impoverished in El SalvadorEl Salvador implemented a strong response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, it has one of the lowest rates of COVID-19 contractions in Central America. Still, there have been several economic depressions globally during this pandemic that have affected the impoverished in El Salvador.

The COVID-19 Pandemic

As of July 23, 2021, El Salvador has had 84,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 2,500 deaths. On April 1, 2020, President Nayib Bukele confirmed the first COVID-related death over Twitter. The victim was a 60-year-old woman who had recently returned from the United States.

This lockdown has had major ramifications for the impoverished in El Salvador. In an interview with The Borgen Project, San Salvador resident Wendy Michelle Valladares-Hernandez discussed the economic implications for the poor. “I think [the pandemic] has affected…people with entry-level [salaries] which is the majority of El Salvador,” she said. “Entry-level salaries are $300 and things can be as expensive as the U.S. so it’s like telling someone in the U.S. to live with $300 a month. It can be a lot cheaper, like housing but when it comes to food it’s very similar [to] the States.”

Despite this, Valladares-Hernandez described the pandemic procedures positively. “I think that as a country we responded very well,” she said. “The fact that we are all trying to help each other in the sense that we, you know, take care of ourselves, to take care of everyone else around us. I think that’s the reason everyone wears masks when they go out and everyone’s okay by having your temperature checked every single place you go in and cleaning yourself with alcohol every single time you go in.”

El Salvador’s Economy

The U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) estimates that the Salvadoran economy contracted 8.6% in 2020, compared to an expansion of 2.6% in 2019. The country has not seen such a loss since 1981 during a civil war. Additionally, El Salvador was the first country to introduce Bitcoin as legal tender. While it is a notable milestone, there are uncertain benefits for the impoverished in El Salvador. The country has a mostly cash-based economy and more than 70% of its citizens do not have bank accounts. It has sparked protests and a poll found that 77% of Salvadorans think Bitcoin is a poor idea.

El Salvador’s Healthcare Services

The organization Doctors Without Borders has recorded an increase in patients dying before ambulances reach their homes. The COVID-19 pandemic has overloaded the ambulance and hospital systems and there is a lack of access to primary healthcare services. Many patients with chronic illnesses do not have full access to medical assistance because coronavirus patients have received medicinal priority.

This has especially affected the impoverished in El Salvador. The U.S. embassy in El Salvador has found that the use of state-of-the-art technology can require medical evacuation to the United States, but even general hospitalization can cost thousands of dollars, often in cash payments. This leaves medical assistance often unaffordable to many, considering the country’s minimum wage is around $270 per month.

The Solutions

El Salvador’s government has already approved a minimum wage increase that went into effect on August 1, 2021. The minimum wage increased by 20%, bringing the entry-level wage from $300 to $365 a month per month. On top of that, the government has announced the Trust for the Economic Recovery of Companies. This Trust has offered to provide $100 million towards small- and medium-scale businesses to subsidize wages and promote the economy. The ECLAC has estimated that El Salvador will see economic growth of 3.5% in 2021 due to private and public investment.

Bukele, in response to the overwhelmed healthcare system, converted the International Center for Fairs and Conventions (CIFCO) into a hospital designed specifically for COVID-19 treatment. The hospital is now the largest hospital in Central America, costing more than $75 million to produce. Originally, the transformed center was to be temporary, however, it will now be a permanent fixture.

The hospital has the capacity to treat more than 400 individuals with COVID-19. The economy hit those who are impoverished in El Salvador hard. Additionally, they often cannot afford to pay or seek medical assistance. The Ministry of Health (MSPAS) offers a free public healthcare system that covers up to 79.5% of Salvadorans in their time of need.

Looking Forward

On July 21, 2021, Bradley A. Freden, the Interim Permanent Representative of the United States, attended an OAS Permanent Council Special Session on equitable COVID-19 vaccine distribution. There, he reiterated President Joe Biden’s announcement to contribute $2 billion in support of COVAX. Soon, 24 million vaccinations will undergo distribution across the Western Hemisphere, including to El Salvador. This contribution will greatly help the vaccination goals of El Salvador, which should be able to vaccinate 4.5 million citizens.

“Importantly, our shots don’t come with strings attached,” said Freden. “We are sharing vaccines with the world and leading in a global vaccine strategy because it’s the right thing to do: the right thing morally, the right thing from a global public health perspective and the right thing for our collective security and well-being.”

