Mercredi 21 Août 2019  

N°95 - Troisième trimestre 2011

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El Salvador
  « Un interlocuteur privilégié pour la France » en Amérique centrale
  Relever le défi de la diversification économique
  En quête d’un nouveau souffle pour le secteur touristique salvadorien
  Un pays qui gagne à être connu depuis la fin du XIXème siècle.
  « Un marché ouvert sur 1 milliard d’habitants »
  Une coopération fructueuse entre El Salvador et le Val-de-Marne
  Le Secours Populaire célèbre 10 ans de solidarité avec El Salvador
  Une relation franco-salvadorienne réussie !
  El Salvador, pays leader du soutien aux objectifs de l’UNESCO
  « Depuis 1992 El Salvador s’est ouvert une nouvelle perspective »
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     El Salvador
  M. / Mr Hugo Martinez Bonilla

A Model of Successful Democracy Building
Twenty years after its civil war was brought to an end, El Salvador can pride itself on having forged peace and democracy by opting for political change through the ballot box. Two years after the election of President Mauricio Funes, Mr. Hugo Martinez Bonilla, El Salvador Minister of Foreign Relations, discusses his country’s dynamic development process and assets which could be tapped to help strengthen ties with France.

The Diplomatic Letter: Mr. Minister, on 16 January 2012, El Salvador will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the signing of the peace accords that brought your country’s civil war to an end.  Do these commemorations hold even greater significance since El Salvador carried out its first political power handover, with the election of President Funes on 16 March 2009 ?

Mr Hugo Martinez Bonilla:
This celebration is particularly important to our government, as the peace accords signed in 1992 laid the basic foundations of our democracy. They opened the way for overhauling our old institutions and building new ones, enabling us to secure the conditions necessary for bolstering democracy and peace in our country.
It is also crucial to underscore that this was the first time in this process that our country successfully carried out a peaceful power handover. Many analysts were indeed convinced that democracy and peace would not be firmly anchored in El Salvador until a successful power handover had been achieved.
The full importance of this event can be grasped by considering the man who was elected to the highest office in the land. President Mauricio Funes represents an alliance supported primarily by the Farabundo Marti Front National Liberation (FMLN), recognized in the 1981 Franco-Mexican Declaration as a representative political force during the Salvadoran civil war.

T.D.L.: These celebrations will be played up heavily in France, as the two countries’ long-standing ties were further cemented by French diplomatic initiative of the conflict in El Salvador. Could this create new opportunities for expanding cooperation between the two countries? What do you hope to see come out of the working meeting you held with your French counterpart, Mr. Alain Juppé, on 19 July 2011 ?

Boosting our countries’ ties is the underlying aim of these celebrations as well as of my official visit to France in July 2011. We are convinced it is vital for France to once again take a strong interest in El Salvador, and, on a broader level, in Central America as a whole. We are aware of the many challenges that must be overcome on the international stage, but we are eager to return to the days when France and Central America had much closer ties. Let me add that my official visit to France, and the various activities it entailed, were another good opportunity to bolster our ties not only at the bilateral but also at the multilateral level, because of the association agreement signed between Central America and the European Union (EU).

T.D.L.: In what specific areas are El Salvador and France looking to launch new cooperation projects, along the lines of their joint security and law enforcement programs ?

It is true that there is a wide range of prospects for strengthening our ties with the EU with regard to security, given that we have already laid out a regional cooperation strategy in this arena. As you mentioned, since the signing of the peace accords, France has done a great deal to help create a new civilian national police force in El Salvador. We can continue cooperating in this field.
But we are interested in enhancing our trade ties as well. We believe they could be expanded considerably, and that France could also increase its investments in our country.

T.D.L.: While El Salvador and France have forged very close and friendly relations, their economic ties have remained relatively weak. What can be done to turn around this situation? Are there specific sectors that could offer French and European firms a foothold in the Salvadoran market ?

