July 21, 1998



Monsignor Romero in Westminster cathedral


TUXTLA III: trade relations between Mexico and Central America

Public Opinion

The electoral challenge of the left

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It was affirmed, almost from the beginning, that Msgr. Romero was the most universal of Salvadorans. Placing his statue in the western facade of Westminster Cathedral, in the heart of London, confirms this affirmation that, at first glance, might seem to be exaggerated. The construction of Westminster Cathedral was begun in 1245; it is one of the most renowned religious centers in the west. It is the first church of the Anglican faith, one of the most representative of the protestant persuasion. It is a cathedral with a long historical tradition, both religious and social, and is the center of reference for the Anglo Saxon world. In its crypts and vaults are buried the remains of the best representatives of the cultural and religious tradition of the English tongue. In it English kings and queens are crowned. The attendance of the queen and the royal family at the ascension of the statue only serves to highlight the religious and historic importance of the presence of Msgr. Romero in the facade of Westminster Cathedral.

The Anglican church pays homage in this way to ten Christian personalities of the twentieth century, all proceeding from a variety of faiths, states, continents and culture, male and female--among whom are to be found, in addition to Msgr. Romero, Martin Luther King (1969), an indefatigable defender of civil rights for Black people in the United States; Maximilian Kolbe (1941), a Franciscan who offered himself to be executed in a Nazi concentration camp in the place of a father with a family; Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1945), an important Lutheran pastor and theologian assassinated by the Nazis; Jasnani Luwun (1977), archbishop of an Anglican church in Uganda, assassinated during the Idi Amin regime; the Duchess Elizabeth (1918), assassinated by the Bolsheviks and saint of the Russian Orthodox Church; Esther John (1960), Presbyterian evangelist, presumably assassinated by a Muslim fanatic; Manche Masemola (1928), Anglican convert assassinated by his parents, who were animists, at 18 years of age, in South Africa; Lucian Tapiedi (1942), assassinated during the Japanese invasion of Papua New Guinea; Wang Zhiming (1972), Evangelical pastor, assassinated during the Cultural Revolution: the common denominator among these ten Christian is to have been assassinated for their commitment to the faith and to justice. All are martyrs and all struggled to the last consequences for a more human, Christian and solidary society. All came to this radical commitment on the basis of their Christian faith and thanks to that could offer that greatest demonstration of human love, that of giving their own lives for others.

It is not a question of celebrated any ceremony —although the Salvadorans who were able to be present gave testimony to the fact that it was an extremely beautiful and emotional ceremony; rather it was the official Christian recognition that the Anglican church, which is, of course, very close to the Catholic Church, has made to the heroism of these men and women of the twentieth century. In these personalities is recognized, as well, the Christian heroism of many thousands of Christians who gave their lives for the cause of faith and justice, in the century in which many witnesses to the faith have left an inheritance to the future of humanity.

These martyrs are an example of humanity, solidarity and Christianity for present and future generations. These men and women were scorned, insulted, called delinquent and criminal; now they have been placed in a niche in the facade of the most important Anglican cathedral as a light among nations. The mystery of the lamb of Yahweh is repeated before our eyes.

The high point of the ceremony was the memorial to Msgr. Romero, who was recognized in this way officially by the Anglican church as a martyr to faith and justice; he thus comes to be a part of this important Protestant tradition. The recognition given Msgr. Romero and the other nine martyrs of the twentieth century by the Anglican church is an act of universality in the Christina faith and, at the same time, a reminder that we ought to take seriously those peoples who are crucified for injustice and violence because they are the privileged ones of God and because a Christian ought to judge good and evil news of their example.

