Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 268 | Noviembre 2003


El Salvador

ARENA’s 15-Year Legacy in the Transition

Central America is about to sign a free trade agreement with the United States and El Salvador is presenting itself as the country best prepared to face this challenge. But is this really true? What have 15 years of rightwing neoliberal governments wrought in El Salvador? A lot of what has taken place and is still taking place today reflects the serious problems related to Central American transition.

ECA Magazine of the UCA of El Salvador

Contrary to the repeated official discourse that El Salvador is in wonderful shape, the conditions inherited by the successor to the third ARENA government will leave it facing a crisis of governance. This crisis has not developed overnight, but is rather the consequence of the policies pursued by the previous ARENA governments, the now commonly accepted result of governments that blindly believe the neoliberal creed’s articles of faith.

The IMF’s “successful” example
approaches its own particular crisis

El Salvador and Argentina were the two examples paraded by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as successful examples to be imitated by other Latin American governments. The Argentine version of this model is now a thing of the past and the Salvadoran one is approaching its own particular crisis. Yet in his speech to the United Nations’ General Assembly in October, El Salvador’s President Flores continued the IMF tradition by insisting on the success of his country’s version. While it is true that responsibility for the current critical situation is socially shared, most of it falls to the leaders of the ARENA party and its three successive governments. The data available leads to the inevitable conclusion that these governments have failed.

This view may seem radical or exaggerated, especially when the model’s defenders point to the great successes of economic stability, increased social investment, educational reform and poverty reduction. They claim that these successes have placed El Salvador in a very advantageous position for exploiting the impulses coming from the international economy. But this argument is deceptive, as demonstrated by the latest assessment by researchers in the Salvadoran Foundation for Economic and Social Development (FUSADES), itself a rightwing private sector think tank.

Their conclusions suggest that El Salvador is not in a position to exploit the possibility of favorable conditions in the foreign environment—with all that they would imply in terms of dependency—mainly due to a lack of interest from the business sector and government. Contrary to what certain sectors appear to believe, the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) with the United States will not solve any of the problems left unresolved by the Salvadoran government. The ARENA governments have been unable to prepare the country to face the challenges of the 21st century despite being in power for 15 continuous years and implementing an extensive program of adjustments and reforms.

Low productivity and education levels

Next year the ARENA government will leave its successor a macro economy that, except for price stability, is almost identical to the one received by Alfredo Cristiani 15 years ago. In other words, after all those years of reforms, promises and, above all, great suffering among the most vulnerable sectors of the population, the Salvadoran economy is virtually right where it started. Exports, which were to be the driving force based on economic opening and free trade agreements, now represent an enormous risk because they have not grown enough to take on that role. In fact, imports have grown more than exports.

According to FUSADES’ assessment, Salvadoran companies do not produce enough and are inefficient. What’s more,
it states that the country has record levels of long-term low productivity. While the essence of capitalism is innovation and change, FUSADE’s researchers claim that the Salvadoran business sector has little knowledge of new technologies and quality standards. The private sector’s efforts at innovation are paltry and it really has little capacity for change. Considering that technological change has received no support from government policies either, it should come as no great surprise that productivity is not up to scratch. Excessive export regulations, infrastructure deficiencies, high security costs and limited trust in the rights conferred by contracts and ownership do little to stimulate productivity.

Nor has private business worried about preparing qualified human resources; its inattention to them grows out of its lack of interest in innovation. FUSADES states that the country has a low educational level: insufficient coverage at all levels other than primary, where it is almost total; and pretty precarious quality. And all this despite the fact that the liberal creed sees education as the key to social development.

Serious fiscal and trade deficits

The outgoing government is leaving behind a deteriorated fiscal balance. The indicators improved at the start of the first ARENA government, but this improvement only lasted as long as that particular government. Fiscal management started to display imbalances during the second government and during the current one the deterioration has been unquestionable. Not only has the Flores government been unable to increasing tax income or collection, it has actually returned a great proportion of the gross taxes received than its predecessors. The current tax policy, meanwhile, is more regressive than those of the two previous governments with the business sector now contributing less than before. In other words, most of the income tax is contributed by workers—around 60% in 2002—rather than businesses, which are accumulating profits. As a result, the fiscal deficit is both chronic and growing.