Citizens of El Salvador look forward to returning to normal, though some believe that those who are sick should continue to use masks. Valladares-Hernandez remarked, “I think that there’s gonna be things that are gonna get stuck with us. For example, even if someone has a small flu, people are still going to be wearing masks. I think that’s something we are going to do once this goes away.”

– Camdyn Knox
Photo: Pixabay

direct aid in El Salvador
On May 1, 2021, the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador removed the nation’s attorney general and all members of its Supreme Court. This sudden action sparked concern regarding the separation of powers in El Salvador’s government, with human rights organizations viewing it as a power grab by the country’s president, Nayib Bukele. USAID acted on the concerns by pulling all foreign aid funding previously dispersed through the Salvadoran government. The funding is now promised as direct aid to El Salvador’s civil society groups. Direct aid in El Salvador will ensure the most vulnerable El Salvadorans receive the help needed.

USAID Projects in El Salvador

USAID’s most recent foreign aid projects in El Salvador are designed to address the root causes of migration from Latin America to the United States. In January 2021, President Biden issued an executive order that set aside $4 billion to address immigration from the Northern Triangle countries: El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The order states that improving livelihoods in these countries eliminates the need for migrants to flee to the United States. In May 2021, USAID launched an official Northern Triangle Task Force. The task force laid out a strategy for improving livelihoods by targeting three areas:

  1. Prosperity – USAID will fund economic development to prevent poverty in El Salvador. This strategy includes improving infrastructure, investing in higher-value industries to create job opportunities and fostering entrepreneurship. The Salvadoran organizations receiving aid to implement these programs are primarily private sector actors.
  2. Security – USAID will target crime and corruption as another root cause of migration. This strategy includes increasing government transparency and making justice systems more responsive to citizens’ needs. Originally, the governmental National Civil Police and Institute for Access to Public Information were involved with the implementation of USAID projects related to this target. However, the shift to direct aid requires non-governmental organizations in El Salvador to replace government actors.
  3. Governance – USAID aims to make governments in the Northern Triangle more effective at responding to citizens needs. This strategy includes increasing accountability for government spending, improving government delivery of services and promoting citizen engagement with democracy. Civil society is the main recipient of direct aid for this purpose.

Civil Society in El Salvador

Direct aid in El Salvador builds upon a preexisting robust civil society landscape. Civil society in El Salvador first rose to prominence in the 1960s by providing humanitarian services. The Salvadoran Civil War in the 1980s saw the organizations taking on economic and social welfare work to replace overextended governments. The constitution of El Salvador protects the right of assembly and the Ministry of Interior and Territorial Development registers civil society organizations under that protection. Previous administrations promoted the creation and smooth functioning of civil society organizations. However, President Bukele mistrusts civil society organizations and his government stigmatizes them.

Civil society organizations previously received direct aid in El Salvador from USAID. In 2020, $7.5 million out of $60 million in USAID funding for El Salvador targeted improving governance and involving civil society. Experts had been lobbying for civil society organizations’ increased involvement with the distribution of aid long before President Bukele incited USAID’s action and many activists in Latin America praised USAID’s adjustment. Activists expressed hope that civil society organizations from other countries in the Northern Triangle would also secure larger roles in upcoming projects.

Strategy for El Salvador

While foreign aid from the United States circumvents the Salvadoran government, foreign policy officials continue to pressure the Bukele administration to restore the separation of powers. Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to Costa Rica in June 2021 for an annual meeting with the member states of the Central American Integration System. During the gathering, Blinken met privately with the Salvadoran foreign minister to discuss the issue of aid. The Biden administration also decided to bypass the lengthy appointment process for an ambassador to El Salvador and instead sent former U.S. ambassador Jean Manes to El Salvador as charge d’affaires to handle diplomatic relations with El Salvador immediately.

While the programs in El Salvador that will receive direct aid are currently unspecified, the United States has successfully committed domestic private actors to invest in El Salvador. For example, Vice President Kamala Harris announced that Microsoft will give internet access to three million citizens in the Northern Triangle countries, including El Salvador. This demonstrates how private actors fulfill roles that governments traditionally perform, such as infrastructure expansion, when governments fail to provide services. USAID hopes to utilize civil society organizations to run similar programs for democratic reform in El Salvador.

Moving Forward

The Salvadoran government’s decision to remove its top judiciaries led USAID to retract its trust in the country’s government with regard to aid funding. USAID chose civil society organizations to receive aid instead and also set aside direct aid to further democratic reforms. Official plans for redirected aid funding have yet to be released, but U.S. government officials have historically seen success in engaging private actors in tasks that governments usually complete. As the United States continues to pressure the Salvadoran government to increase accountability, foreign aid to El Salvador fosters more civil society engagement.

