Friday, June 03, 2005

Shopping centers in El Salvador

Proceso, the publication of the University of Central America, has some interesting things to say about the proliferation of shopping centers in El Salvador. Here is an excerpt:

The main cities of El Salvador have been invaded by shopping malls. In San Salvador, they have multiplied themselves like fungus; they have become important areas not only for recreation and consumption, but for the massive dissemination of transnational symbolic-cultural ideas. With the shopping malls -- especially with the largest ones -- the urban appearance has been transformed (and it keeps transforming itself) taking quick and gigantic steps; the economic, social, and the cultural life revolves -- or so it seems -- around them. What seems to be overwhelming about them -- the enormous billboards, the bright lights, and the large display windows -- points at a kind of prosperity and to a kind of progress that just recently were considered unattainable and that now are apparently within most peopleÂ’s reach. What happens is that if the country is seen from what the shopping malls display, everything seems to be prosperity, comfort, luxury and consumption.

In El Salvador of the shopping malls, poverty, exclusion, and marginalization do not exist. Nevertheless, what they offer is a mirage -- of prosperity, progress, development and well-being -- that has nothing to do with reality. The situation is quite different; this is a reality of unemployment, immigration, lack of educational opportunities, and weak public health services. The actual face of El Salvador has nothing to do with the fictitious country that the shopping malls offer. Peculiarly, that fictitious country is devouring the few possibilities that the real country has in order to face its most critical challenges. Thus, the construction of enormous shopping malls -- for example, the ones built in the area of the Espino -- has caused a serious damage to the ecosystem of San Salvador. Water-bearing mantles, flora and fauna were sacrificed for the construction of enormous buildings that, although overwhelming, are economically detrimental. And they are that because they become part of an economic logic that is taking the country to bankruptcy....

They are a world apart: in the outside world, insecurity, heat, and contamination prevail in an environment of chaos and risk. Inside shopping malls, there is security, order, and tranquility. A kind of security that only the consumers can enjoy. It is not the type of security developed for the ordinary citizen. When the shopping centers offer a fictitious public life, what they actually do is to privatize even more the public spaces, that is, to destroy the sense of what is public. To do that is to act against citizenship, because citizenship -- with its rights and obligations -- can only be lived in the public spaces, where the encounter with the others is not regulated by the market, and it is not protected by private security guards.

4 comments:

Wally Cook said...

I read the article, and although well-written, a faulty logic seems to permeate it. I live in San Salvador, and work here as a missionary. I agree that the malls have probably reached the saturation point, but one thing that I see in these structures tht the writer didn't is the jobs they generate for the poor of this country. Hundreds, if not thousands,were employed to and are employed to build them. Hundreds more, maybe even thousands again, are employed to staff them. How else are these jobs going to be created? Growing coffee in the shade? Protecting the ecosystem?The wages by American standards are terrible, but to the people that receive them, they mean food, shelter and clothing. It also means they don't stand on the street corners selling whatever they can find or even their bodies. As for transnational symbols, they're inescapable, and if one wants to live in a world without them, you're wishing for a time that came and went. Economies function on consumerism, unless maybe they're artificially managed by the governments, which invariably ends in disaster. So if the choice is a state-run economy or a free market consumer economy, I'd bet on the latter providing it's citizens with job opportunities.The last sentence I failed to grasp the meaning of, but the reason there are private security guards at every business is because citizenship here hasn't quite advanced to the place where people won't steal anything that isn't guarded, as everyone who lives in San Salvador knows. The malls didn't create the need for security guards, rampant theft created it, whether you work or live in the public places or the shopping malls.

Tim said...

Your point about jobs is well taken. Tourism development produces the same kind of questions. Large, expensive resorts on beaches in third world countries cater to a lifestyle which the vast majority of the citizens can never aspire to. Yet the resorts produce significant employment and bring in foreign tourist spending which lifts the whole economy.