The new government will also receive a chronic foreign trade deficit. Until recently, this deficit, caused by an avalanche of imports, was covered by the remittances sent back home by Salvadoran emigrants. But these are no longer enough to close the gap, so the deficit is being covered by foreign debt. Money is coming into the country that at some point will have to be sent back out along with the corresponding interest. Such an imbalance is unsustainable over time, as the debt crisis of the eighties demonstrated. The kinds of imports most needed to increase productivity—capital goods—are those that are entering least. Those that are arriving most are consumer and intermediary goods.

Dependent on one country and the international market’s vicissitudes
In spite of the drastic opening up of trade by ARENA governments convinced that this was the key to prosperity, El Salvador
still depends on just one country. The United States is the destination for half of El Salvador’s exports, consisting almost entirely of maquila-produced textiles and, in second place, coffee. This makes El Salvador dependent on a single country and almost entirely dependent on one export category, maximizing its vulnerability to the cycles of the US economy, as has already been experienced. Those who believe that a US economic recovery will benefit El Salvador are wrong, because the crisis is recurrent and no other alternative is being sought despite the phenomenon’s well-known nature.

The debt has become a serious problem. Most of it has been contracted on the international market, through the issuing of bonds, exposing El Salvador to the ups and downs of that market. The country resorts to bonds as a way of quickly obtaining fresh money, but at a potentially very high cost for our limited national resources. The strongest prevail in the international markets, regardless of whether the loser is a poor or underdeveloped country, or the lowest-income population has to pay for the imprudent actions of its governors. During this kind of crisis, countries indebted to the multilateral banks rather than to the private banks that buy up bond issues are in a better position, because the multilateral banks offer more advantageous and secure terms, albeit attaching stringent conditions. The Salvadoran debt rose 35.3% between 1993 and 1998 and 82% over the last four years.

The legacy of 15 years of reforms:
More poverty, less security, little say

The economic growth promised with each of the reforms introduced over the last 15 years has failed to materialize. It could hardly have been any different given all of these imbalances. The government defends itself with the argument that the country’s growth is greater than the Latin American average, but this cannot hide the fact that every year the results are lower than government projections and there are no clear signs of short-term recovery.

The business sector, imbued with a coffee-grower mentality, recognizes the situation is bad, but consoles itself with positive expectations. What the government hides is that the limited annual economic growth is made possible by the US$2 billion in remittances sent home by Salvadoran emigrants rather than national productivity. Meanwhile, price stability, the only novelty produced by the third ARENA government, is being maintained at the cost of this slow and inadequate growth.

The legacy of this era of reforms has not been the promised strong and consolidated growth, but rather greater poverty and less stability, which also tends to go unmentioned despite the undeniable evidence. This economic failure goes hand in hand with the failure of social welfare (employment, housing, education and health), which most affects the poor, the least qualified and the sick. The existing human development
gap has widened rather than closing. The reforms were supposed to create greater employment, and although this is still being preached, it has yet to materialize.

The population is suffering not only a lack of income (unemployment), but also of security (crime and violence) and any say (people’s participation in important decisions has been blocked). Not even political party representatives—who to start with do not represent the population—were listened to before the most important economic decisions in recent years (dollarization and CAFTA) were taken. There was also supposed to be greater participation at the end of the transition, but the opposite is actually the case. There are increasingly fewer arenas in which to express opinions, the executive branch and the media owners and editors censor information, national issues are not debated, imposition replaces consensus and social conflict is a logical consequence. Centralization runs parallel to authoritarianism, resisting the delegation of either resources or power.