Viola Chow
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Renewable Energy in El SalvadorWorld Bank statistics indicate that, in 1999, only about 79% of people in El Salvador had access to electricity. By 2009, the percentage increased to about 91%, and in 2019, 100% of the population of El Salvador had access to electricity. The significant improvement in electricity access in just two decades is primarily due to the government’s investments in renewable energy in El Salvador and the work of companies in providing electricity to rural communities.

Poverty in El Salvador

The government’s success in providing universal electricity access within El Salvador comes at a time when much of the population still lives in poverty. The COVID-19 pandemic caused a fall in economic output and a decline in poverty reduction rates. Consequently, COVID-19 jeopardized the country’s recent successes in decreasing poverty and inequality. The World Bank predicted that El Salvador’s GDP would contract by 4.3% in 2020. As a result, it expected the poverty rate to rise by 4%, bringing the total percentage of the population living in poverty to a possible 30%.

Development of Renewable Energy in El Salvador

As the smallest country in Central America, El Salvador lacks natural coal, oil and natural gas. Therefore, El Salvador has historically relied entirely on imports of fossil fuels from other countries “to meet domestic demand.” In the mid-1990s, the government began promoting renewable energy sources to reduce dependence on imports.

In 2010, the government implemented the National Energy Policy, which further pushed for increased renewable energy sources. The policy, which runs till 2024, has seen success so far. El Salvador has not built any additional fossil-fuel-powered generators since the year 2013. By 2019, renewable energy “had reached 64.3% of the country’s total installed capacity of 2.2 gigawatts (GW).” Renewable sources in El Salvador consist of solar power, hydropower and geothermal power. In El Salvador, oil generates only 32.36% of electricity. Renewable sources are responsible for creating the rest of the electricity used by the population.

Economic and Social Benefits of Renewable Energy

Renewable energy in El Salvador has helped stabilize electricity prices. Consequently, renewable energy has led to a more stabilized economy. This economic advancement through renewable development has helped pull people out of poverty and reduce the negative effects of decades of violence and emigration. The ever-growing renewable energy sector provides jobs for many individuals in El Salvador, especially women.

This helps to close the economic and social gap, consequently creating a more gender-balanced workforce while providing a way for women to support their families. LaGeo is a Salvadoran state geothermal energy company that generates close to a quarter of the total energy created in the nation. At LaGeo, 30% of the employees are female. LaGeo is responsible for producing 27% of El Salvador’s electricity and commits to empowering local women and backing reforestation and conservation programs near its plants.

Health Benefits of Renewable Energy in El Salvador

The growth of geothermal power, hydropower and solar energy provide alternatives to biomass for those living in poverty. Though biomass is a renewable energy source, the U.N. considers high biomass usage to be a sign of energy poverty. Regular practices of burning firewood and other biomass materials can cause a number of health and environmental problems.

The World Health Organization reports that more than one million households in El Salvador rely on unclean fuel for cooking. Continuing to replace biomass with cleaner, safer alternatives will improve the lives of those living in poverty in El Salvador.

In 2016, AES El Salvador, a power company, provided photovoltaic kits to more than 70 individuals living in poverty in rural areas. These kits offer a way to harness and store solar power. Furthermore, the beneficiaries also received turbo cookers to reduce biomass consumption. For more than 15 years, “AES El Salvador has brought electricity to more than 70,000 Salvadoran families with rural electrification projects.”

Overall, El Salvador has made great strides in reducing poverty, boosting the economy and providing electricity access through the growth of the country’s renewable energy sector. Universal electricity access has undoubtedly improved the quality of life for many families living in poverty.

Julia Welp
Photo: Flickr

Surf tourism in El Salvador
Many know El Salvador for its beautiful beaches and surfable waves. However, gang violence also makes the country the deadliest non-war zone in the world. Bryan Perez grew up in Punta Roca, El Salvador, where he began surfing at a young age. The sport helped him escape gang life, and he became a four-time World Cup champion. Perez’s success story increased surf tourism in El Salvador and gave Salvadorans hope of a better life.

Gang Culture in El Salvador

In 2019, approximately 23% of El Salvador’s population lived in poverty, and an estimated 8% had a connection to gangs. Salvadoran gangs have traditions and sadistic rites of passage, and they often socialize children into them at a young age. A person who refuses to support a gang risks torture or murder.

Surf Tourism

The beaches of El Salvador were what drew nearly 38% of the 350,000 Americans who visited the country in 2015. El Salvador nonprofits such as La Red Foundation use surf tourism to help impoverished communities.