In these times of so much confusion with regard to human and Christian principles and values, these martyrs rise up before us as an example to be followed. They are not far removed either in time or in culture; they are, rather, in some way, all of those who participated in the changes of the twentieth century —in its successes, but also in the horrors which occurred in our century. This contradiction has not yet been overcome. The most outstanding advances in science and technology are accompanied by the most aberrant forms of inhuman treatment. The predominance of capitalism at the end of the century carries with it the impoverishment of the greater part of those who live on this planet. So it is today as it was yesterday: these Christians that the Anglican church recognizes today struggled indefatigably against the lack of belief and against injustice. In the present time a Christian commitment demands continuity in that struggle. A Christian cannot rest while sin continues to be mortal sin —that is to say, as long as it causes its victims to die.

As we see Msgr. Romero in the facade of Westminster Cathedral, we can only ask what place has been reserved for him in his own cathedral in San Salvador. In the periodic reports on the advances in the reconstruction of the cathedral, the state of the structure which sustains the cathedral, its ornamentation, exterior and interior decoration, as well as the participation of the Spanish architects and artists of the work, not a single word has been said in all of this as yet, about the place allotted to Msgr. Romero.

If Rome recognizes him as a martyr of the Catholic church, Msgr. Romero should occupy a privileged place in what was his cathedral and his mortal remains are now laid to rest. And, if this is not done, he would also occupy a significant position where the Salvadoran people together with all of the peoples of the world where he is also admired and venerated, can render homage with healthy pride, remembering him with affection and confidently presenting their petitions to him. When the cathedral is finally finished, Msgr. Romero cannot be made to remain in the cellar.






On a recent occasion, the new summit conference of the presidents of Central America and Mexico was celebrated in San Salvador. In this conference diverse accords were signed, although the most important ones, doubtless, have to do with the search for a more open trade relationship between Central America and Mexico.

An effort was made to negotiate a free trade agreement among Central American countries and Mexico which would go into effect at the end of 1998. These negotiations contemplated mechanisms for eliminated tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade. This proposal has provoked varied reactions among the representatives of the principal business guilds of the country such as the National Association of Private Business (ANEP, for its initials in Spanish), whose president has declared himself to be opposed to the signing of such an accord which would go into effect at the end of 1998.

In all reality, the topic of free trade with Mexico is not new, given that, since 1992, governments have been proposing it for their own convenience; nevertheless, no proposal has been concretized at this point. The most important antecedent in this meeting under discussion was the Declaration of Tuxtla Gutierrez, which arose from another presidential summit meeting held in January of 1991, where the presidents "emphasized the importance of opening up markets as a form of promoting competition, stimulating efficiency, modernization and competitive internal productive structures".

The recent presidential conclave called Tuxtla III places on the agenda once again the adoption of a free trade agreement, after which the topic will be abandoned for five more years. Given the foregoing, it is interesting to review the possible opportunities and threats to El Salvador that would result from a possible liberalization of trade between Central American countries, but especially with Mexico.

The clearest effect of the removal of obstacles to trade is the intensification of international trade. For this reason alone, for El Salvador, an elimination of trade barriers could represent an opportunity for a major penetration of its export products in the relatively large Mexican market, as well as into the traditional markets of the rest of the Central American countries. This implies, therefore, that it would have to count on a productive base necessary for generating an exportable offer which would have its corresponding demand in the receiving countries, and, moreover, that specifically favorable agreements be obtained related to the type of product and the tariff rates applicable to them. Unfortunately, none of these conditions exist.

Concomitantly the threat presents itself that free trade will be translated only into a strengthening of the economies with greater capacity to generate exports, such as occurred in the decade of the 1960's with the Central American Common Market when El Salvador and Guatemala took on the better part of the opening up of trade. The big winner of free trade in Central America and Mexico would be, doubtless, Mexico, because it has a much more diversified productive apparatus and much greater capacity than El Salvador, even greater than all of the Central American countries put together.

The business sector has always been cautious when confronted with possible processes of tariff reduction and and/or liberalization of trade. From the moment when the government posed its program of tariff reduction, representatives of the principal business guilds, such as the Salvadoran Association of Industrialists (ASI for its initials in Spanish) and ANEP, expressed their concern over the negative effects that the reduction of tariffs and the intensification of importations of substitute products would have on national production. For this very reason, they proposed a review of the calendar for tariff reduction in order to make it more gradual, which, up to this point, they have achieved, given that the calendar has been notably delayed.