The government has very little maneuvering room to counteract the slow growth and chronic imbalances. The only instrument
at its disposal is fiscal policy, as it gave up its control over monetary policy when it implemented the dollarization process. But dollarization is tending to destabilize the economy and encourage the slow growth. If the next government is thinking of any redistribution to the poorest sectors and recovering the lost equilibrium, it will have no other alternative but to increase the tax burden or pressure to collect more. This will undoubtedly bring it into conflict with big capital, which resists paying taxes in line with its profits.

So as long as the presidential candidates fail to explain how they plan to finance the kilometers of highways, the square meters of construction and the expansion of jobs, education, health and housing projects that they promise on their visits to the country’s municipalities and communities, their campaign speeches will continue
to lack any real foundations or will simply continue to deceive by presenting a candidate seemingly sensitive to people’s needs. When the candidates promise to redistribute, they should first explain how they are going to tackle the fiscal and trade imbalances, limited productivity, low export volumes and slow and limited growth before moving on to generalized lack of welfare.

Police and judicial weaknesses:
A vacuum filled by organized crime

It is an established principle that any government that cannot finance it costs or care for the population is weak . But these are not the ARENA government’s only weaknesses in the last 15 years. Another example of their unquestionable weakness is the room they have allowed for the development of drug trafficking, organized crime and corruption. Such activities have arisen and grown under the very noses of state institutions.
The Salvadoran Police continuously calls for more specific laws, but refuses to acknowledge its internal weakness, which is its lack of independence with which to operate and investigate crimes. The Police has “other obligations” that it must honor, because its most important leaders are linked to illicit activities, or at least have accumulated so-far unexplained wealth. One such “obligation” is to not act against specific organizations or groups. It is no surprise, therefore, that the middle and lower ranks also form part of criminal networks, although when these ranks are purged, only certain lower members are punished, because the mechanisms established for controlling the institution operate discretionally. Throughout its existence as a civilian institution, the police force has proved unable to develop the capacity to investigate and go after crime. This weakness goes back to the days when the army openly controlled it. Almost all its current high command belonged to the army and served in its security forces, later eliminated precisely because of incapacity and abuses. Those young officers of yesterday occupy the leadership positions today and are unfamiliar with serious and independent police investigation.

The Public Ministry receives similar orders, is likewise unfamiliar with the rigors of judicial and fiscal work and is very vulnerable to
the influence of power and money. Nor is the judicial system independent of the government or other powerful groups. The leadership and administration of these institutions is in the hands of officials loyal to the ARENA system and particularly to those who got them their post. They are not elected because of their capacity, their résumé or their commitment to judicial investigation and justice, but because of their willingness to conserve and reproduce the established order. Under cover of these weaknesses, organized crime has invaded the space left open. This situation has accumulated throughout the transition and now represents a major ARENA debt to the country.

A state that refuses to intervene:
A field day for abuses by capitalBig capital has been perfectly capable of exploiting the vacuum left by the ARENA governments in the field of economic activity. Business leaders defend this freedom as the single, most precious thing these governments have given them. By refusing to intervene in economic activities the government has left the field open for big capital and their even bigger consortiums, which have committed all kinds of abuses. The government has sold them almost all of the public assets; created weak and ineffective superintendencies that fail to control their activities; used public funds to rescue financial operations that went bankrupt due to fraud and corruption; suppressed economic planning and turned the Central Bank into little more than a national registry of economic data. The government hardly taxes businesses at all and doesn’t demand that they honor the law; ignores signed contracts to favor certain national consortiums, even when at the country’s expense; and openly admits to bribery and, worse still, tries to justify it. In short, the so-called market freedom is little more than a euphemism for building oligopolies, tolerating unfair competition and deceiving the consumer or user. That is what ARENA and its government are really referring to when they talk about freedom.

