Washington, D.C. – Under the prospect of hundreds of millions in new U.S. development aid headed for El Salvador, local and national leaders will meet with members of U.S. Congress and the Obama Administration this month to discuss the future of their country.
Estela Hernández, recently sworn in as a Representative in the Salvadoran National Assembly, will travel to Washington, DC to share her vision for inclusive economic growth in one of the poorest regions in Central America. Ms. Hernandez represents the Lower Lempa region and Usulután, an area highly vulnerable to frequent natural disasters.
On May 16, Ms. Hernández will participate on a panel discussion to brief members of Congress on the U.S. foreign aid agenda in El Salvador, and its ramifications as a pilot for spurring inclusive economic growth among other emerging market economies in Latin America and elsewhere. Other participants include Assistant Secretary of State for Business and Economic Affairs Jose Fernandez, and Salvadoran Ambassador Francisco Altschul.
The May 16th Congressional Briefing is coordinated by EcoViva and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), and members of its working group on Migration and Development. The Office of Representative Sam Farr (D-CA) is sponsoring the event.
El Salvador is currently in negotiations with the US State Department and Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), for a new round of development aid involving over $277 million in U.S. taxpayer monies. A federal international development agency created under the Bush Administration in 2004, the MCC is currently about to complete a 5-year, $461 million infrastructure and development investment project in El Salvador´s Northern mountainous region.
A new round of MCC funding is currently slated for El Salvador’s impoverished coastal zone, focusing on economic growth and poverty reduction in accordance with the principles of the Obama Administration’s Partnership for Growth. Part of Obama’s Global Directive for Development, signed in 2009, the Partnership for Growth focuses on “country-led” processes toward sustainable development as part of the Administration’s national security and foreign policy strategy.
The MCC aims to promote economic growth in El Salvador through projects which encourage private sector investment for tourism, agriculture and fisheries.
Currently, President Mauricio Funes and his administration in El Salvador has made an open call for bids on proposals from the private sector, and seeks to leverage non-government sources to spur initiatives that lead to poverty reduction and economic growth in the coastal zone. This call is part of a broad-based public consultation process mandated as conditions for financial support from the MCC.
At a recent meeting convened with local leaders, top officials from the Salvadoran government said they would encourage all sources of investment in the Lower Lempa, whether public or private, foreign or domestic.
“Investment in this area is a good thing, and we will not turn anyone away,” said Alex Segovia, the lead official in charge of negotiating with the MCC on behalf of El Salvador. “Investment leads to progress, progress that we desperately need,” he said. “The type of progress that we will all agree on is meant to be discussed in a longer conversation.”
Local communities in and around the Bay of Jiquilisco have expressed both excitement and apprehension about the new funding, and local government officials are hoping that the MCC investments can offer real improvements in rural livelihoods and income for their constituents, through solutions that directly involve local people.
Major areas of concern for local leadership in the region revolve around the transparency of negotiations with the MCC package, and the prioritization of environmentally responsible investments. They are also interested in seeing planning that includes active participation of local community members from the coastal region of El Salvador, not just the heads of state. Protecting the Bay of Jiquilisco, Central America’s largest mangrove forest and pristine estuary, is also one of their top priorities. The government of El Salvador has prioritized the Bay of Jiquilisco for targeted development through the MCC, highlighting its rich natural resource base in fisheries, and agricultural lands, as key sectors to engage.
Together with the Mangrove Association, Ms. Hernández has been forming a coalition of municipal and civil society actors in the region, to draft proposals for rural development and environmental preservation, with an eye on reducing risk in the region to extreme flooding characteristic of coastal El Salvador.
EcoViva is a non-profit organization based in Oakland, CA, that focuses on sustainability, social justice and peace efforts in Central America. Over the last fifteen years, EcoViva has worked with over 90 coastal communities in the Lower Lempa region of El Salvador. www.ecoviva.org
Adriana Solis Lopez
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