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

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

Improving Life in El Salvador
Why would a parent ever voluntarily give up their child? In El Salvador, perilous circumstances pressure some parents to do just that for the sake of the child. Other children find themselves in orphanages because of an abusive or impoverished family. Amid economic malaise and violence, NGO Sus Hijos is improving life in El Salvador by helping Salvadoran youth find hope.

Poverty in El Salvador

In the United States, the poverty line is around $26,000 for a family of four. The same family of four in El Salvador would be making around $8,000 according to the World Bank. That is $5.50 per person daily. In 2017, the poverty rate among Salvadorans was 29%, with 8.5% of Salvadorans surviving in extreme poverty. If one compares this to 2007, these statistics are a win: that year, 39% lived in poverty and 15% in extreme poverty.

Still, the current situation presents a challenge to El Salvador’s government, other countries and private organizations as they try to reduce the poverty rate. El Salvador’s economy has grown slowly since 2000, at an average of 2.3% GDP annually, but the World Bank predicts COVID-19 will contribute to a -4.3% growth rate in 2020. Even if 2021 brings an economic rebound, growth will have stagnated and recovery will be arduous absent additional action. Gangs and corruption both present endemic barriers to anti-poverty reform. In fact, gangs have exploited the COVID-19 pandemic, as police have split their focus between law enforcement and containing the virus.

National efforts to fight corruption and violence can do good if implemented correctly but small-scale efforts should accompany them. These on-the-ground efforts can attain acceptance from the community, and help construct a bottom-up fight against poverty. One such charitable organization improving life in El Salvador is Sus Hijos.

Sus Hijos

Sus Hijos (His Children) is a faith-based NGO that has been serving in El Salvador since 2008. Its mission has expanded as its support has grown, and it now pursues a variety of poverty-reducing initiatives, such as a community feeding program, a home construction campaign and culinary and cosmetics training programs. It also uses its transition program to help Salvadoran youth stay out of gang violence and off the streets.

The Borgen Project interviewed Dave Sheppard about his work with Sus Hijos, where he served as the transition program director for more than three years, between 2013 and 2016. As the director, he helped 38 young adults through the program, 20 of whom successfully completed the two-year transition. He also observed the sights and way of life around him, in a country that hopelessness often plagues.

Transitioning from Tragedy

The situation Salvadoran youth face is especially saddening. In 2010, parents abandoned 66% of children, often because their parents were simply too poor to care for them. Abandonment is still high today, and for many, the orphanage is safer than home.

Gang violence contributes to this problem. Gangs in El Salvador may outnumber the security forces, and operate by dealing drugs, extorting business owners and human trafficking. As they often control entire neighborhoods, dividing San Salvador into regions of influence, gangsters frequently impress children as young as 10 into their network. Those who do not join experience threats, harassment and assault. Sheppard told The Borgen Project that many families willingly turn their children over to the government so that they can escape gang influence and danger.

Once children turn 18, however, they are no longer eligible to live in government care. As a result, they go back to their families as government employees cannot legally leave them on the street. With unstable family situations, many of these young adults end up on the street or in gangs.

This is where Sus Hijos and other charities step in. It picks up the children on their 18th birthdays and offers them a room, food and support for up to two years. Sheppard told The Borgen Project that Sus Hijos’ transition program targets “the worst of the worst cases” to help—often those who experienced sexual abuse as children or had to work for long hours in sugarcane fields.

Transitioning to Hope

Sus Hijos’ transition program aims to provide young adults with support while fostering work ethic and faith-based values. To enter the program, the children must agree to avoid drugs and alcohol and follow other rules that help promote their personal growth. They also had to pay $1 a day in rent—money that they would receive as a gift from Sus Hijos once they left or completed the program, Sheppard said.

While in the program, the young adults also continued their education, completed chores and worked a job to make money. A ninth-grade education is a requirement to work at certain food establishments, like McDonald’s or Super Selectos. Most children complete only a sixth-grade education in El Salvador, so moving through additional grades can translate into greater pay. Sus Hijos’ training programs in its restaurant and salon also offers the young adults real-world job skills.

 In his role as director, Sheppard purchased a bus to ferry the youth between the residence and their jobs. He said that the gangs occasionally harassed him on his routes, but such harassment became “very, very rare” once they discovered who he was. “Once they knew who I was, they would leave me alone,” he stated.

Transitioning to Success

Sheppard told The Borgen Project about two individuals whose success was above average. The first was a young woman in government care through most of her teens due to domestic abuse. She completed Sus Hijos’ two-year program and graduated high school, which ends after 11th grade in El Salvador. Unlike many Salvadorans, she managed to get into a college and complete her associate’s degree. The college was the product of a U.S. doctor who had repaired a derelict hospital. The college paid full tuition while Sus Hijos and others helped out with living costs. Sheppard keeps in touch with the young lady, who now works at a call center where she makes about $600 per month.

