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El Salvador Today: The Hope and the Challenge
by Michael Ring

El Salavador Market
Market in Tecla
© Mike Oso

Since the January 1992 signing of the historic United Nations-sponsored Peace Accords that ended 12 years of civil war, El Salvador has experienced a series of dramatic changes, some contributing to peace and development, others threatening the lives of El Salvador's majority.

On the plus side, El Salvador's is the most successful United Nations-brokered peace agreement in the world today. Despite government and military foot-dragging, the great majority of Accords have been followed.

School girls
Schoolgirls in Zacotecoluca
© Mike Oso
  • The Salvadoran armed forces, de facto rulers of the country since 1932, have been removed from the political process.

  • A new civilian police force has been created.

  • Land was successfully transferred to former combatants and refugees.
  • El Salvador is one of the few countries in the world where armed revolutionaries, the FMLN, have been successfully integrated into civilian life.

  • Significant progress has been made toward creating an independent judiciary. The Salvadoran attorney general is now investigating the killing of the Jesuits, and may file charges against former President Alfredo Cristiani, General Ponce and General Bustillo for their murders.
However, unjust economic, social and political relationships within El Salvador and between El Salvador and the world's economic powers contribute to hunger, violence, poverty and environmental destruction. A large percentage of Salvadorans still struggle to meet their basic needs, while the country's historically skewed wealth distribution has worsened.
  • In the city, jobs are few and workers' rights to decent pay and conditions are largely unprotected.

  • Undocumented immigration to North America has become an increasingly harsh option, with many losing their lives on the trip northward.

  • Global trade rules are bankrupting small farmers and cooperatives leaving people without work or food.

  • International financial lenders, in cooperation with the Salvadoran government, are organizing efforts to privatize basic services, such as health care. Diarrhea, respiratory infections, and parasites are the top three leading causes of illness-related deaths.

  • Barely three percent of original forests remain standing, making the population vulnerable to environmental disasters such as the uncontrolled flooding following Hurricane Mitch in late 1998.

  • Because of an alarming rise in crime in 2000, El Salvador had more violent deaths per year than during most years of the civil war.

  • The country's economy lost much of its productive base, with the largest source of income being funds sent back by Salvadorans who live in the exterior.

  • The United States has re-established a military base in El Salvador, claiming to combat narcotics and widening possible U.S. military intervention in Columbia.

Michael Ring is the national director of U.S.-El Salvador Sister Cities. Since 1982 U.S.-El Salvador Sister Cities has partnered cities and towns in the United States with rural communities in El Salvador to provide direct aid and advocacy. U.S.-El Salvador Sister Cities supports the rebuilding of small communities destroyed during El Salvador's civil war, including ensuring the implementation of the Peace Accords, setting up health care and educational systems, disaster relief, and bringing schools, roads, electricity, water and transportation to communities that the Salvadoran government has refused to help.

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