The economic liberalization promoted by the reforms required a strong government to avoid such abuses. But the ARENA governments, seemingly believing like all good neoliberals that the market is the salvation of the unemployed, excluded and poor, abandoned the field to big capital, assuring that the invisible hand would see to it that the balances were maintained. And as a good servant of big capital, they always favor it, even at the cost of general well-being. But capital’s aim is to generate profits not provide social welfare or charity, particularly in a context that gives the market all possible benefits and facilities.

Losing territory to youth gangs and Honduras

The youth gangs have also exploited the government indifference and laxity to grow, consolidate and above all take over the territory abandoned by the authorities. In many areas of the country, local youth gangs impose order rather than the police, which for some time now has not been operating or even circulating in entire urban and rural areas. The warnings issued by the current government are belated and its proposed way of reconquering the territory is inadequate, given that this is a social rather than military challenge. A dissuasive but firm police presence could have stopped municipal and city territories and populations from falling into the hands of these gangs. The clean-up operation currently being carried out by the police and even the army is so limited that it only covers the most visible zones.

The ARENA governments have not only lost territory to domestic social forces, but also to neighboring Honduras. Distracted by the Gulf of Fonseca, they could not mount any lucid defense of what is known as the Nahuaterique pocket. Had their lawyers not forgotten about the Salvadoran population residing in that territory, they could have made a forceful case for the inhabitants’ right to peaceful occupation
of the territory and clear awareness of their Salvadoran nationality. This argument tends to have more weight than any other in the international tribunals where such claims are aired. Even today, that population continues to consider itself Salvadoran, despite the fact that it is now in Honduran territory, and a great part of the area’s social problems originate from governmental oversight. On the other hand, the government is still obsessed with the Gulf of Fonseca, insisting on reclaiming a territory that has peacefully been in Honduras’ possession since independence and whose population considers itself Honduran.

Unable to recreate the nation: Where is “love of country”?

In the cultural sphere, the Salvadoran government is no longer able to create and recreate the nation. The Right correctly perceives this incapacity and adds to the list of lost values the emotion that the homeland, its symbols and rituals should be awakened among its sons and daughters. It used to be that society vibrated in unison with the national independence celebrations. Now the crowd is only interested in the spectacle of a parade that could just as well be organized on any other day of the year. The hymn is still sung and the “prayer to the flag” uttered on a regular basis in the schools, but the Right keenly perceives that something important has been lost, that a profound link has been broken. It would naturally like to recover this, seeing it as a key element in its own legitimacy and that of the social disorder it has imposed. Now only emigrants are filled with emotion by the idea of the traditional homeland. But the Right has not realized that nostalgia is what unites these emigrants: nostalgia for the lost past and for the abandoned land of their birth.

The idea of the traditional Salvadoran homeland yearned for by the Right was constructed following the failure of the first attempt to build a federated Central American state. From then on, each government built its own national identity and the symbols that represented it. All of them did so in very similar terms, using the symbols in vogue during the second half of the 19th century. They produced national histories and created the independence celebrations as currently known, including military esthetics that are the legacy of the federation wars rather than the advent of what was a civic independence.

The current indifference is logical. In fact, it could be no other way, given that nation is a consequence of a state’s cultural policies and efforts to unite the population residing in its territory under a shared identity. National history and the national symbols were created to support that nation-building effort. As a result, national history tends not to be true to historical reality, nor is that its aim. The idea of nation created by the coffee-growing governments was later retooled to accommodate the circumstances. These re-elaborations obtained their objective, which was to conserve the identity from which the system derived its legitimacy. That sense of belonging was reinforced by the extension of education and other social policies. The problem is that the nation is no longer vibrating with such intensity or in such unison.

There is a simple reason for this. An exclusionary government cannot produce nation because it destroys its very foundations. Excluding the majorities and stressing individuality leads to the loss of any sense of communality, making it almost impossible to refer to a higher “us.” The more public policies are perceived as favoring the interests of foreigners and small privileged groups, the more the nation falls out of sync with the state. And given such circumstances, the link is broken. The proof of this is that the symbols that currently represent the nation are no longer as forceful as they once were.

