Thursday, February 09, 2006

Migrating to find work in El Salvador

While Salvadorans regularly speak of wanting to emigrate away from their country, poor Nicaraguans and Hondurans are eager to come to El Salvador to work in its sugar cane fields. The Los Angeles Times has the story today of Honduran workers who come to fill a shortage of agricultural workers in El Salvador. The Times story explains the economics of the situation:

In November, Salvadoran Agriculture Minister Mario Salaverria announced that 15,000 foreign workers would be needed to complete the cane, cotton and coffee harvests here.

The labor shortages are being felt across the region. Mezcal producers in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, coffee plantations in Nicaragua and chile farmers in the central Mexican state of Zacatecas have found themselves in a similar predicament because so many local people have left to seek better wages elsewhere.

"The problem is that remittances [from the U.S.] have made Salvadorans comfortable and they don't want to work cutting cane," said Italo Escrich, harvest supervisor for the Central Izalco sugar refinery, which contracted the workers....

For the poor of Honduras and Nicaragua today, Escrich said, "El Salvador has become the Central American dream." For the Hondurans, the relative abundance of El Salvador is, unlike the faraway United States, just a day's bus ride away.

People here get paid in dollars — El Salvador adopted the U.S. currency in 2001. The local currency, the colon, has all but disappeared from circulation. The Honduran migrants find that the dollars earned in El Salvador go much further when they are sent home and converted to Honduran lempiras.

10 comments:

wally said...

I see three themes in this article. One is that life is getting better, incrementally but better nonetheless, for the Salvadoran people. Compared to life in the United States, obviously it still looks bad and will for quite a long while to come, but compared to what it was, and what still exists in the neighboring nations, it appears to be improving. If the farmer who used to spend hours harvesting sugar cane no longer wants to do so because he doesn´t have to, isn´t that a good thing? The statement that El Salvador is becoming the Central American dream says that at least to some of it´s neighbors, the economic policies put into place here are bringing changes that are envied by some of it´s neighbors. And there must be some prosperity taking hold here, to cause others to make that assessment of it. Also, if the dollars paid to the workers here allow them to buy more in their home countries, doesn´t that translate to an eqal advantage to businessmen here as they import and export with the surrounding countries. But the stories you hear are how dollarization has hurt the economy. And also how the economy is going down the tubes, and in the process making life more miserable than ever for the poor. This article suggests that at least to some, the perception, if not the reality, is that incrementally life is changing for the better here. That doesn´t mean that many families still live in terrible poverty, and have yet to see any change, but a focus solely on their plight tends to hide the real progress that is being made.

Anonymous said...

I think that the Pope, John Paul II, had it right when he said, "Los pobres no pueden esperar." (The poor cannot wait.)

Extreme poverty will not be fought with incrementalism. Yes, you may be expanding middle class opportunities at the fringes, but under this economic model, for every new job you also have a Salvadoran dead in the Sonoran desert or maimed on the migrant trains to El Norte, or killed by maras, or joining a gang, or ... well, you get the point. It is hardly a model of success when an economy's best "success" is to export its work force and then have to import additional workers to cover its shortfalls.

Tim said...

I posted this article because I think it does raise the issues raised by Wally and they are worth discussing.

The fact that Hondurans and Nicaraguans are willing to cut sugar cane does not mean that wages and conditions in sugar cane fields are necessarily just or produce a living wage. Instead, it points out the desperation of the poor in Honduras and Nicaragua, a situation which also needs to be addressed. Ideally you would like to see land owners increasing wages to attract Salvadorans back into the fields, rather than importing workers from more desperate countries so that wages can remain low.

Jim W said...

I was in El Salvador in the Fall of 2005, when La Prensa Grafica (one of the two major papers) had a number of articles on the "negative effects of remittances, " highlighting the lack of workers willing to work in the fields. On the same page as the main article was another one quoting a researcher stating that the average agricultural wage was less than $2.50 a day, and an article on a Salvadoran working construction in the Washington, DC area making $15 an hour.

I lived in El Salvador in the early 1970s as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and I didn't see any major dimunition in the 30+ years between then and now in the reputation of Salvadorans as hard-working--just a reluctance to work at ridiculously low wages if there is any alternative.

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Anonymous said...

El Salvador "Central American Dream"? That sounds like nonsense to me. The article said it, "The Honduran migrants find that the dollars earned in El Salvador go much further when they are sent home and converted to Honduran lempiras".

Honduran laborers are desperate for obtaining money, that THEY are willing to come to El Salvador to labor someone else's land, but what is the trick? That the dollars they earn here DOUBLES or even triples when they go back home. So, what this shows is nothing more than proving how poweful the Dollar remains, and how desperate Central American countries are. It is in no way an indication of people of El Salvador reaching new degrees of prosperity. Here you earn the dollar, but because of the increase of expenses, the minimum wage doesn't even seem to cover them. Maybe if every Salvadoran traveled to Honduras to cover their expenses by spending less, then perhaps you'd have a point wally. But fact is, that to cover the cost of life in El Salvador, with crappy salaries/wages, it is better to seek an alternative: migrate.

See the mirror here? Hondurans travel to El Salvador, due to the dollar, lack of jobs, and because when sending the money back home, their earnings double. El Salvador migrates to USA, because of crappy wages, and sends back the money to their families so they don't have to live like animals on the bare minimum, trying to cover increasing prices...

salvadoreangirl said...

ok to you that have something to say about el salvador and us using the us dollar and saying we send money to el salvador so they dont live like animals well "anonymous" youre an animal why dont you just be quiet im sure you live like an animal or worse yourself

salvadoreangirl said...

el salvador is the best i love my country and all of you if you dont have something good to say be quiet keep your comments to yourself dont nobody care bout the negative things you got to say worry about yourself live and let live so shut up!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

It is very easy to criticize but I imagen that if you were in El Salvador enjoyed all the good staff like the climate, the kindness of its people, now you come to say they live like animals definetly you are the tipical north american who has no education or culture, and think the world is your country,you probably came as a globe trotter with a bag in your back or did you, stayed at the Hilton? just wondered,

Larry Pfeifer said...
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