Even so it is possible to perceive that the effects of tariff reduction as it has been implemented up to now have been accompanied by a serious worsening of the general balance of trade and the trade balance with respect to Mexico. The data presented in the graph below demonstrates that the deficit in the balance of trade with Mexico was increased by 160% in only three years, even when this country has not been given the commercial advantages such as would have come about had there been a free trade agreement.

It is important to highlight, as well, that El Salvador confronts deficits in its trade relations even with the countries of the Central American region such as Guatemala and Costa Rica, with which it previously maintained a relatively equilibrated trade exchange —even achieving surpluses. This situation is a clear reflection of the stagnation of the agricultural, livestock and industrial sectors. These more important exports have ceased to be traditional agricultural and livestock products which have been replaced by those of the maquilas [runaway shops].

This situation gives more force to the interpretation of the expert in competition, Mr. Michael Porter, for whom Salvadoran businessmen, in his analysis, are accustomed to state protectionism in order to develop their activities. In fact, in spite of the fact that since 1992 signing of a free trade agreement with Mexico was considered as imminent and fears already existed because of the possible effects this might have on national industry, decisive actions have not been developed to promote industrial conversion and to better the competition of national businesses. The business sector, in spite of professing an ideology with clear tendencies removing it from the spheres of the state, seem to be waiting for the government to resolve its problems and place its bets on the maintenance of trade restrictions.

What is certain is that six valuable years have been wasted in which Salvadoran business could have been prepared for an imminent reduction of international trade barriers, which again threaten to displace national production and provoke failures in national businesses.

In this context, what is most reasonable is to postpone the adoption of a free trade agreement with Mexico, at least until the existence of businesses and products with potentiality to change the prevailing tendency toward deficit can be assured in that country. On the contrary, the only result being provoked would be the promotion of an increase in the imports which would come to reduce the generation of production and local employment.













Costa Rica
























Source: Central Reserve Bank






In the last few weeks, national public opinion has been dedicated to following with particular interest the topic of possible presidential candidates for the 1999 elections, and it has done so especially in the case of the personalities who could make up the presidential formula of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN).

The debates over the possible pre-candidates of the FMLN to make up the formula which would take part in next year's elections have revealed the complexity of the correlation of forces inside that political party and have demonstrated the intentions of each of the factions of the FMLN to carry out its particular political projects. In the light of these disputes, one can understand the affiliation to the party of people who hope to make up the two-person team of candidates for the elections, as well as the positions of some of the possible candidates to resist and set in place the conditions for their candidate to be counted inside that left party. In this sense, the FMLN would face the dilemma of resolving the question of the pre-candidate formula which would assure the pre-eminence of a project which would tie the party together and avoid breakdowns--at least before the elections.

Nevertheless, up until this moment, on the basis of the debate among the FMLN pre-candidates —as it was at the moment of the coming to light of the pre-candidacy of Paco Flores in the ARENA party— has been the topic of diverse ideological tendencies and interests inside the parties; which has, by and large, placed at arm's length discussions centered on what might be better for the country and the people. The intentions expressed by the FMLN at the beginning of the present year, according to which, their efforts were being concentrated more on the elaboration of a governmental plan before beginning to seek the candidate, have remained as they were: i.e., only as intentions. In practice, that left party has been overcome by a dynamic in which disputes for power and hegemony within the party have come to weigh more than the initiative to construct a platform of government which could be convincingly offered to the country. Although it seems that the FMLN has come a long way in the direction of elaborating a minimal platform, it finally seems to be subject to the election of its potential presidential candidates to be able to orient its proposal for the executive governmental office. The FMLN is making an effort to find a candidate that would satisfy the bases but simultaneously constitute a political platform in and of him or herself.

