: Recognize and
The New Central
r. president-elect, please take a moment
to recognize the vast changes in my region, Central America. Some of your compatriots already
have, and they are surprised by what they have
found. I recently enjoyed a cup of Salvadoranian
coffee with a U.S. investor who regularly commutes between Manhattan and El Salvador, in
less time than it would take him to go to San
Francisco. He told me that the image of Central
America many people in the U. S. have is no longer consistent with reality.
That shouldn’t be surprising. Today, Central
America is a region of peace, with democratically elected governments who respect individual
freedoms and human rights. It is difficult for
anyone who visits us now to imagine that just
two decades ago most of our countries were suffering the horrors of civil war.
Certainly the change has been recognized
to some extent by Washington. One of the
most significant events for our region in recent
years has been the Free Trade Agreement signed
between Central America, the Dominican
Republic and the United States, also known as
CAF TA-DR, which eliminated tariffs on over 80
percent of U.S. exports to the region, and will
phase out the remainder in the next 10 years.
The treaty has opened important economic
opportunities for all of us. Above all, it provides
a valuable platform for Central American countries to generate more and better employment
for our citizens.
But it is important also to realize that our
path to normalcy is still filled with obstacles,
and your new administration can do a lot to
help us overcome those that remain.
You would be helping us build on some genuine achievements. During the 1990s, Central
American nations adopted structural reform
programs that allowed them to stabilize their
economies and improve social indicators. Those
measures brought about a 4. 5 percent average
overall growth in Central American economies
during that period. In 2007 alone, the region
grew on average 5. 4 percent.
El Salvador, my country, offers a good example of what this has meant to real lives. In the
last 15 years illiteracy rates decreased from 15 per
cent to 6 percent for those aged 15 to 24. Average
schooling increased from 6. 1 to 7. 9 years for the
same age group.
2 During that period, the percentage of poor people declined from 60 percent to 35 percent. The numbers of extreme poor
decreased from 32 percent to 12. 5 percent.