At the beginning of March, the Saca administration launched an ambitious plan named "Opportunities" to reduce the level of extreme poverty in the country by half. The intervention starts with 15 counties and 20,000 families, identified as people that do not have the capacity to purchase a basic basket of food. Next year, another 16 counties will be added to this project along with another 20,000 families, and eventually 68 counties.
The purpose of the plan is to concentrate the resources and services of different public institutions in the poorest areas of the country. The plan includes a direct economic subsidy to families who send their children to school and place them under medical programs in the local health centers. The plan provides support for small farmers with a micro-credit plan during three years, and establishes schools and health centers with basic services (the existing ones will be improved as well) infrastructure, electricity, potable water, and sanitation. There are also planned improvements in the housing stock and rural roads. The schools and health centers are to be equipped to take care of children and their mothers. The government intends to have a direct influence on the education and the health of the children and their mothers, at the same time that it will grant them credits to increase their income in order to purchase the basic food basket. The development of the plan will be closely followed by the government through census and records of the basic indicators.
Now Proceso , the publication of the university of Central America, has made available in English translation its initial comments on the plan. Unlike the FMLN, which has denounced the plan as ARENA propaganda and as an attempt to buy votes, Proceso suggests that the plan should be supported as a first step:
It was about time. It is time to implement systematic actions to reduce the levels of extreme poverty of the country. This plan does not include everything that has to be done; however, it is a good start and an effort that deserves to be supported if it is a serious project that intends to improve the situation of the poorest families of the country. The improvement of the basic services should also promptly reach the concentrations of inhabitants. The micro-credit initiative will not be enough if it does not go hand in hand with an adequate technical assistance plan. Therefore, many things have to be accomplished, but this is a good start. It is important to notice that this intervention of the government in the society is an action that admits the failure of the market as the principle that regulates the national life.
Proceso cautioned against the knee-jerk opposition of the FMLN:
The plan should not be rejected because of the suspicion that this kind of governmental interventions always create. There are enough reasons not to trust in this plan; however, it is not healthy to adopt an intransigent posture without testing the actual intentions of the government....This is a new experience and, therefore, prudence advises to accomplish the expected achievements in a gradual manner. Extremes and perfectionism are the enemies of what can be made possible. At least it deserves the benefit of the doubt. This does not mean that we have to overlook the existence of risks.
Plenty of doubts can be raised about the anti-poverty plan. Can the Saca government actually find the resources to fund such a plan? Does the government have the expertise to carry out the plan? Is this plan more for show than a good faith attempt to alleviate the suffering of the poor? Yet even with these doubts, it is a step in the right direction. Equally as important, the plan is an acknowledgment that El Salvador cannot simply hope for economic growth to lift the fortunes of the most destitute people in the country. Direct government action is needed.