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Inspiring The American Dream in El Salvador

"I believe the Central American region can become prosperous. Our citizens can live in a safe environment where they are free to achieve their maximum potential."

Article by Claudia Umana October 9, 2018 //   5 minute read
San Salvador, El Salvador. March 2018. A view of a typical plaza scene in San Salvador. (Shutterstock)

I’m a Salvadoran. Thirty years ago, my country was torn apart due to civil conflict over two visions of governance. We formally settled that conflict with the 1992 Chapultepec Accords, however that conflict continues to play out in the form of deep political polarization. Despite this, and despite many obstacles, including recurring natural disasters that have led to a stagnant economy, we have been able to sustain our young democracy. 

I believe the Central American region can become prosperous. Our citizens can live in a safe environment where they are free to achieve their maximum potential. El Salvador is a beautiful country, but more than the natural beauty, we have hard-working, warmhearted, and resilient people. 

In fact, we have reduced poverty levels from 65 percent in 1991 to 38 percent. But with economic growth a meager two percent, we fall short of the 55,000 net new jobs needed to employ all of our young people each year. As a result, our efforts to promote a better quality of life for our citizens have been insufficient, and one-third of our population lives abroad, mostly in the United States. The migration is a constant problem since talent finds opportunities outside our borders causing a human capital drain. 

A prosperous society is not only about economic growth. We need strong democratic institutions that can carry out the country’s development agenda and transform our reality. We need good governance that won’t be tempted by corruption or inefficiency and have people in power who are committed to quality public services. 

Our country and region recently made news because my own countrymen, who were fleeing violent gangs and political instability, were separated from their children as they crossed America’s borders. This is not the first time we made international headlines. In 2014 a significant number of unaccompanied minors were also detained at the U.S. border. These events shed light on the human drama our youth are experiencing. 

But we are at a tipping point. I am the vice president of Fusades, an influential think tank of the region, and we are creating a 5-year plan to promote good public policies. The policies emphasize strategic actions to create economic opportunities, improve public safety and access to the legal system, and ultimately increase our residents trust in the future. 

Our legal system is also an intricate web. We need Supreme Court Justices whose rulings and jurisprudence will bring down impunities. We also need devoted, honest, and independent lawyers. 

In February, we will have elections that I hope promote a new era for El Salvador. A renewed opportunity to carry-on with very important economic and political reforms that will put forth a clear route of development. Fusades has been a key player in the promotion of transparency and calling out corruption. 

I hope our presidential candidates are willing to listen and take action. If we encourage dialogue and a unified vision, we can promote prosperity for all and ultimately have the American dream. 

But we can’t achieve this dream alone. 

Many Central American countries are experiencing similar political strife. The George W. Bush Institute recently launched a Central America Prosperity Project. Myself and other leaders in the region welcome this opportunity to work together to find a path for sustained economic growth. We will produce a policy reform agenda, with clear priorities, that will put our countries on a faster growth curve. With the support of the Bush Institute, we will then encourage our governments to implement our strategy. 

Through a common vision and specific actions, we can change the current dynamics and achieve the dream of prosperity in the region. We are a group of Central American leaders promoting hope and inspiration. Together we can succeed. 

Claudia Umana is a George W. Bush Institute Central America Prosperity Project participant.