Crisis of identity and belonging: Who feels Salvadoran nationality?

The opening up to the markets includes a cultural dimension that while generally unperceived is none the less real. Opening up to the world broadens the horizon, increases the options for exercising individual liberty, creates new possibilities for participating and reinforces the image of the free individual, but at the same time does away with the traditional links and behaviors that provide identity, belonging and legitimacy. Each individual can choose a religion, sexual practices, a way of being a couple, associations... The individual and his or her freedom, those fundamental articles of the neoliberal creed, are affirmed more forcefully. This makes it increasingly difficult to form an idea of society, of the common and shared. The country exists, but society as such is no longer evident. The multiplicity of beliefs, values, styles and modes brought about by this opening up ratify the free individual, but hinder the elaboration of collective references.

The neoliberal reform has imposed a style of coexistence that is the negation of living with others. Social links have been reduced to their minimum expression and so the nation as a collective and shared whole lacks content. The arenas for cultivating solidarity and living strong collective experiences have disappeared. As a result, when faced with adversity and impotence, the individual tends to seek refuge in the primary group or in his or her inner world. This generates the strength of inward-looking religious experiences that emphasize subjectivity and emotions or the importance of the emigrant’s family as an indispensable vehicle for starting a new life. Community, society and nation are realities unknown to the individuals that form them, and so the feeling of belonging, identity and solidarity are foreign to them. It is increasingly hard for people to create an idea of social life in its totality and to feel part of a collective. This retreat into the private and interior, in opposition to the social and public, makes the individual less social. Words lose their power when faced with images and reality becomes diffused when faced with the virtual, in that the real and existing are replaced by appearance and representation.

The impotence of politics to bring about social transformation

It is quite paradoxical that the unforeseen extension of individual liberty implicitly brings with it a profound sense of impotence.
The freedom-based government policies of the last 15 years have left a great part of the Salvadoran population defenseless, impotent and resigned to accept today’s social disorder as something natural and therefore removed from the transformations of political or social action.

In such circumstances, democracy and politics have very little to do with people’s daily lives, which are already hazardous.
In their individual struggle to survive, people perceive that they have to face powerful external forces that have always decided their destiny. Their future depends more on uncontrollable external circumstances than on their own decisions. They feel that rather than living their own lives, life is being imposed on them.

There are no opportunities and effort is useless. Indispensable resources are out of their reach and their social relations are not very reliable. Transforming those forces appears as an impossible task, meaning that the only alternatives are flight into the different spheres of a private world or towards the North, or else assuming that order as it is to try to exploit it, even when those involved are aware of the possibilities of failing or having a short life, as is the case of gang members. In such circumstances it is very difficult to feel part of a collective subject with the power to decide on its own destiny and that of all its members. It is thus almost impossible to assume the social process as a collective experience. While freedom appears to have no limits, the daily reality is collective impotence, which leads to emotional dissociation and defeatism.

The symbols that represent the nation and the state cannot remain removed from the deterioration of common and social realities, given that reference points and representations are created and recreated based on the concrete experiences of coexistence. The simple repetition of national rituals no longer has the power to reproduce and transmit identification with the system, although this does not exclude the populist and even nationalist discourse that seeks to tune into the subjective experiences of exclusion and neglect. The Salvadoran leadership classes have been incapable of creating new representations more in line with the reality experienced, thus depriving them of the real foundation they require. It is ironic that the national representations have been stripped of their power by the very people who now lament their irrelevance.

The President’s falsities at the UN

A kind of conspiracy orchestrated by the government and the Salvadoran media hide this failure. But it has reached such proportions that they lie without scruples. President Flores’ last speech to the UN General Assembly illustrates the extremes to which this desire to mask national reality has been taken. The President had the audacity to present El Salvador as a successful model of neoliberal experimentation, although he had to resort to some unknown figures to do so. Of all the figures he quoted, only the infant mortality rate is correct; the others do not coincide with those produced by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) or the government’s own official sources.

