Here is a set of contrasting views about the economic situation in El Salvador. First, the view of the ARENA government as described in an article from the Washington Times on July 17:
Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Eduardo Calix appears not overly worried. He recently noted that "the election is still a long way off" and finds it difficult to believe a majority of voters will back the FMLN. "The election will be a battle between our democratic system and their revolutionary system, at a time when the country is having unprecedented peace and prosperity. Backed by Venezuela and others, the FMLN want to completely change our economic and social system.
"It will be a passionate campaign," Mr. Cadiz acknowledges, "but the FMLN cannot ignore the improvement in the lives of most citizens over the past several years, and they cannot resort, as before, to violence - the government will not permit it. El Salvador enjoys political security and a solid financial situation, and Salvadorans know the government is working to continue the rising prosperity, sound employment, steady food supply and fairly priced gasoline. We have a steady flow of illegals from our neighbors - and we need them. Migrants move where they see opportunity, and with such a low unemployment rate, we need qualified workers at all levels in most sectors."
Compare that upbeat assessment with the reporting of the Los Angeles Times today in a lengthy article about the impact of soaring food and energy prices and the global economic downturn on Latin America in general and El Salvador in particular. The article includes stories of Salvadoran families struggling to get by:
Maria and Jose Lopez, squatters who live with their three children in a two-room cinder block house perched on a hillside in this gritty Central American capital, are among those feeling the strain. This year, they scraped together $148.50 for a down payment on their own place in this hard-luck area, which is aptly named Thin City. But their dream of homeownership has long since vanished. The new priority is simply to eat.
Like most of the world's low-income people, they spend the largest chunk of their wages on food. Basics, including eggs, rice and beans, have all jumped in price by more than 30% in the last few months, cutting deeply into the family's $500 monthly income. Jose, a laborer, pawned his wedding ring to buy groceries after a short bout of unemployment. Maria, who works weekdays in the central market downtown, got a loan from her employer.
She recently took a weekend job as a domestic and pulled her two oldest children -- 14-year-old Laura and 10-year-old Kimberly -- out of Catholic school. Only 7-year-old Bryan is attending classes. The family can no longer afford the $17 a month in tuition for each girl on top of its debts, child care and ballooning food bills.
"I'm frightened," said Maria, 32, displaying the near-empty larder. "I'm working seven days a week, and it's still not enough."...
Wiping fresh dough from her fingers behind the plastic and tin shack she shares with 10 family members in San Salvador, tortilla vendor Consuelo Esperanza Acensio said the price of the imported cooking oil she uses had jumped 50% in the last few months. Corn and firewood prices have surged too. She said she can't recall a bout of inflation this swift and steep in all of her 44 years, even during civil war in the 1980s. (more)
My own conversations with people in El Salvador in the past few weeks were very similar to these stories in the LA Times. It's a simple fact that people living in poverty, or just above the poverty line, simply can't cope when prices for essential items increase so rapidly. The "Government with Human Feeling" and its happy talk aren't convincing many in El Salvador.