Much like the Central American nations discussed to this point, the 1980s was an eventful decade for El Salvador. The first source for this turbulence is “Aqui Estoy”, an ethnobiographical account about the civil wars in El Salvador from the perspective of a woman recruited to be a guerrilla. She was not able to fight on the front lines due to her eyesight, but was friends with well-trained women fighters. The end of the video is a recollection of being shot during Oscar Romero’s funeral.1 Romero was a priest who advocated for the poor and was assassinated in 1980. Nominally, he was not a liberation theologist like his future Jesuit counterparts, and the assassination was likely state-sanctioned or protected2.
Roberto D’Aubuisson was blamed for and likely was one of the many middle-man involved in the death squad organization and requisite assassination. The 1989 El Salvador murder of four Jesuit priests and two others in the building was a leading news story in the United States. Jim McGovern talked about the discussions of US Congress at the time, and the brutality of the murders. This incident was one of the catalysts for international peace talks.5 Much like Panama’s invasion (and despite 75,000 total dead throughout the El Salvadorian civil war), US intervention efforts reached critical mass over this singular event.
The violence was tempered by the Chapultepec peace accords in 1992, which fully disarmed the rebel faction FMLN while reducing the grip of the Salvadorian government.6
A vulnerable economy remained. Surpluses of unskilled labor caused a diaspora during the civil war, peaking between 1985 and 1990.7 If El Salvadorians were working in the fields for low pay at home, surely they could do it abroad for more money and send remittances. Thus, remittance are the savior of the economy, representing 15% of the gross domestic product in 2006.8 Indirect profits to banks are made from remittances, skimming from a patchwork of money transfer services, none of which hold more than 20% of market share.9 In addition to these electronic services, the majority state controlled airline reaps profits from viajeros, or entrepreneurs physically carrying the money into the United States.10
Hecht and Saatchi note the visible reforestation may be correlated with the slow rebound of El Salvador’s stability. Note that Costa Rica had exceptionally pervasive deforestation finally quelled by the World Bank’s injection of capital to support other industries.11 This crisis occurred even in the absence of major conflict within its own borders, but concurrently with the El Salvadorian turmoil discussed here. Protecting the environment in has just recently been an area of focus for El Salvador. Even after conflict ended there, commercial fisherman were using explosives to easily catch their prey.12 The exceptive difference is modern El Salvador does not have much ancillary industry other than agricultural, while tourism and white collar business pick up the slack with Costa Rica.
If the state were to develop a remittance service, they might get more profit, although the private sector may do this more efficiently. One wonders how this liberalization brings cash into the coffers of El Salvador, especially considering 60% of the workers their worked under the table in 2006.13
1 MAJOR Magazine. Aqui Estoy – Surviving The Civil War in El Salvador. Accessed October 25, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FCwd7nWFRws.
2 “The Jesuits Massacre Case.” Accessed October 25, 2017. http://cja.org/what-we-do/litigation/the-jesuits-massacre-case/.
3 Gibb, Tom. “The Killing of Archbishop Oscar Romero Was One of the Most Notorious Crimes of the Cold War. Was the CIA to Blame?” The Guardian, March 23, 2000, sec. World news. http://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2000/mar/23/features11.g21.
4 Chomsky, Noam. Turning the Tide: U.S. Intervention in Central America and the Struggle for Peace. Haymarket Books, 2015. p. 135.
5 Ignatian Solidarity Network. Congressman Jim McGovern on the Jesuit Martyrs of El Salvador. Accessed October 25, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KD_uGo2xTkA.
6 Gammage, Sarah. “Exporting People and Recruiting Remittances: A Development Strategy for El Salvador?” Latin American Perspectives 33, no. 6 (2006): 75-100. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27647973.
11 Rosero-Bixby, Luis, and Alberto Palloni. “Population and Deforestation in Costa Rica.” Population and Environment 20, no. 2 (1998): 149–85. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27503631.
12 Nahill, Brad. “Protecting El Salvador’s Largest Wetland From the Bottom Up,” October 14, 2013. https://newswatch.nationalgeographic.org/2013/10/14/protecting-el-salvadors-largest-wetland-from-the-bottom-up/.
13 Gammage, 2006.