All of this dynamic of competition both within the party and with the other parties of the Salvadoran left, under the plan of action for the 1999 presidential elections, brings under discussion the challenges of the political parties as they face these elections and as they seek to find the formula —not only in terms of candidates, but also in terms of conditions— in order to be able to compete effectively and win the electoral race in question. So it is that the Salvadoran political parties, independently of what their ideological bent might be, are not enjoying their best moment, as it were —at least if it is examined from the point of view of the population and from the point of view of the contributions and successes of these parties to the transition of the national political system.

Doubtless, the fundamental objective of the political parties is to win the election, but for this they must win the vote of the people for their party and that that vote might elect them in a strongly overwhelming manner. In a society eaten up by political indifference and in a system weakened by the problem of absenteeism, all of the foregoing constitute a radical challenge. In a country in which the two major parties cannot claim even 30 per cent of the citizens' votes, the fundamental challenge of winning the elections becomes a challenge to break the barrier of apathy and national disenchantment.

Public opinion polls have revealed that behind the behavior characterized by political abstention is found to be a deep rejection and a genuine exhaustion and lethargy about the way politics based on polarization and in the sterile confrontation of very private interests; moreover, they have revealed that a good part of the population no longer trusts the political parties because of their inability —revealed to us daily— in order to place in motion a project for the country which would resolve the problems and better the conditions of life of the great majorities.

Seen in this context, the best candidate of the political parties will probably not be a politician, at least not someone who moves within the confines of the most traditional party apparatus, but someone who would be capable of breaking down traditional party frameworks, a formula which would not remain pinned inside the dynamic of polarization and one which would demonstrate the capacity of providing credibility to a platform of broad participation which would go beyond ideological lineaments. Someone in ARENA seems to have understood this much earlier and with more astuteness than is to be found in the FMLN and they have translated it unexpectedly into the candidacy —which is, however, still weak— of Mr. Francisco Flores, which is moderate and conciliatory. This appears not to have been understood by the FMLN in the same way.

Independently of whether it has an objective basis or not, the FMLN continues to have an image before public opinion which is much less polemic and radical than its antithesis, ARENA. Given this, the possibilities for that party of succeeding in breaking its traditional limit of sympathies are even more complex and difficult than those of its opponent and the necessity of breaking out of its own internal grouping becomes indispensable for winning the elections. Some sectors inside the FMLN seem to have understood this and have given impetus, from the beginning, to a formula of political alliances and coalitions to strengthen their potential number of electors. Nevertheless, this effort seems to be being carried out more in a formal than in a real manner, as alliances are being posed as alliances within the sphere of political parties.

The goals of the FMLN to sign up all of its pre-candidates so as to have them inside its party apparatus in order to compete for the support of the party probably satisfies the most chauvinistic members of the left and legitimate, internally, a more or less democratic competitive process, but accentuates the inability of the current political system in order to be able to relate them to civil society an, with the possibilities of civil society, at the same time that the context of feeble representation of the political parties grows worse. In making inscription in the party a requirement, and, more than this, demanding that the candidate formula accept the requirement of representing a tendency in the party itself, the FMLN scatters its possibilities for growth before the winds among those who are not disposed to see themselves and define themselves as members of the FMLN —and please take note that these are the majority—,in addition to which it loses the opportunity of converting itself into a facilitator for a possible broad government platform, with participation from civil society without [the requirement of] political membership.

The FMLN, therefore, confronts the crucial dilemma of its own survival as one of the principal political forces of the country. On one hand, it can act in the traditional manner of Salvadoran political parties and define its formula from the inside, gambling on defending its position with its own forces, but ignoring the positions of the rest of society which have, historically, resisted political participation in order not to identify themselves with an ideology. On the other hand, it could become a vehicle for other, non-party, forces of civil society, running the risk, thereby, of disturbing its already fragile internal harmony and exposing itself to the possibility of yet another division.