Salvador Castellanos established La Red Foundation to show that surfing can be an alternative to gang life. He has recruited more than 1,500 volunteers to run surf camps, provide food and install infrastructure in poverty-stricken communities. Overall, La Red Foundation has used surf tourism to provide resources for more than 3,000 people. In exchange for volunteers’ efforts, La Red Foundation gives them amazing surf opportunities on El Salvador’s best beaches.

Salvador Castellanos’s son, Marcelo Castellanos, established El Salvador’s first professional surfing academy, Puro Surf. Puro Surf provides top-notch surfing training in a safe environment, and it helped a young Bryan Perez escape gang life.

Star Surfer Bryan Perez

As a child, Bryan Perez supported his family by watching tourists’ cars while they surfed, and he used his earnings to negotiate truces with local gangs. After receiving a broken surfboard from a tourist at age nine, Perez discovered his love for surfing. By the time he was a teenager, Perez had become highly dedicated to the sport.

Perez temporarily lost his passion for surfing after his little sister died from gang violence in 2014. Reflecting on that year, Perez said, “I was so depressed it was hard to get surfing again. I didn’t have the energy to compete and get focused.” Nevertheless, Marcelo Castellanos took Perez in and helped him rediscover his motivation. Perez trained intensively at Puro Surf Academy, where Castellanos helped him gain sponsors and surf in international competitions. Once Perez began surfing internationally, he became one of El Salvador’s most famous athletes. Because of his likable personality and strong media presence, the country closely followed his performances.

Hope for the Future

Perez failed to qualify for the Olympics at the 2021 World Surfing Games in El Salvador. However, his escape from gang life demonstrated how the capitalization of surfing can change lives. Perez became an inspirational figure and role model for Salvadorans living in poverty.

Perez’s international fame also put El Salvador on the map as a top surfing spot. The country’s leader, President Nayib Bukele, is working to decrease gang violence by capitalizing on surf tourism in El Salvador. He promoted the 2021 World Surfing Games because according to the Salvadoran government, surf tourism will create an estimated 50,000 jobs and has already created 200 businesses. With additional job opportunities, citizens can escape gang life.

Surf tourism in El Salvador increases the quality of life by boosting the economy and giving hope to a poverty-stricken nation. Despite the continued struggle against gang culture, both nonprofits and the government are advocating for a better future in El Salvador.

Abby Adu
Photo: Flickr

El Salvador is First to Use Bitcoin as Legal TenderOn Wednesday, June 9, El Salvador made history by becoming the first country to authorize the use of bitcoin as legal tender. President Nayib Bukele’s proposal to utilize the currency was widely popular in Congress. The votes came to 62 out of 84 in favor of instating a law to adopt bitcoin as the country’s legal tender. The introduction of bitcoin will greatly help the facilitation of remittances sent back home from Salvadorians living abroad. This is important as one in four Salvadorians live abroad. In addition, more than $2 out of every $10 in the country’s economy comes from remittances. Therefore, incorporating bitcoin as legal tender should only improve access to financial resources throughout El Salvador’s marginalized communities. Shortly before the bill was passed, President Bukele tweeted about the economic benefits of having bitcoin as legal tender: “It will bring financial inclusion, investment, tourism, innovation and economic development for our country.”

The Benefits of Bitcoin

The authorization of bitcoin as legal tender may be a developing trend across emerging economies. This is because bank penetration and access to traditional financial institutions are remarkably low. In El Salvador, more than 70% of the population lacks any connection to traditional financial services. It is due to these circumstances that Salvadorians have found themselves so reliant on remittances. In the past year alone, remittances contributed a fifth of El Salvador’s total GDP. With the domestic economy so dependent on remittances, it is clear why Bukele would craft a bill intended to ease the process for sending money back home from abroad.

Through cryptocurrency, Salvadorians will be able to send money to impoverished loved ones at a much affordable and quicker rate. No longer will those working in the global north have to rely on remittance firms. Rather, converting local currencies to and from bitcoin requires only an informal broker.

President Bukele will use significant domestic resources to help train the Salvadorian population to carry out bitcoin transactions. El Salvador’s commitment to cryptocurrency will not only forecast the future relevancy of cryptocurrency but act as a case study for other emerging economies that may be interested in eventually adopting bitcoin as legal tender. “The market will now be focused on adoption through El Salvador and whether other nations follow,” said Richard Galvin of crypto fund Digital Asset Capital Management. “This could be a key catalyst for bitcoin over the next two to three years.”

