June 06, 2007

Could El Salvador be the face of the future of the United States?

Okay, here is my one political/economic analysis off the cuff for now for this trip. Let me lay out a couple of hypothetical countries first, and then go off on my rant.

Country A is a small country located in the developing world. As per usual, economics and politics are intertwined in this country. The country has a history of military rule, followed by a revolution that failed to overthrow the ruling powers, but did manage to create a stalemate that was followed by peace accords and the integration of the rebels into the political system. Since then, the former rebel force has become a political party with some strength, but has never been able to win enough to govern the country. The country is polarized between a left and a right, with a non-existent center. Since the peace accords, the right has held the presidency exclusively.

Economically, the Country A has mostly been dominated by a few wealthy families, who have combined their wealth and power with the right. They have maintained a corrupt governmental system that advances their economic interests. The country since the peace accords has opened up to global liberalization of trade and finance in the name of development. There have always been poor in Country A, but the domination of the economy and government by the wealthy has increased the number of poor and the gap between the rich and the poor. The civil war was largely fought over the exclusion of the poor from the ability to make a living. Since the peace accords, many things have gotten worse. Many people have given up on the political system. The crime rate has risen, and gangs have multiplied, making the cities some of the most dangerous places in the world. There is no interest in combatting crime, because some of the wealthy are making lots of money off of the insecurity, holding interest in security companies and arms dealing. The trafficking of drugs and other illegal items has become another staple of the economy. Many poor, desperate, have left the country, looking for work in the developing world. If they make it through illegal immigration, they send their remittances back to their families in Country A.

Country B is a large country in the developed world. It has a huge economy which has become more and more dependent on imports from the rest of the world. It has pushed for free trade on its own terms, largely because it feeds its endless need for consumption. Its corporations have established themselves in many developing countries, particularly in that area it considers its back yard. These corporations, in an endless search for profit, demand more concessions from the countries that they establish themselves in, such as exemption from taxes, right to drive down minimum wages, weak regulatory laws and other benefits to them.

Politically, Country B has been veering to the right for decades. The current leader has consolidated power for his party and his administration even further. It is allied with the wealthier segments of the population, and has been steadily cutting back social programs and benefits to the least-well off members of its society. As a result, crime has grown, and people feel less secure economically. The political situation has undergone much polarization, but ordinary people have participated less because they don´t feel that either side offers them much change.

These are brief snapshots. As you may have guessed, Country A is El Salvador and Country B is the United States. However, what I see is that the United States could be El Salvador in a matter of years, particularly if we continue on the present economic and political course we are on. If the gap between rich and poor is allowed to widen, if one party consolidates so much power that it can control the political machinery, if the links between business and political leaders continue to grow, if social programs and benefits to the poor are cut, if the poor have no recourse other than crime, gangs and desperation, if the political system continues to polarize, then we are not far from being El Salvador.

Do we really want that? And how do we make sure it doesn´t happen?


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