In any case, the future of the left, marked by the results of the up-coming elections, will depend on the greater or lesser intelligence which the FMLN may demonstrate in defining its presidential formula; that is to say, in dealing with its own interests and those of the majority of the population.


This article is presented in collaboration with the Public Opinion Institute of the UCA (IUDOP, for its initials in Spanish).





SUMMIT CONFERENCE. The presidents of Mexico and Central America, accompanied by the Prime Minister of Belize and the Foreign Minister of Panama, met on July 16 and 17 in the context of the Tuxtla III Summit Conference. In the meeting, the leaders signed 69 agreements, previously elaborated by the foreign ministers and ministers of each country, which deal with such themes as combating narcotics trafficking, the rights of the Central American immigrants in Mexico, environmental protection and education, commercial and trade integration and mutual investment, among others. The presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, which make up the Northern Triangle of Central America, expressed, on repeated occasions, their particular interest in concretizing before the end of the year, a Free Trade Agreement with Mexico, such as has been implemented already by Nicaragua and Costa Rica on a bilateral basis. In this sense, the Minister for Foreign Relations of Honduras, Mr. Fernando Martinez, indicated that it was of primary importance to create the conditions for strengthening the trade bonds between the countries which participated in the conference. For this reason, Mr. Ernesto Zedillo, President of Mexico, expressed his wish that the region might enjoy economic advantages with an eye to promoting investment and reciprocal trade (LA PRENSA GRAFICA, July 17, p. 5-6; July 18, p. 4-6; EL DIARIO DE HOY, July 18, P. 3-4).

REACTIONS. Diverse reactions arose with respect to the "Tuxtla III" summit conference, held in our country, whose principal goal was to concretize economic and trade agreements among the Central American countries, Panama, Belize and Mexico. The presidential candidate of the ARENA party, Mr. Francisco Flores, expressed, on July 17, that the signing of the Free Trade Agreement with Mexico ought to be examined with much prudence, given that the industries of the region do not embody optimum conditions for competitively. For his part, the President of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce of Central America, Mr. Luis Cardenal, agreed with Mr. Flores' appreciation of the situation when he accepted, on July 16, the fact that "clear disadvantages exist with respect to the Aztec nation in areas such as asymmetry and tariff barriers", which would not permit the establishment of a bilateral relationship such as is being encouraged during the summit conference. In the same manner, the President of the National Association for Private Enterprise (ANEP, for its initials in Spanish), Mr. Ricardo Siman, at the same time expressed his rejection of the possibility of signing a definitive free trade agreement this year, expressed his opinion, on July 17, that it was more convenient that, for the study of the "agreement, that the necessary time be taken". Businessmen and industrialists see as principal obstacles for the negotiations a deficiency in infrastructure and legal context, the absence of a firm negotiating group and the bureaucracy which persists in the country (EL DIARIO DE HOY, July 17, p. 6 and July 18, p. 4).

SALE. Completed on July 17, the sale of the wireless telephone company INTEL, was evaluated by its representatives as a complete success to the tune of a sale price of 41 million dollars, four times higher than that established at the auction. The Spanish company Telefónica de España acquired 51% of the INTEL shares, bettering the offers presented by two other enterprises present at the auction. Mr. Juan Jose Daboub, president of the wireless telephone company, declared that the results of the sale are a reflection of the confidence that the country enjoys, and indicated that an approximate income of 100 million dollars after the investment by the Spanish company is expected. The general business director of that company, Mr. Juan Rovira de Osso, declared that very day that he would begin operations next year with an approximate amount of 40 million dollars, which will serve, in part, for the construction of the infrastructure which would permit it to operate with a "B" signal in our country. For his part, Mr. Luis Castro Lachner, representative of the Mesoamerica Fund, member of Telefónica de España, maintained that they will seek "to take maximum advantage of the possibilities and potentialities of the personal resources of the personnel" in our country where "the Salvadoran labor force is fundamental" (EL DIARIO DE HOY, July 18, p. 24-25; LA PRENSA GRAFICA, July 18, p. 28).