Moving Forward

In the past, people have criticized bitcoin mining for its harmful environmental footprint. However, El Salvador has made a concerted effort to ensure its bitcoin operation uses complete renewable energy. President Bukele has repeatedly stated that El Salvador’s state-run geothermal energy mechanisms will convert power derived from volcanoes for bitcoin mining. Scorching steam generates the power that can spin turbines and generate electricity. Going forward, bitcoin holds enormous potential in driving renewable energy projects across the world, especially in emerging economies.

– Conor Green

Photo: Flickr

non-communicable diseases in El SalvadorEl Salvador has experienced rampant public health problems for generations and has recently made commendable successes in addressing these problems. However, non-communicable diseases in El Salvador continue to be stubborn roadblocks that cost many citizens their health and their lives.

Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) in El Salvador

Non-communicable diseases are those that cannot be directly spread from one person to another such as Alzheimer’s, cancer and diabetes. Like the rest of the world, NCDs are a leading cause of early death among the adult population in El Salvador. Estimates show about 71% of all global deaths result from NCDs, the majority of which come from low-and middle-income countries. During the 2011–2015 period, in El Salvador, one of the most impoverished and most dangerous countries in Latin America, cardiovascular disease accounted for some 12% of deaths. Chronic kidney disease followed at 6.3% and cancer at 5.4%.

Many of the factors leading to high death rates from non-communicable diseases in El Salvador are lifestyle-related. Sedentary lifestyles, smoking and poor nutritional choices all contribute to NCDs such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Poor nutrition is common in many low-and middle-income countries. A health survey among El Salvadorians found almost 94% of citizens consumed too few fruits and vegetables and almost as many consumed an excess of sugary beverages. With this information, it is no surprise the survey also found relatively high rates of overweight and obese adults. Obesity is synonymous with NCDs. Furthermore, chronic kidney disease is particularly prevalent among El Salvadorian adults. This results from excessive use of anti-inflammatory medication, inadequate hydration and exposure to agrochemicals in the workplace.

Previous Healthcare Efforts

Public health problems are nothing new to El Salvador. The Ministry of Health has been ramping up efforts to address these problems since 2009. Some of the main concerns in the past have been the fragmentation of the health sector and high rates of uninsured citizens. In 2009, the Ministry of Health implemented a National Health Strategy to correct these issues. Throughout this program, increasing equity of access to health services, improving the quality of these services and strengthening the monitoring and oversight capacity of the Ministry of Health have been top priorities. In order to accomplish these goals, El Salvador increased its public health expenditure by 33.7% from 2009 to 2019. The country also increased the amount of these expenditures allocated to the public health sector by 8%.

Many of these efforts have paid off, albeit modestly. Because of the National Health Strategy, more public health services have reached impoverished and remote citizens in El Salvador. Expanding access to healthcare has had a positive effect on the country’s economic outlook. The income-poverty rate decreased from 46.4% in 2008 to less than 34.8% in 2013 and extreme poverty dropped from 15.4% to 9.1% in the same period. Furthermore, El Salvador’s Gini coefficient (measure of income inequality) decreased from 0.47 in 2009 to 0.41 in 2013, in large part due to public service equity efforts such as those executed by the Ministry of Health.

Non-Communicable Disease Efforts

Even with all this progress, the problem of non-communicable diseases in El Salvador remains. Non-communicable diseases account for more than 65% of all deaths in the country. Therefore, the Ministry of Health teamed up with the World Bank and Access Accelerated in 2018. The two wanted to specifically fight NCDs through the project El Salvador Addressing Non-Communicable Diseases. This project focuses specifically on improving the prevention, detection and treatment of cervical cancer as well as the prevention of common NCD risk factors. In fighting cervical cancer, El Salvador received more than 86,000 HPV screening tests and almost 30,000 doses of HPV vaccines. Both prevent cervical cancer by taking early action.

Besides cervical cancer, the program works to fight other non-communicable diseases in El Salvador. It accomplishes this by training healthcare workers, providing workshops on nutrition and expanding access to mental health resources. The arrival of COVID-19 has disrupted some of these programs. However, it also forced organizers to rethink how to properly deliver care in continuation of their public health efforts. New methods have included providing health education through social networks, improving the delivery of medication, increasing the use of telehealth and making home dialysis available for chronic kidney disease patients. These approaches to healthcare spurred by COVID-19 will likely live on in the post-pandemic world. Many changes like switching to telehealth are increasingly popular, both in El Salvador and around the world.