As I see it, a variety of sectors are particularly promising for boosting our trade ties, starting with energy production. More specifically, El Salvador holds wide investment potential in the solar energy, geothermal and hydroelectric sectors. There are profits to be made not only at the national level but throughout the entire region.
In a completely different sector, there is in El Salvador an aeronautical maintenance center that could serve the entire region. This project meets the needs of our own national airline and can also be expanded for the use of other Central American airline companies. It further creates new cooperation opportunities with the European aircraft manufacturer Airbus, whitch as already approuved it proceedings.
Additional synergies are likely to materialize in other sectors as well, such as manufacturing and tourism. Rural tourism - a sector where France is renowned for its expertise - holds particularly wide promise.
I should also add that our country is laying special focus on public-private partnerships. I believe this particular investment framework is especially well suited for making the most of our two countries’ complementary assets.

T.D.L.: Located in the heart of Central America, El Salvador has been working  hard to open up its economy, for instance by signing free trade agreements with both the European Union and the United States. Could you describe the strong points and advantages of the Salvadoran market for our readers ?

In addition to our access to North and Central American markets, we also have a vast logistics network that links San Salvador International Airport to La Union Port. These infrastructures make it easy to move merchandise around the region. We also have strong industrial capacity in our free zones, along with a skilled labor force trained in technology sectors. All these advantages could prompt a variety of companies to set up operations in our country.

T.D.L.: Though the Salvadoran economy has continued growing this year, the backlash from the global economic crisis has curbed your government’s maneuvering room as it takes on tough challenges such as battling poverty and crime. Could you talk about the strides your government has made in these arenas since President Mauricio Funes took office two years ago ?
H.M.B.: I would like to start by underscoring the fact that our government has set itself two key objectives that drive its economic policy: first, fostering the country’s development; and second, addressing social issues. As you quite rightly noted, the impact of the global economic crisis has made our first few years in power extremely difficult. We are nonetheless determined not to renounce to either of these goals, despite the economic situation and our reduced leeway with regard to public finances.
We have managed to get the economy moving forward again since the start of 2011,  with economic growth picking back up to 2.5%. 
In the social arena, our efforts have focused on setting up a universal health care system. As for education, we have successfully extended our education system to serve the entire country, thanks to the implementation of an “school packets” program that furnishes school children with essential supplies and uniforms.
To tackle the violence problem, we have put forward a series of programs that offer young people alternatives, starting with the Temporary Income Support Program (PATI). 36,000 youngsters are currently benefiting from this program, which furnishes them with temporary financial support. In return, they must work  for local authorities in various social activities, which means they are getting technical training at the same time. We are offering these youngsters a very good alternative to the pressure placed on them by criminal gangs.
As far as our trade and investment policies are concerned, we have overhauled our institutions in order to offer  greater opportunities not only to foreign investors but also to Salvadoran entrepreneurs looking to export their products.
So while I remain cautious, I have a very positive assessment of our first years in power. All these measures are part of a process that will move forward gradually, all the more so as the many challenges we are facing cannot be overcome overnight.

T.D.L. : The problem with the criminal gangs known as “maras” is not unique to El Salvador, but is also undermining neighboring countries. Your country has been a driving force for regional integration, most notably during the Salvadoran presidency of SICA (Central American Integration System). Is it spearheading any efforts to promote closer cooperation between Central American states in this arena ?

Let me start by first reminding you that Central American integration is a top priority for our government. When it comes to guaranteeing security, the countries in our region cannot meet this challenge on their own, given the mobility of the violence and insecurity.  This is why President Funes has called for relaunching the regional integration process, in which  security is one of the five basic pillars. The other four pillars are fighting poverty, global management of climate change, economic integration, and strengthening democratic institutions.
In the security arena, we have laid out a regional plan comprised of 22 projects that El Salvador will  jointly implement with the other countries of Central America. Initially put forward at an international security summit held in Guatemala, on 22 June 2011, the plan has been received very positively.  In fact, sixty foreign delegates attended the summit, instead of the forty initially expected. On this occasion, several States promised to help us in this area, offering technical, technological and even financial support. Our partners include the European Union as well as individual European nations such as Spain, France
and Germany.

T.D.L.: After ratifying the free trade agreement signed between the countries of Central America, the Dominican Republic, and the United States (DR-CAFTA), President Mauricio Funes’ first diplomatic move was to reestablish his country’s ties with Cuba. How do you explain the widely varying political stances taken by Latin American countries? Where does Salvadoran foreign policy fit into this range? Your country is taking part in the PetroCaribe scheme, but hasn’t joined ALBA. Why not ?

