMLN has made a substantial turnaround with respect to the traditional practices of the left. It has recognized, long before other Latin American left groups, that the new era in which the continent is living has rendered obsolete not only traditional development strategies (agroexports and industrialization for import substitution) and forms of government (populism, corporativism, military dictators), but also the left's own form of struggle. It is no longer a question of making a series of demands to the state or to private capital, but confronting them with an alternative based on production itself. The FMLN aspires to start resolving the problem of structural change and poverty not by controlling the government but by establishing productive spaces controlled by the left.

This raises certain economic strategy dilemmas. The FMLN lacks a national economic strategy because of its great weakness in developing alternatives for urban areas, where the principal economic activity and resources are concentrated (the state sector, industry, commerce, financial capital and services). This lack of definition prevents inserting the productive project into a global development strategy, meaning that it could be reduced to a macro-enterprise project of a still very undefined scope.

In addition, not all sectors of the "popular economy" are included in the FMLN's project. The agrarian reform lands together with the FMLN's inventory mean that over a third of the land will have gone to cooperatives and former combatants. There is potentially, then, a new social actor, whose political profile still needs clarification. While influence over the cooperatives continues to be fundamentally Christian Democratic, the FMLN is seeking to carry out a project that includes them. From an institutional perspective its influence has already grown, since the most important cooperative organizations (CONFRAS and FESACORA COACES) are strongly FMLN inspired, representing significant progress for the left in this sector.

But the right is also offering its project to the poorest sectors. The government, through its agrarian reform institutions FINATA and ISTA, is vying for the division of the cooperatives into parcels, based on the peasant's traditional aspiration for land. It has energetically launched a propaganda campaign against the legitimacy of the cooperative system's property rights and is starving them by limiting credit, technical assistance and infrastructure.

For its part, the US Agency for International Development (AID) is promoting certain alternatives to development projects backed by the FMLN. Based fundamentally around the Salesian Order, AID is heavily financing the Ciudadela Don Bosco, the Don Bosco University, the Don Bosco Industrial Polygon and the Agape Foundation, which has legal status for maquilas (tax free export manufacturing), in order to establish "politically" controlled projects in the left's zones of influence, especially to the north of Chalatenango and Morazán. It is an effort that could be called "economic counterinsurgency" and that takes advantage of the most important weaknesses of the left's project, especially its lack of an urban industrial alternative.

What is increasingly clear is that the political struggle in El Salvador will, in the next few years, have a strong economic and productive component.

Where Growth Comes From

El Salvador's economy is increasingly dependent on family remittances sent by Salvadorans living in the United States. The country's Gross Domestic Product grew 4.5% in 1992 due to growth in consumption a result of increased family remittances and international aid. In 1992, total family remittances reached $718 million, 123% of El Salvador's total export income. This financial support doubles the buying power of Salvadoran workers: 61% of those who receive funds from family in the US have monthly incomes under $250, and 38% have under $125.


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