The Road Ahead

As in most other nations, non-communicable diseases in El Salvador weigh heavily on the population. However, El Salvador has proven during the past decade that improving access to healthcare for impoverished citizens, treating NCDs proactively through preventative measures and championing new flexible ways of delivering healthcare are positive steps any country can take to make an impact on national public health. Though researchers will not know the full effects of recent programs for some time, early results are promising. Physicians are administering more HPV tests and vaccines, more public health services are reaching low-income citizens and pandemic-era practicalities are proving so popular that they will likely be hallmarks of global healthcare in the years to come.

Calvin Melloh
Photo: Flickr

The Northern Triangle
Latin America is in a vicious circle of crime, poverty and corruption. High crime rates thwart economic opportunities and crime rates push people into poverty, all cumulating into corrupt leaders who use the pain for their power and self-interest. Nevertheless, nowhere is crime more prevalent than in the Northern Triangle.

The Northern Triangle is region in Central America that includes Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. It has experienced the worst problems such as poor economic growth, rampant gang violence and political corruption. This three-prong nightmare has fueled an estimated 265,000 people toward the Southern U.S. Border and will continue to grow into the foreseeable future. While some do attempt to find safety in Europe and elsewhere in South America, others take the risk and traverse their way to the U.S-Mexico border, where they risk entering the country illegally. Others surrender to U.S. border patrol and seek asylum. However, it is unlikely that they will receive asylum. On average, only 13% of individuals receive asylum and experience integration into the United States.

Gang Corruption

In 2017, a survey asked the people in El Salvador, “who runs the country?” About 42% of respondents said “Delincuencia/Maras.” For non-Spanish speakers, this translates to gangs, like MS-13.

These answers have visible ramifications that strike at the core of the government. Governments in the Northern Triangle are weak, and the people know this; the gangs know this. People understand the country’s power lies in gangs’ hands, not in the government’s.

For example, in 2012, the Salvadorian government agreed to sign a truce with the criminal organizations to address skyrocketing homicide rates. The profoundly unpopular legislation did lower the homicide rate but the people still had to continue to pay gangs. Tactics like homicide and racketeering are not the only ways these organizations flex their might.

Throughout the Northern Triangle, gangs rely on drug and human trafficking, money laundering, kidnapping and theft to export their criminal enterprise well beyond the Northern Triangle. Issues in the Northern Triangle are not just an inter-state problem but also a problem for the entire Western Hemisphere.

Governance Problem

Northern Triangle nations have made some progress when it comes to corruption. But the total damage that such corruption caused is still in the billions: $13 billion to be precise.

In 2006, Guatemala successfully combated corruption when it appealed to the U.N., which established the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). This independent body investigates the infiltration of criminal groups within state institutions. Such an organization resulted in the conviction of hundreds of officials and reduced the homicide rate.

In El Salvador, in 2019, the country created its own independent body called Commission against Corruption and Impunity in El Salvador (CITIES), which could yield the same results as CICIG. Over in Honduras, the hopes of establishing such independent oversight do not seem to be gaining the same traction. After the resignation of President Lobo Sosa in 2013, an investigation into the Honduran Institute of Social Security revealed a scandal that cost the people over $200 million. It also implicated President Orlando Hernández, who admitted to unknowingly using some of the money to fund his presidential campaign.

Unlike Guatemala and El Salvador, the Honduras legislature rejected a proposal to create its own CICI. Instead, it created Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH). Although intended to fight corruption, it does not have the same autonomy as CICIG and CITIES. MACCIH is not autonomous and cannot investigate Honduran Public Ministry. Instead, it relies heavily on its relationship with the Attorney General and Congress, which could shield the people committing corruption. This inability to pass support for CICIH instead of settling for MACCIH might be signaling that the $200 million white-collar crime is the beginning of a giant iceberg.

A Path Forward

In Washington DC, support exists for CICIH and CITIES. Congresswoman Norma Torres and others released a statement in 2019 supporting these institutions. Reinstating the CICIG and implementing the same structure in CICIH and CITIES would stop corruption. This would allow the state to use its monopoly on violence to fight crime and allow positive economic growth. In April 2021, the State Department announced $740,740 in available funding for “competition for organizations interested in submitting applications for projects that empower civil society to combat corruption and protect human rights.”

– Diego Romero
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in El Salvador
Over the last decade, Central America has been notorious for drug cartels and a hotspot for human trafficking. The country also has an enriching culture with people who deserve a fighting chance at eradicating human trafficking in El Salvador.