According to the presidential calculations, poverty has been reduced by half over the three consecutive ARENA governments, dropping from 60% to 33%. But the UNDP sustains that 45% of the population was living below the poverty line in 2000, and it is unlikely that the rate dropped 12 points in two years to reach the level announced by the President given the earthquakes, economic recession and hunger that afflicted the country since then. Extreme poverty has also supposedly been reduced by half over the same period, from 30%
to 15%, despite the fact that the UNDP reports that almost 20% of the population is living in extreme poverty.

Another indicator that has supposedly been reduced by half is illiteracy, from 25% to 13%, while the UNDP calculates El Salvador’s illiteracy rate at 21%. Lack of access to drinking water and electricity is also much higher than officially recognized, not to mention the unemployment rate (some 17% as opposed to the 6% quoted in the President’s speech). Underemployment alone is around 30% and is particularly affecting women.

If it were true that the Flores government has built 106 houses a day, the housing deficit would be virtually resolved, but the vice minister responsible for this area says something else altogether. If it were true that an average of one kilometer of highway has been constructed every day of this administration’s four years in government, the country would now have more than 1,400 additional kilometers and people would have no reason to ask the ARENA candidate for so many streets or bridges. If it were true that a health unit is built every five days and three schools are built every day, the country would now have 292 more health units and 4,380 new schools. Perhaps the President is confusing reparation with construction and classrooms with schools.

The presidential commissioner for social affairs later explained that the figures are a way to quantify the effort made in those particular areas. It’s certainly a strange way of doing so. Most contradictory of all is that in the same forum, President Flores proclaimed the right of the Salvadoran population and the world in general to know the truth, a truth he denies them because he doesn’t dare reveal the real state of the country and he won’t allow those responsible for human rights violations during the civil war or those who have committed acts of corruption, crimes and homicide during these years of transition to be indentified.

Capitalist logic isn’t working

Broad national social sectors—with the exception of certain extremist rightwing business and political sectors—and international organizations dedicated to human development recognize El Salvador’s failure as a country. But the private sector and government extremists blindly continue insisting on the pertinence of the current model, regardless of the empirical evidence. President Flores himself dares to propose that this model should be imitated by the international community, even if he has to hide reality to do so. The blindness responds to an inability or resistance to seek alternatives. Even
the FMLN, which has made change its catchword, refuses to face up to reality. Proof of this is that it is postponing its announced changes until it takes the presidency, as it can only conceive of changes from above and from the power invested by the presidential post.

It is evident that capitalist logic contains elements that hinder Salvador’s model from achieving the goals that it itself proposes. This system cannot work without adequate controls and effective redistribution channels. Controls and redistribution correspond to the government, but society should demand them with determination and closely monitor their execution. The model shies away from both counterweights, and a rightwing government like those in El Salvador for the last 15 years will take no steps towards imposing such changes unless pressured. Abandoned to its implicit logic, the neolibral capitalist model only increases economic, social and cultural differences, as demonstrated by the Salvadoran experience. One alternative is therefore to force the establishment of such controls and redistribution mechanisms, given that the model has demonstrated its incapacity to take such a step on its own initiative or to be convinced of the need to take it. Doing so would go against its own nature. However, an efficient and effective institutionality is indispensable if capitalism’s monopolistic and destructive tendencies are to be controlled.

Without society, this alternative will fall short. A transformation of the current institutionality would send a strong signal to society about the real possibility of change and would encourage it to participate. The population’s social potential must be turned into political potential, understood in its broadest sense. The important public policy decisions should be consulted with society, particularly its organizations, whose technical limitations should not be used to exclude the subjects that are currently passive in the face of such decisions.

