Intipuca is a city of 17,000, close to the Pacific Ocean in far eastern El Salvador. Two articles this week highlight the unique race for mayor which is currently being conducted there. Its unique nature comes from the very close ties between this city and the Washington, D.C. area. Thousands of Intipuquenos live in the US and the election is a measure of their influence back in El Salvador. Residents of the city receive an average of almost $50 per month in remittances from the US.
The Washington Post has a profile of Hugo Salinas, a Salvadoran community activist from Arlington, Virginia who has returned to Intipuca to run for mayor. The Washington Post story states:
Intipuca has changed from a sleepy village into a modern city of three-story colonial brick houses. A prominent sign says brightly, in English, "Welcome to Intipuca." The streets are named for U.S. presidents and Arlington's Columbia Pike. In the early days, so many residents had new televisions and other appliances that the rudimentary electrical system was often overwhelmed, and brownouts were common.
But as the wealth arrived, some say, torpor grew. What industry there was shrank as residents gave up low-paying agricultural jobs to wait for their remittance checks.
"People pretty much spend the money they get. They don't invest it," said Salinas's younger brother Henry, a coach and Spanish teacher at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria. "There's not a lot of agriculture or factories. It's a very dependent society."
Hugo Salinas, a volunteer and activist, sees it as his mission to change that. He wants to bring tourism to the town, which is just a few miles from a beach, and industry to generate jobs. He speaks of creating bilingual programs for youths and has helped produce a modern Web site for the city.
El Faro also has an extended story on the race. It notes that:
Like no other city in the country, Intipuca has converted itself into a symbol of Salvadoran emigration. A web page dedicated to the city, intipucacity.com receives visitors to the city in English, with a sensual voice that gives a welcome to Intipuca, "The prettiest city of El Salvador." The life here is more linked with Washington, D.C. than any other Salvadoran city. In the central street there is a travel agency, two money transfer houses, and info-centers where children and youth communicate with relatives in the United States. They are key businesses for life in Intipuca. The people have always lived in the shadow of the emigrants, who exercise an enormous ppower over the most impportant decisions of the community. (Any errors in translation are mine).
The El Faro story goes on to note that Salinas campaign advertising is all done in English. Signs state "Hugo Salinas, the New Mayor" and "PCN, Stronger than Ever." Salinas says that he campaigns in English because he wants everyone in the city to learn the language. He say it is the important because English is the language of globalization. Everything is done in English today, he says.
The election may also measure anti-gay prejudice in El Salvador. Salinas is openly gay and has HIV-AIDS. He claims that he was set to be the ARENA candidate for mayor, but the ruling party rejected him because he was gay.
Intipuca has historically had an ARENA government. The current mayor is from ARENA and is running for re-election. Other candidates are from the FMLN and the PDC. Since there have been no public opinion polls, we don't know who is leading the race.