According to the 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report, El Salvador has a Tier 2 status, meaning the government is striving to eradicate human trafficking but does not fully meet the minimum standards for complete elimination. El Salvador recorded 124 victims in comparison to 74 victims in 2019. The main demographic of human trafficking victims in El Salvador are minors and women, or more specifically, minors and women who are immigrants and have no legal documents.

Improving Investigations into Human Trafficking in El Salvador

In November 2019, the “Reginal Seminar on Investigation Techniques and Protection of Victims of Trafficking in Persons” met with experts from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and the countries that make up the Northern Central America Triangle. The main goal was to improve practices regarding investigations into human trafficking, especially in relation to its transnational nature.

“In El Salvador, more than 1,000 members of the police have been trained through 45 workshops and seminars — lasting from two to five days — hosted by international organizations like Save the Children, World Police Agency Interpol, UNICEF, the International Organization for Migration, and others,” said Jaime Armando Lopez and Xiomara Orellana, journalists covering the human trafficking rates in El Salvador, published in an Insight Crime article.

Training includes a manual that organizations such as Save the Children, World Police Agency Interpol, UNICEF, the International Organization for Migration and others provide to inform officers of what a typical victim may look like and how to assess the situation so as to prevent others from becoming trafficking victims. The officers also receive training on how to report trafficking so as to eradicate it.

According to the Trafficking in Persons Report for 2020, the anti-trafficking council implemented 19 offices in 15 municipalities to inform about human trafficking and aid victims. Additionally, El Salvador’s 2018 Inter-Institutional Action Protocol for the Immediate Comprehensive Care of Trafficking Victims provided an outline regarding what government agencies’ responsibilities in responding to trafficking victims should be.

Continuing Efforts

Aid continues to flow towards eradicating human trafficking in El Salvador. Officials received training in order to educate and equip each officer with the right tools to handle any situation that may involve a trafficking victim. They are aiming to provide legal frameworks around protecting minors who are child laborers or trafficking victims.

El Salvador, and many Central American countries, are continuing their fight against human trafficking. Eradicating human trafficking seems like a long-haul but setting preventative measures as well as post-care can encourage others to educate and help those who may be victims of trafficking.

“According to El Salvador’s national child protection council, the country’s capital only has one shelter exclusively for underage trafficking victims. Across the country, there are 15 offices that deal with human trafficking cases in different provinces. There are few places where survivors of human trafficking can receive specialized attention in the Northern Triangle,” said Jaime Armando Lopez and Xiomara Orellana of Insight Crime.

Steps to eradicate human trafficking in El Salvador should be more aggressive as victims have become widespread between those who are minors, undocumented women and victims of domestic abuse. El Salvador has limited shelters, but it is essential that more are within reach for victims.

– Vanessa Morales
Photo: Flickr

International Aid to El SalvadorEl Salvador faces threats from multiple angles as heavy tropical flooding has been compounded by the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. While El Salvador has managed to curtail infection rates by imposing strict restrictions, in October 2020, more than 32,000 people had COVID-19, with around 1,000 deaths. Due to the stringent measures to protect against the pandemic, economic growth has been stifled and poverty reduction efforts have waned. Organizations are stepping in to provide international aid to El Salvador.

Dual Disasters in El Salvador

In May and June of 2020, the tropical storms Amanda and Cristobal wreaked havoc on the people of El Salvador. Nearly 150,000 people were affected by heavy rain, flooding and severe winds. Developing countries such as El Salvador have poor building infrastructure and during natural disasters homes are more likely to be destroyed by storms. The World Food Programme (WFP) has estimated that about 380,000 people in El Salvador do not have sufficient access to nutritious food due to the dual disasters that have weakened infrastructure and the economy. An estimated 22,000 farmers have suffered from the destruction of flooding, with over 12,000 hectares of agricultural crops being destroyed.

COVID-19 Pandemic Increases Poverty

El Salvador has been moderately successful with poverty reduction, marked by a consistent decline in poverty over the past 13 years, as poverty rates plummeted from 39% to 29% between 2007 and 2017. Extreme poverty was cut from 15% to 8.5% over this time period as well. Additionally, El Salvador has increased its level of equality and is now the second most equal country in Latin America.

Despite this positive trend in poverty reduction, El Salvador has suffered from forced economic restrictions due to the pandemic. Its GDP is projected to decrease by 8% this year due to economic restrictions, a weakened international market and diminished funds sent from El Salvadorians abroad in the United States. Additionally, low income and marginalized individuals are becoming more vulnerable to health issues and wage deficiencies and are falling victim to predatory loans. El Salvador’s economic shutdown and destruction from tropical storms have prompted calls for international aid to alleviate the crisis.

