Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Commentary: El Salvador's Secret: Freedom and Opportunity Cure Poverty

Francisco Flores, former president of El Salvador (1999-2004), gave the keynote address at this year's Acton Institute annual dinner:

The important message is this: Fifteen years ago, El Salvador was destroyed by war, seven years ago by hurricanes, four years ago by earthquakes. Extremely poor, 15 years ago, some 60 percent of the population lived under the poverty line. The country was totally dependent on its traditional agricultural exports and unable to honor its financial obligations. Fifteen years ago, its infrastructure had collapsed: Roads, energy systems, water distribution, telecommunications.

Today, El Salvador is a different country. It has the most accelerated poverty reduction rate in Latin America. From 60 percent to 30 percent under the poverty line, El Salvador has reduced its poverty level by half in twelve years. Twenty-five percent of our population could not read nor write; now it is down to 12 percent. Infant mortality has dropped from 45 out of a thousand births to 24.

The unemployment rate has dropped from 13 percent to 6.5 percent. Interest rates have lowered from 30 percent in 1992 to 6.8 percent last year. El Salvador has the lowest inflation rate in Latin America...

[snip]

What is El Salvador’s secret? I believe that it is the systematic application of the concept of freedom to public policy....

Read the rest.

As of my post time, there was also an audio link available on the Acton Institute's home page, in the Press Room section, radio column.

Flores also talked about his own life:

In my own small and private world, this meant that, at the beginning of the conflict in 1977, my parents feared for our safety and, like most Salvadoran families, felt that our country had no future, and that we should construct our lives elsewhere.

For seven years, I tried to develop a sense of purpose through intellectual understanding. I lived here in the United States, England and in India for a brief period of time. I studied philosophy and political science principally, but also literature and history.

But knowledge can never quench our deeper thirst. Though the waters of the Charles River flowed so peacefully that October morning in Boston, and the fire of artillery raged endlessly in Central El Salvador as the army and the guerrillas sought control of the strategic Lempa River, I decided to go
back.

I decided to go back because I couldn’t accept being tossed by history at her whim. If I accepted the loss of my country, my life would become a consequence of the decisions others would take, whether in Cuba or Moscow, the United Nations or Washington.

I could certainly build my life abroad but it would not be a choice. It would be an acceptance of fate, and therefore a negation of freedom...

I was conscious I was trading safety for freedom, particularly when I had decided to be involved in the turmoil El Salvador was living.

But I must say that for the safety one gains by avoiding risk, a huge price is paid in the ever present insecurity of leading a life that is always on the defensive. Though it might be unsafe, there is a great sense of security in leading a life according to one’s conscience.


Update: Academic Elephant at Elephants in Academia has taken this post and built on it, at Another voice from Latin America. Be sure and see the updates.

2 comments:

AcademicElephant said...

What a nice counterpoint to Hugo Chavez' rant yesterday.

Kathryn Judson said...

I'll second that.