Saturday, May 13, 2006

What Salvadoran bloggers are saying -- tourism and gold mining

Salvadoran bloggers often ponder what types of economic development can best help the country lift the overall status of its people. There is general agreement that tourism would be good for the country, but what kind of tourism? Hunnapuh explores the advantages El Salvador has from its small size -- one can go from a cool mountaintop rainforest to sunny beaches and seafood dinners in just a few hours. The biggest barrier he finds to the growth of tourism is the actual and perceived rate of violent crime in the country which repels tourists, even though the areas of high crime and gangs are fairly localized.

Salvadoran bloggers like the idea of "coffee tourism." El Visitador, discussed the possibility of tourism involving the El Salvador's coffee industry and the process of growing, harvesting and roasting El Salvador's gourmet coffees. He was commenting on a recent blog entry by award winning coffee brewer Jim Seven describing his recent visit to the coffee fincas of El Salvador. Hunnapuh agreed and described a coffee-focused restaurant on the slopes of the San Salvador volcano as an example of what is possible.

Unlike tourism where there is general support, gold-mining produces deep disagreement among Salvadoran bloggers and persons posting comments on those blogs. As the price of gold climbs, Canadian mining companies are increasingly prospecting for possible sites to mine in El Salvador. El Visitador celebrates the prospects of just one mine creating 340 jobs. Tim acknowledges the benefit of such jobs, but questions whether El Salvador can ever regulate the mining companies to prevent environmental degradation and enforce worker's rights. Hunnapuh flatly opposes expansion of gold mining in El Salvador, pointing to the dirty history of mines located in other developing countries.

Persons who are easily offended will not like the Spanish language blog of El Trompudo. A recent death threat to El Trompudo was celebrated by the blogger as a badge of honor. El Trompudo's vitriolic blog posts lambast the "grand sons-of-bitches" in places of power in El Salvador. Following the death treat, El Trompudo received dozens of comments in support and posts in solidarity from Hunnapuh among others.

El Trompudo's style contrasts sharply with the prose of blogger Meg who is a volunteer with an NGO in El Salvador. This week she describes the impact of poverty on roles of women in El Salvador. She finds that the struggles of poverty and single motherhood often push forward influential women of strong character. "These are the women who keep careful watch over every child (no matter what age) and keep the men in line and on their toes." A special Happy Mother's Day (May 10 in El Salvador) is wished to all such women.

Meg also writes about the two regular Catholic masses said on Sundays in the cathedral of San Salvador. In the formal upper church, a traditional mass of the Catholic hierarchy occurs, but each Sunday as well, there is a mass which takes place in the lower level where the tomb of assassinated archbishop Oscar Romero is located. This is the mass attended by the humble poor of San Salvador, Meg writes. Also appearing this week was a new blog dedicated to following the twists and turns of the Catholic sainthood process for El Salvador's beloved Romero.

This post also appears on Global Voices.


Rusty said...

Regarding the two masses at the Cathedral:

Leftists and supporters of the FMLN often try to politicize the class divisions in El Salvador, but in a way that is sometimes dishonest. For example, I am sure that there are many "humble poor" to be found in the liberation theology, Marxist-based mass they have at the cathedral, but the leaders of the liberation theology church movement in E.S. are overwhelmingly middle class professionals - academics, lawyers, public health workers, mid-range government workers, et cetera, and it's important not to classify the Marxist wing of Salvadoran catholicism as the Voice of the Poor, as they present themselves, because they are represented much more by the middle class than by the poor, as far as numbers go.

If the Frente were the voice of the poor, they would be in power right now. I'm not saying that Arena is a good party by any stretch of the imagination, but until El Frente deals with its own political ineptitude and the obsolesence of their decrepit, Cold-War ideologies, the Left is never going to make inroads in El Salvador, and the Right will continue to govern.

Most of the rural poor I've spoken with don't like Arena, but they vote for them because their political sensibilities have a lot less to do with the class divisions, hate, polarization, and criticism they see in El Frente, and a lot more with just being able to live their life without having to worry too much about politics. Life in El Salvador is difficult, but it's a lot better than it was during the war, so people aren't upset enough to disrupt the status quo, especially when the opposition party tends to be so vitriolic in its terms of debate (not to say that ARENA doesn't do the same, and even worse, but it's the opposition party that must prove it's DIFFERENT, and when it comes down to it ARENA and El Frente are actually a lot alike in their intolerance for opposing ideologies, and inability to cooperate with others).

In El Salvador, the middle class and urban poor vote for El Frente, because a stronger government bureacracy (from which the middle class is created) will benefit the middle class. The rich vote for ARENA, for obvious reasons. And the rural poor, who make up the largest part of the population, vote for what they see is the lesser of two evils: ARENA, because even if ARENA doesn't do anything for them, at least they don't try to involve them in their idea of revolution and government, et cetera. They get left alone, like they've always been.

The polarization of the Cold War still paralyzes El Salvador, and leftist foreign NGOs use the country to spread their ideas and support El Frente while rightist foreign corporations and the U.S. State Department do the same through ARENA. The majority of Salvadorans, who like the majority of people in the world, are moderates who don't care much about socialism or capitalism or any extremist political ideology, but just want to feed their families, are the ones who end up losing.

Pierre said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Pierre said...

Hi Tim,
i like your blog. I was living in El Salvador last here to manage an Hotel in el Salvador. In my opinion, this country is pretty hard to manage. Private interests (with politician interests) are too strong to developp the country. FMLN or Arena, it's mostly the same thing... Who cares about the poors ? About health system ? About communities development ? Nobody...