The other success story Sheppard mentioned was of a young man whose parents had been killed when he was only four months old. He lived in a government facility until 18, at which point he entered the Sus Hijos program. He completed his seventh, eighth and ninth-grade education while at Sus Hijos, and then left the program to work at a local grocer, where he still has employment.

Even though Sheppard’s volunteer work ended in 2016, he keeps in touch with several of the youth from the program and its administrators. Today, the transition house is assisting nine kids through the program and Sus Hijos is continuing its other works. Its contributions are part of a small-scale, non-governmental initiative with a focus on improving life in El Salvador. If Sus Hijos’ efforts are a barometer of success, the country is bound to continue improving.

Jonathan Helton
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in El Salvador
Establishing effective women’s rights in El Salvador, including freedom from domestic, sexual and organized violence, is challenging but not impossible. Grassroots organizations and marches are leading the charge for the law and society to be more aggressive towards male perpetrators against women.

There are similar yet unique narratives that women who endure extreme violence, die from extreme violence or seek asylum in other countries tell to escape such violence. Much of the violence that women in El Salvador endure boils down to a critical lack of reproductive choices, resources, education and discriminatory gender hierarchies in the home and the workplace. Machismo, or macho-man characteristics, beliefs are present in all of these narratives.

For women’s rights in El Salvador to flourish, the country must assess and address the ways machismo, as a form of systemic patriarchy, is persistent in the daily functions of El Salvadorian women’s lives and identify potential solutions to this system issue.

Laws Protecting Women’s Rights in El Salvador

There are a collection of laws, international and domestic, upholding women’s equal status with men, barring discrimination or violence against woman. El Salvador is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), as well as the Inter-American Convention to Prevent, Sanction and Eradicate Violence against Women (Convention of Belém do Pará).

Despite these existing conventions, reports reveal that seven of the top 10 countries with the highest femicide rates are in Latin America, including El Salvador. This highlights the primarily symbolic nature of these conventions, many of them suffering from a general lack of enforcement.

In 1996, 2010 and 2011, the Salvadoran government implemented three laws to further the protection of women’s rights and deter violence against women.

The first was the Family Domestic Violence Act (1996) addressing intra-familial violence and femicide. A 2010 law, the Special Integral Law for a Life Free of Violence against Women, aimed to punish all forms of violence against women, ranging from workplace harassment to murder. Lastly, the Creation of Specialized Courts for a Life Free of Violence and Discrimination against Women (also known as Decree 286 or the “Femicide Law”), of 2011, emerged for specialized courts to deal with cases of all violence against women, requiring all legal staff to obtain necessary knowledge on a woman’s right to a life free of violence and discrimination.

Unfortunately, the laws have not proven effective as the endurance of beatings, rapes and femicides have multiplied since the introduction of the first policy in 1996. For example, in 2012, a year after El Salvador instated the Salvadoran femicide law, the United Nations Commissioner on Human Rights (UNHCR) estimated that El Salvador’s impunity rate was as high as 77%.

Grassroots Efforts to Protect Women’s Rights in El Salvador

La Colectiva, a nonprofit based in El Salvador, aims to provide services and resources to women facing and addressing gender-based violence. The organization’s founder, Morena Herrera, strives to abolish the country’s abortion penal code. The organization not only addresses domestic conflicts but also focuses on reproductive rights and education so that women feel empowered to retain all rights to their bodies and seek help when necessary.

Abortion and reproductive rights are critical issues in El Salvador. The country has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in all of Latin America, with one-quarter of young women ages 15 to 19-years-old having been pregnant. In fact, 41% of pregnancies among 10 to 19-year-old girls stems from sexual abuse, with 12% of those being the result of incest. The degradation of women’s rights in the eyes of the law is most apparent when women seek an abortion, as the law considers it a homicidal offense with a 30-year-minimum sentence.

The feminists of El Salvador are also targeting the judicial system, a conservative stronghold, for its negligence of violence against women cases, including the sexual assault of teenage girls. Many women deem authority efforts futile since perpetrators function about society with impunity. To offset this disparity, El Salvador is making strides to equip more women judges with proper training on gender issues, making them more likely to support victims and women’s rights in El Salvador.

In April 2017, feminist organizations throughout the country organized and demonstrated to denounce widespread sexual violence, the mysterious disappearances of women and mass femicide, in an effort to disrupt the machismo culture that affects women from all backgrounds, ages and economic statuses. These marches occur every year on March 8, International Women’s Day, as women’s rights activists demand more radical and swift change for equality.

– Vicki Colbert
Photo: Flickr