His Excellency Mr. Francisco Guillermo Flores Pérez
Since it seems to me that making generalizations is one of the things that has made it so difficult for us to understand poverty, I would like to talk about the only thing about which I really know – my country’s own experience.
Crushed by 13 years of the worst conflict ever experienced by El Salvador in its entire history, with our basic infrastructure destroyed, our exports greatly reduced, our people leaving in great numbers for other places and most of our people living in untenable poverty, under those circumstances, El Salvador decided to survive and overcome. We built an inclusive political model so that we would have a functioning democracy. We decided to have an economic model of freedom, and, today, while we still face major challenges such as poverty and learn daily about how to improve our youthful democracy, we have nevertheless left despair and war behind. We look to the future with optimism.
Therefore, it seems to us that the first prerequisite for emerging from underdevelopment and tackling poverty is for a country to shoulder its own responsibilities. We were the ones who made mistakes that led to war and we are the ones who made the decision to achieve peace.
Thus, we believe that there are two myths that prevent us from tackling poverty. The first is that those that have developed believe that they have the magic formula to help a poor country emerge from poverty. The second myth is that poor countries blame the developed countries for poverty; they make them responsible for it. When our country believed those two myths, we were closed in on ourselves and were not able to resolve our problems alone. It was only once the Salvadoran people assumed full responsibility for the country and its future that it was able to begin to emerge.
The second prerequisite for tackling poverty is a legitimate leadership that is truly committed, in order for a community, region or country to be able to begin to find solutions. That is true of all human organizations. It is particularly true of any nation.
Leaders respond to the spontaneous processes under way. They are aware of what is needed to find the right direction. They are able to identify those individuals who are particularly able at that particular time of history. That is why we need this framework of freedom. We do not just need freedom. We have to make sure that freedom continues so that leaders can continue to shoulder their responsibility and maintain the right direction.
A system of freedom is much more than simply voting people into office. At the most brutal time of our war, twenty years ago, a high government official at that time decided that his neighbour’s car should be his. So he sent three armed men to take his neighbour’s car. The lady neighbour was rather outraged, but she knew that there was no institution in the country where her influence to receive justice was greater than that of a high official. So she went to the office of the high official and said to him, “You stole my car. I have called the press. They are right here outside; so either give me the keys to my car or I will go out and denounce you to the press.” The official gave her the keys to the car. This is why I say that the system of freedom is much more than a simple voting system.
Freedom of expression is essential. The communications media must be developed and strengthened in order to make sure that a system of freedom can actually exist and function.
The third prerequisite is a combination of security, stability and relative social harmony, which we call peace. I believe that, if twenty years ago the world had been able to distinguish between legitimate political demands and terrorism, the conflict would have been shorter. I also believe that if our judicial system had been working properly, we would not have had war in El Salvador. We can have peace only under the rule of law.
The fourth and final prerequisite of which I wish to speak is opportunity for the poor. Poverty is synonymous with isolation. An isolated community is a poor community. A country that does not have an opportunity to enjoy the fruits of its efforts in the world markets because of trade barriers or distortions created by subsidies is a country condemned to poverty. The only way to emerge from poverty is through work. Only when we are able to sell the fruits of our labour on an open market that is not suffering from distortions will we be able to break our isolation. That is why I believe that assuming our responsibilities, having legitimate leadership, living under the rule of law and having access to open markets are the prerequisites for development.
In my country international development has been essential to help the poorest people, reform our institutions and face serious crises such as the earthquakes last year. Certainly increasing the amounts available to the least developed countries would be extremely helpful. However, above and beyond the amount is the quality of financing. Only when donors are respectful and knowledgeable and when recipients have dignity, leadership and vision will we be able to retain the objectives of this Conference.
* The text of this statement has been transcribed from audio recordings as the original was not submitted to the Secretariat.