Education and community projects

There are other complementary alternatives aimed at strengthening society’s active role. Extending education’s coverage and improving its quality so it covers the whole of the Salvadoran population is an essential tool for social mobilization. Expanding education and improving its quality influence the mentality of future generations and above all affect their attitude to tradition and change and help them understand their responsibilities and rights and their role relative to society and the state. It is not enough to promise that more will be spent on education; the content of that education is a determining factor in the mobilization of society.

The aim is to form a citizenry that knows how to assert its rights, is inclined towards ongoing learning and endowed with the skills and knowledge to develop within the current society. Education has to be oriented in such a way that it effectively promotes the social ascent of future generations, not just a privileged few, as well as people’s active participation in public affairs and their full realization.

Community and regional development projects are another effective instrument of social mobilization. Unlike education, where the reforms ran out of steam, there are experiences in El Salvador that illustrate the viability of this kind of initiative. Even when they focus on economic development, such projects are not limited to this area, but rather positively influence other spheres of collective life, transform the social relations of the group involved and even act as an incentive to achieve higher levels of education, thus helping guarantee the project’s productivity and viability. By focusing on the community, these projects create strong social networks, increase the level of collective and individual life and build a culture of solidarity. These are not old charity handouts with a face-lift, but rather the promotion of local economies with the potential to grow and generate income. In this sense, they do not differ from the capitalist model. Even in their relations with the world outside the communities, these projects are ruled by capitalist laws. But inwardly, the profits are shared out in a solidarity-based way, introducing a radical new perspective.

The existence of such projects is not only a sign of change; their very concretion confirms that the alternative is close at hand. These novel experiences, which would multiply faster with more government support, are already displaying small successes, even in the field of exports. In fact, some of them have enormous vitality, a value that big business appears to have lost, particularly in the industrial field. Change is possible, but with the collaboration and active participation of a population organized neither from above nor from the outside.

These projects have the capacity to take on other critical problems such as health and the environment. Sickness and an adverse environment hinder well-being and increase poverty. The environment and health cannot be luxuries for rich countries, unattainable in poor ones with limited resources. Communities have shown an enormous capacity to prevent illnesses and find ways of ordering and protecting the environment in the interests of their own advancement and well-being. Productive, educational, sanitary and environmental tasks are effective ways of building community and a life oriented towards community values and solidarity with the aim of creating a culture of life. Such a culture acts as a strong social safety net against the social and natural threats hanging over the communities.
If organized, the population itself can appreciably preserve the security that the governments have been unable to ensure.

The struggle against impunity

The struggle for truth and justice is another front in which the will of victims’ relatives, who are convinced of the injustice they have suffered, is gaining ground against institutionalized impunity. It is true that their progress has been slowed by a multitude of obstacles, but they have had an impact on impunity through personal determination; the support received from relatives of other victims of similar injustice with whom they share their pain, memories and commitment to truth and justice; and the support of organizations dedicated to the defense of human rights.
The number of cases presented to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights are increasing as the claimants run out of options in the Salvadoran institutions. Some of them are now being heard in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, whose sentences will not be easy for the Salvadoran state to ignore. On two occasions former Salvadoran generals have been forced to appear before a US judge to answer for torture, rape and murder, and another case is being prepared for the murder of Monsignor Romero. The monument being erected to commemorate the victims of the civil war is the result of a great effort made by nongovernmental organizations that have decided to challenge the government’s amnesia. This path is only beginning to be pursued, so the process is a little slower than in the Southern Cone, where amnesty laws have been overturned and many members of the military have already been brought before the courts and imprisoned.

A legacy and two lessons

ARENA’s legacy from these past 15 years includes at least two positive lessons for the immediate future. First, even given the free trade agreements, the current model offers no solution to the economic, social and cultural challenges facing either El Salvador or the Central American region. Second, it has forced people to exercise their creativity and launch the first alternative experiences. Not everything is negative. Without meaning to, that legacy has widened the horizon for consolidating and expanding those experiences. The tragedy is that those who have the power to decide are still tied to the old model. It is therefore up to society and its organizations to force them to see the new emerging reality and commit themselves to it.

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