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Caribbean & Central America - September 2013 (ISSN 1741-4458)

EL SALVADOR: FMLN electoral plan bankrolled by Petrocaribe

El Salvador will join Venezuela’s oil diplomacy initiative Petrocaribe should Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the left-wing Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN) win the presidential elections on 2 February next year. Speaking during the presentation of the FMLN’s plan of governance at a party convention this month, Sánchez Cerén said the scheme would enable his future government to channel far more investment into education, job creation and public security, the three key axes upon which his plan rests.

Joining Petrocaribe is not a radical step. It offers oil at preferential rates and many members do not share the left-wing ideology of its progenitor, for instance Guatemala and Honduras. This will not stop the right-wing Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (Arena) from using this as a stick with which to beat Sánchez Cerén and the FMLN, however, in the upcoming election campaign, which will officially be launched by the supreme electoral tribunal (TSE) on 23 September. Arena will maintain that the FMLN’s plan to join Petrocaribe is simply the first step towards bringing El Salvador into the Venezuelan-led Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (Alba), a leftist integration bloc which definitely does have a distinct ideological agenda.

Sánchez Cerén pointedly made no mention of Alba. Instead, he stressed that, under Petrocaribe, only 60% of the annual fuel bill would have to be paid immediately, freeing up some US$640m (nearly 3% of GDP) to invest in key areas each year. He said this would enable 50% greater investment in education and the doubling of investment in public security.

Sánchez Cerén argued that education was the key to future growth in El Salvador, and the cornerstone of the development objectives in his plan of governance, as well as indirectly improving public security as it would provide more opportunities for youths who might otherwise gravitate towards mara gangs (see sidebar).

Sánchez Cerén promised more jobs but he did not state a fixed target, such as the 200,000 jobs promised by incumbent President Mauricio Funes at the start of his administration in 2009. Sánchez Cerén also made vague promises to develop industry; provide an increased focus on innovation and technology; and provide additional credit for the productive sector. He hailed the construction of El Salvador’s first bio-fertiliser plant, which he said would reduce costs for farmers. On 29 August Sánchez Cerén inaugurated the bio-fertiliser plant in La Palma in the northern department of Chalatenango, in the Trifinio biosphere reserve, which is located on the border with Guatemala and Honduras. It was constructed with the support of Cuba with the aim of improving harvest yields and cutting down on the use of chemical pesticides.

Tourism is also emerging as “a sector with great potential”, according to Sánchez Cerén. The tourism minister, José Napoleón Duarte, celebrated the growth in the tourism sector earlier this month. Tourism generated US$480m in the first seven months of the year, up 3% on the same period in 2012. Duarte said the tourism sector had grown by 14.4% since Funes came to power in 2009. Tourism generated US$771m in the whole of 2012.

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) approved a US$25m loan to finance the development of tourism infrastructure and attractions in the La Libertad and Usulután Pacific coastal regions. La Libertad has a worldwide reputation among the surfing cognoscenti, but much more could be done to market it; Usulután has the largest mangroves in Central America.

The IDB loan will also support micro, small and medium sized enterprises in the tourism sector in enhancing their services for tourists, as well as improving environmental management. Sánchez Cerén stressed that tourism was not just an important source of foreign exchange revenues but was also a priority sector in which to improve job prospects, especially for the young.

Sánchez Cerén also spoke of the need to eliminate state bureaucracy (he did not explain why, having been in power for the last four years, this remained such a serious problem) and the need to guarantee “physical security for families and juridical security for investors”. The latter assurance seems far removed from the FMLN’s traditional Marxist rhetoric and sounds like the influence of Sánchez Cerén’s running mate Oscar Ortiz, who was also present at the convention. A popular reformist, Óscar Ortiz was a conciliatory and business-friendly six-time mayor of Santa Tecla.

Gang truce

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