By Patricia Guadalupe | Special to The Tico Times
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A group of Salvadoran government officials and business leaders were in Washington, D.C, recently to lobby for a second agreement with a U.S.-based program established to help several developing countries.
The Millennium Challenge Corporation was created by the U.S. Congress in 2004 as a partnership between the United States and select developing countries to offer assistance in programs ranging from transportation, education, infrastructure and anti-corruption practices.
El Salvador recently completed a five-year, $461 million agreement with the MCC on agricultural production, business development in rural areas, and transportation infrastructure, among others.
“We are here first of all to thank the U.S. government and the people of the United States for the support they have given El Salvador,” said Alexander Segovia, technical adviser to Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes. Segovia oversees the Salvadoran government’s social and economic plan.
“We want to also stress that the government and business sectors are working together in El Salvador for continued economic growth and development, and in ending poverty, and we hope that a second MCC compact can be established between El Salvador and the United States,” he added.
Segovia stressed that the first agreement helped break what he called “a vicious cycle” in El Salvador of slow economic growth, little investment and slow job growth that had lasted for many years in the Central American country. El Salvador also was one of the first countries to participate in the Partnership for Growth, a program between the U.S. and select countries to assist in economic growth. The MCC and more than a dozen U.S. government agencies have joined to coordinate that program.
A second MCC compact, and continued participation in programs that assist El Salvador in overcoming years of economic and social difficulties, are “fundamental” in helping maintain certain policies in El Salvador, Segovia said.
“We have many elections coming up in El Salvador, and these types of programs offer continuity to the strategic plans and programs that will help bring long-term investment and jobs to El Salvador,” he added, addressing a Council of the Americas forum in downtown Washington, D.C.
The gathering, which attracted an overflowing crowd, was co-sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute and the Woodrow Wilson Institute, two leading think tanks in the U.S. capital.
“This is not an academic exercise,” said COA Vice President Eric Farnworth. “The leadership of El Salvador is in this room.”
Segovia said that a second compact is needed to bring continuity (a compact is a multi-year agreement between the MCC and eligible countries): “The first compact was very successful, and the second compact will help establish sustained investment in our country no matter who is in office. We need continuity in our policies and not have every administration start from scratch.”
Francisco Calleja, president of Grupo Calleja, which owns El Salvador’s leading chain of supermarkets, said that the Salvadoran business community is ready to continue working with the local government and the U.S. on programs that will help El Salvador improve all sectors of the country.
“When President Funes and the FMLN were first elected, we in the business community were worried that relations between the United States and El Salvador would cool. But that has not been the case, and the relationship continues to be close because these types of programs are above and beyond any political differences,” he said, adding that the Partnership for Growth and similar programs have helped the country enormously.
“I am confident El Salvador will be a better place five to 10 years from now. We all have a common goal: El Salvador,” he added.
Ricardo Poma, CEO of the conglomerate Grupo Poma and university rector at the Advanced School of Business and Economics in the capital city San Salvador, said he and other entrepreneurs view assistance and the success therein with regional eyes.
“El Salvador of course is our highest priority, but this is also a regional issue. As a region, we are the size of Colombia and we can be globally competitive,” Poma said.
The Washington visit also included meetings with Obama administration officials and members of Congress, as the Salvadoran delegation pushes for approval of a second millennium compact. El Salvador is seeking $270 million, largely to develop its coastal region. The MCC will meet on July 15 to discuss El Salvador’s request, and a decision is expected in September.