Center for Information, Documentation and Research Support (CIDAI)
Central American University (UCA)
San Salvador, El Salvador
Apdo. Postal (01)575, San Salvador, El Salvador
Tel: +503-273-4400 ext. 266 Fax: +503-273-5000
Since the signing of the peace accords, El Salvador's social and labor trends have been strongly influenced by economic tendencies, which have not only failed to turn macroeconomic achievements to the benefit of the most vulnerable, but also, and worse yet, the demands of the economy have undermined the standard of living of the majority.
With regard to the impact of the economy on politics, there is no doubt that neoliberal policies have exacerbated socio-economic inequalities, and thus become an important obstacle in the way of progress toward democracy: they have set limits on greater political participation, and have eroded the foundations which could increase citizens' political education and sophistication.
Who can deny that when the majority of a nation's people spend most of their daily efforts merely to survive, their concern for the polis loses relevance? In other words, this is one of the causes which explains people's political disaffection. But the problem of democracy in societies such as ours lies not only in people's lack of interest in politics, but also in the fact that their daily "struggle to survive" has become a ferocious, violent and desperate one, in which the end justifies the means, whatever they may be. In this context, recognition of the rights and duties of others, as well as the assumption of one's own responsibilities toward others and toward society as a whole -in other words, recognition, acceptance and respect for the law- become issues which concern no one in particular and which, worse yet, when put in practice, are seen by the great majority as something out of place, nonsensical. Indeed, the basic requirements for one's definition as a citizen are rejected and violated by the majority of society; and this, in great measure, is motivated by the struggle for survival demanded and imposed by economic trends, which are increasingly governed by neoliberal logic.
Democracy, understood as a political regime in which the equality of citizens is guaranteed through their growing participation in affairs of the polis, cannot properly take root if that participation does not occur; it also fails if citizens are not formed by building a commitment, on the part of each and every one of society's members, to recognizing and respecting others, as well as obeying and accepting the laws. Neoliberalism, which exacerbates socio-economic inequalities, conflicts with the demands of democracy. Over recent years, that contradiction has blossomed with great force in El Salvador. The impoverishment of the majority, as a consequence of neoliberal economic measures, has set formidable limits on the strengthening of political participation and the formation of a body of citizens, which would mean the consolidation of the process of building democracy.
In other regards, the negative impact of neoliberalism on the building of democracy has been only one of the aspects characterizing the Salvadoran historical process since the peace accords were signed. Another aspect which must be studied carefully has to do with the fragility of the political system, which has become manifest in its inability to act as an intermediary between the demands of neoliberal economic logic and the demands of society, especially that part of society made up of those who are hardest hit by structural adjustment policies, tax reforms and the reduction of the state.
If this contradiction we described between neoliberalism and democracy has highlighted the not-always coherent relationship between economics and politics, the second problem expresses not only the tension between the economy and society, but also the weakness of mechanisms of intermediation and conflict-resolution between opposing poles. In other words, we have seen the limits of politics in terms of institutionally channeling social demands and discontent, which are consequences of the socio-economic inequalities exacerbated by neoliberal economic policies.
Thus, over recent years, neoliberalism in El Salvador has done more than weaken politics by undermining basic conditions for participation and having a negative impact on building a citizen body. Its tendency to increase poverty and constrain mechanisms designed in the past to palliate the effects of structural adjustment policies has provoked social demands and protests to which the political system has been incapable of responding and which have overwhelmed it. Thus, the specter of non-governability has raised its head, popular mistrust in institutions has grown and trust in politics and politicians has diminished noticeably.
There is no doubt that, above and beyond obstacles to political participation which are imposed by the daily urgent need to survive, there is also a lack of interest in politics due to the meager attractions it and its protagonists can offer. Above and beyond obstacles to building a citizen body, induced by the "struggle for survival," there is also rejection of those who, under cover of the law, have enriched themselves illicitly and have peddled their influence. All this has produced a noticeable stagnation in the consolidation of democracy. All this has made it obvious how hard it is to reconcile democracy with neoliberalism, despite the theories of writers like Milton Friedman for whom "political freedom came hand in hand with the free market and the development of capitalist institutions." Here it is worth inserting a question posed by Ignacio Rchani in his article, "The divorce between democracy and capitalism" (Analisis Politico No. 26, Sept- Dec 1995, p. 48): "How can the neoliberal economy uphold a democratic system when the tendency is to increase the number of unemployed generated by new technologies?"
Proceso is published weekly in Spanish by the Center for Information, Documentation and Research Support (CIDAI) of the Central American University (UCA) of El Salvador. Portions are sent in English to the *reg.elsalvador* conference of PeaceNet in the USA and may be forwarded or copied to other networks and electronic mailing lists. Please make sure to mention Proceso when quoting from this publication.
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