When we took up our duties in the government, we immediately let it be known we would craft a foreign policy that served the State’s best interests, and not the interests of any particular economic or political group.
Bolstered by that principle, we decided to open up the country to the rest of the world, without giving in to any political alignment pressures.  This is why our first foreign policy move was to reestablish relations with Cuba, driven by this open spirit and without neglecting the long-standing and vital ties we have forged, as a State, with the U.S.A.
Likewise, we favor blocs of countries with which we share geographic or historical affinities, and not necessarily ideological affinities. This is why we are not involved in the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) group, even though we have very good bilateral relations with every one of its  member countries.  We are looking to diversify our relations with emerging powers such as Russia, India and Australia, as well.
This position may seem ambiguous in the eyes of some, but it is in tune with the stance we have taken in this arena. It is a dignified stance that reflects our desire for self-determination, which has won us great respect on the international stage, completely aside from any political positions we might take.
To give you an example: our views fall in line with those of the United States in a great many areas, with the exception of a certain number of issues. We respect that country’s positions, and expect it to respect ours  in return. In fact, despite El Salvador’s relatively small size, we believe that we have taken the right stance by not joining  any political or ideological alignments. We are instead striving to craft our own national foreign policy and foster cooperation that is truly  mutually beneficial.

T.D.L.: El Salvador and China have strengthened their trade ties considerably in recent years, reflecting your country’s expanding relations with emerging countries.  Might we see your country open diplomatic relations with China in the coming years ?

Before even considering such a development, you have to remember that we inherited firmly established diplomatic ties with Taiwan. That is the reality of the situation. Relations are changing on both sides of the Taiwan Straight, which must also be taken into account. Fifteen cooperation agreements have been signed, mainly concerning trade and mutual investments.
In light of this, we do not want to interfere in a process we see as positive. A number of new paths for expanding our trade ties with China do, nonetheless, appear to be emerging. 

T.D.L.: The United States and El Salvador have maintained very close ties, as witnessed by President Mauricio Funes’ visit to Washington in March 2010, and President Barack Obama’s trip to San Salvador in March 2011. How would you describe current bilateral relations? Has there been any headway on the issue of Salvadoran nationals living in the United States ?
H.M.B.: I think that relations between El Salvador and the United States are at one of their all-time high right now. The respective visits by our two presidents are a clear sign of this. In addition, our two countries have launched targeted cooperation projects, such as the “Partnership for Growth.” In fact, El Salvador is the only country on the American continent to enjoy such excellent ties. On the international level, the United States has chosen only three other countries to take part in this program, with El Salvador remaining the only country in America.
But that is just one aspect of a wider range of cooperation initiatives between our country and the United States. Beyond our Heads of State, our countries’ civil servants - at every level - frequently exchange mutual visits. To give you one example: in just two short years, I have had four working meetings with my U.S. counterpart Hillary Clinton, and have also met with her at several international forums.
The situation of our fellow Salvadoran citizens living in the United States is a very important point on our bilateral talks agenda. We are working hard to find a solution that would grant most of them permanent residency status. We are, of course, well aware of the problems this issue raises in the U.S. domestic political debate. We also appreciate President Obama’s efforts to push through comprehensive immigration reform, which has allowed us to open a very frank dialogue with our American partners on this issue.

T.D.L.: The Salvadoran government has been working hard to instill a new political dynamic and spur development since President Mauricio Funes was elected. As you gear up for the peace accord commemorations in January 2012, what message would you like to send out to anyone in France who is interested in your country and its culture, as well as its economic potential ?

We would like to change our country’s image, which has been frozen since the war. The fact is, El Salvador has changed a great deal since the peace accords were signed. It now has a stable political situation and an economy that has very clear laws governing investments.
We are admittedly facing a number of challenges, like all countries, but we are working very hard to overcome them. From now on, we would like people to get to know the new El Salvador that has stepped forward since the signing of the peace accords, and more particularly since our first handover of political power.
We intend to promote our tourism sites, of course, but we will also foster enhanced Salvadoran cultural and artistic expression. As I have already mentioned, we will highlight the assets and advantages we can offer foreign investors, French investors included. Finally, let me conclude by inviting the Salvadoran and French peoples to continue strengthening their friendship and cooperation, forging ever closer ties.    

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