Yet a major point of the Proceso article, that shopping malls have a tendency to segregate and insulate different classes of society, is a valid one in my experience. If our interaction with the rest of our society is limited to what we experience in the mall, we lose some of our ability to empathize with others who are shut out from "mall culture." This is not so much a Salvadoran phenomenon as a global consumerism phenomenon.

expatwizard said...

Both of you present valid points. Metrocentro has become a safer alternative for many to the Centro (Downtown) and the Mercado Central, where parking is almost nonexistent and petty crimes are endemic. Thousands of Salvadorians bus into and through the Centro daily coming and going, the evening rush hours, especially on the 15th and 30th of each month, paydays, can be quite dangerous for bus and microbus riders. I have many local friends who have been robbed and assualted. Robberies and assualts are also up in Metrocentro and other malls especially in parking areas and at the three crowded bus stops, El Ranchon, Front of Metrocentro entrance and front of Despensa Don Juan supermarket...and San Salvador is a big city and like any other large Central American city the most dangerous areas are bus stops and bus terminals and the areas around them, especially in rush hours and after dark when people are hurrying home as well as crowded outdoor markets where theives and pickpockets often work in pairs or threes. Also remember there are 6.1 Million cell phones now in El Salvador and many natives think nothing of talking while on the street or on public transportation. Also remember many many people here receive now Remesas from the US, have cars or pick ups and credit or debit cards and now prefer to come to the mall or supermarket rather than brave the Mercado Central. I don't blame them.
The "missionary" states "The last sentence I failed to grasp the meaning of, but the reason there are private security guards at every business is because citizenship here hasn't quite advanced to the place where people won't steal anything that isn't guarded, as everyone who lives in San Salvador knows."
Also "Protecting the ecosystem?"
What one entire village we work with has done since 1992 on and there are now uniformed native guides to escort you through The Tropical Forest and Protected Wildlife Areas...strange I was once on a farm/orphange in Nicaragua with missionaries from the US and they were telling local children that their goats were creatures of the "Devil" A year Later I heard their "church" sold the property and sent the orphans to state or foster homes in Managua City. We are in crisis now and frankly I do not listen to the bs anymore from one "side" or the other.
I think Mr. Missionary better return to the US if he thinks citizenship (here in El Salvador) has not quite advanced, in the US if Walmart or Target in any large city or suburb had no cameras and security, and say local police were on strike, mobs would descend and strip those stores empty in a minute, a couple years ago I dropped a a bag containing my cellphone getting on a bus in a marginal area, did not realize till a woman came up and handed me the bag on the bus, refused a reward. In my years living here I have no been assualted nor robbed, I am not lucky, I am constantly aware and vigilant and I do 'profile' people on the street, public transport, 99% of people here are pacific and minding their own business.
As for the young so called "progressives" who travel to El Salvador different classes of society have been "segregated and insulated" long before there were Shopping Malls, I wish those of you who call yourself "progressive" would stop with this type of lamentation.....
Yet a major point of the Proceso article, that shopping malls have a tendency to segregate and insulate different classes of society, is a valid one in my experience. If our interaction with the rest of our society is limited to what we experience in the mall, we lose some of our ability to empathize with others who are shut out from "mall culture."
Come down to El Salvador, or any other developing country of your choice find a good humanitarian aid organization or group of people who are into obras (works) and not academics, most of them even too young to remember the days of the armed conflict and get out there for 3 weeks or 6 weeks and help to help. Action speaks louder than words. I am assisting voluntarily a couple of non profit organizations quietly in two areas, development of rural eco tourism and with others trying to find some solutions in local agricuture to develop locally semilla or seeds so rural people may tend their own crops, especially corn. And volunteers and visitors are welcome to visit with us, from a day or more we need your skills and feedback.
Well these days I kind of avoid persons who play the "Blame Game" (would make a good TV show)fromeither one side or extreme or the other and those who don't smile, I may not be the most intelligent person on teh planet, but have the ability to make others laugh..the best medicine.
As for Jesus, have not found him, did not know he was lost, and never did meet Che. So there.

Kristen said...

Caramel will be accepting your gently used clothing donations for Goodwill.