Our friend and occasional guest blogger Carlos X provides today's post about the necessity to acknowledge that real progress has been made in El Salvador over the past 15 years, even if much is left to be done:
The Salvadoran government has published a celebratory summary of post-war gains entitled Una Historia de Progreso (“A History of Progress”). A version of the color pamphet is available online at http://www.casapres.gob.sv/especiales/analisis%20censos/acensos2007.pdf
The booklet contains a series of charts comparing the country conditions in 1992 and 2007 along various factors. Needless to say, the charts show a much improved situation. Nevertheless, many of the statistics reveal gaping challenges, which the government presents as astonishing “gains,” but as we look at them here, they can be seen as lingering failures.
Still, these statistics drop a major gauntlet before the Left, which deserves a serious answer. We can dissect and nitpick the statistics (hopefully, we do more than that here), but there is one number which requires sober and serious reflection: according to the government figures, poverty rates declined from 65.8% in 1992 to 30.7% last year. Granted, having thirty percent of your population in poverty is no cause for jubilation. However, for that 35% of Salvadoran families who migrated from the poor to the middle classes, there is much reason to celebrate. According to Fr. José María Tojeira, the UCA rector, his predecessor, the martyred Ignacio Ellacuría, had misgivings about an FMLN triumph, because he was not convinced that they possessed the competence to govern. After 20 years out of power, experience is not a trifling question, and the preceding figure has to be taken as a challenge to the FMLN, whether they are up to the important task of reducing poverty, or whether they may squander the gains that have been thus far accomplished.
We all know the old Mark Twain line, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Well, “A History of Progress,” which begins with color pictures of the ARENA presidents, has its fair share of what we can charitably call “packaging.” Presented differently, many of the figures it contains tell a rather gloomy story. Take a look.
By the numbers:
- 96.3 % of Salvadoran homes without internet access (84% of all Salvadoran email addresses are registered to the departments of San Salvador and La Libertad)
- 15.2 % of Salvadoran homes with a microwave oven
- 30.4 % of Salvadoran homes using firewood to cook
- 22.8 % of Salvadoran homes without residential water service
- 27.6 % of Salvadoran homes without phone service
- 11.6 % of Salvadoran homes using candles and kerosene lamps to light their homes
- 23.8 % of Salvadoran homes without permanent flooring
- 22.0 % of Salvadoran homes without a TV set
- 13.1 % of Salvadoran homes with a washing machine
- 16.7 % of Salvadoran homes with a car
- 7.9 Average number of school years completed in El Salvador
One last statistic. Percentage of Salvadoran homes receiving family remittances from abroad: 19%.
The percentage of U.S. families receiving government “welfare” assistance was 15% in the year 2004. I have a thesis that remittances operate like welfare did, and that we need remesa reform. (But, that’s for another day!)
Tim: Let me start out with a few comments of my own. First, the reduction in poverty from the end of the civil war in 1992 until 2007 corresponds with (a) a "peace dividend" and (b) the dramatic rise in migration out of the country and the corresponding increase in remittances. It strikes me that there is a greater correlation between the outflow of persons from the country and the reduction of poverty than there is a correlation between any ARENA policy and the reduction of poverty. Second, the statistics cited are the government's calculation of the poverty level based on a flawed "market basket" cost of living. Many would argue that the poverty line and the number of people below it is higher than the government is willing to admit. Third, this recent article in El Faro points out that, even using the government statistics, the country in 2008 has now fallen back to the level of poverty which existed in 2004 when Tony Saca took office -- with rural poverty particularly severe at almost 44%.