Swift Action to Mitigate COVID-19

El Salvador has seen relatively low COVID-19 cases as a result of its swift response to the pandemic. It adopted strict containment measures faster than any other Central American country and invested heavily in its health system. The government has provided cash distributions to the majority of households, food for low income households and payment deferrals for rent and mortgages in order to curb the effects of the pandemic on citizens.

International Aid to El Salvador

Requests for international aid to El Salvador have been granted in the form of assistance from USAID and the WFP. These organizations are providing disaster relief and bringing in resources to those affected by the storms and the COVID-19 pandemic. USAID has donated $3 million to be dispensed by cash in stipends for vulnerable citizens to buy food. This stipend will boost local economies and reinforce food security for impoverished citizens affected by the dual disasters.

– Adrian Rufo
Photo: Flickr

Expanding El Salvador's MarketsFor several years, El Salvador’s farmers have struggled to meet the increased demand of local supermarkets and restaurant chains. Food safety standards have been particularly difficult to meet, especially with a lack of local processing plants. However, these issues are being addressed by Accesso El Salvador’s partnerships with Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation, Super Selectos and Spring Genetics. Together, Accesso and these partner organizations are expanding El Salvador’s markets to improve the quality, quantity and profit of local Salvadoran products.

Acceso El Salvador

Accesso originated in 2007 as the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership (CGEP), which specialized in building social businesses and other development programs in Latin America and the Caribbean. In 2020, CGEP became Accesso, an independent entity that focuses more specifically on establishing local agribusinesses to build markets and ease poverty conditions. Acceso has established businesses in El Salvador, Columbia, Alimentos and Haiti.

Accesso El Salvador specializes in introducing smallholders to market networks and increasing their profit margins. Three ways it does this is by providing suppliers with sourcing and traceability services, supplying better-quality fertilizers and seed and by offering programs that teach agricultural skills. By improving smallholders’ output and sourcing their products to local businesses, Accesso El Salvador strengthens local markets. Since its establishment in 2014, this agribusiness has assisted more than 1,000 farmers and fishers.

Super Selectos

Super Selectos is an example of a supermarket chain working in alliance with Acceso to expand El Salvador’s markets. The Cultivating Opportunities program, which began in 2012, is a prime example of the economic boost that such a partnership creates. In 2019 alone, Super Selectos purchased $11 million worth of products from more than 2,500 local smallholders. This marks a 50% increase in the supermarket chain’s local sourcing. Another aspect of the program is technical training. This, combined with the increased demand, allows farmers to dramatically diversify their crops and implement profitable planting rotations.

Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation

In 2019, Accesso El Salvador partnered with Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation to expand Accesso’s agricultural programs and processing services, with the goal of adding 150 new farmers to Accesso’s network. A notable breakthrough was their joint project to establish the first vegetable processing facility in El Salvador for smallholders to meet the quality standards of major local supermarkets and restaurants. This not only secured a reliable market for farmers as well as suppliers for food chains but also increased the variety of crops that farmers can produce and the profit that follows such diversity. The new jobs that the plant created especially benefited women, allowing many to involve themselves in the agricultural community for the first time. Despite COVID-19’s impact in 2020, the partnership between Feed the Future and Acceso remained prolific, selling more than a million pounds of produce even in a time of restricted supply lines.

Spring Genetics

Growing demand for high-quality tilapia spurred a 2019 partnership between Acceso and Spring Genetics, a world-recognized tilapia breeder that specializes in introducing beneficial methods and technologies to small-scale fisheries. Previously, El Salvador’s smallholder fisheries lost more than 75% of their final product value due to inefficient operations. Spring Genetics’ advanced technology and the introduction of its genetically-superior tilapia strain, promises a dramatic increase in these smallholders’ fortunes. Accesso holds up its end of the bargain by providing sole distribution services and making plans for a new fish processing plant. As tilapia makes up the majority of El Salvador’s aquaculture products, this partnership should prove lucrative for all involved.

Partnerships Benefit All

Each of these partnerships demonstrates the immense impact that can be made through economic collaboration. Simply providing local smallholders with reliable market networks not only meets the demands of local businesses but also dramatically improves the opportunities for Salvadorans to pull themselves out of poverty. And the benefits are not one-sided. Supermarket chains like Super Selectos also profit from local sourcing. Even internationally-acclaimed companies like Spring Genetics, with its ties to the United States and Latin America, can benefit from expanding El Salvador’s markets.

– Andria Pressel
Photo: Flickr