Last week, at the 14th annual National Private Sector Encounter (ENADE) in San Salvador, the most powerful agents of El Salvador’s economic elite proposed an extreme municipal privatization initiative, based on a model implemented in post-coup Honduras.
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, who assumed power through fraudulent elections last year, was invited as the event’s keynote speaker but canceled at the last minute, citing security concerns after Salvadoran social movement groups planned a protest against him. Instead, Hernández sent administration representatives to promote the country’s controversial “Development and Employment Zones” (ZEDE) initiative, commercial zones with separate legal systems that exempt investors, primarily foreign ones, from national and international labor and human rights protections—the same investors that currently enable and benefit from the current dire situation of rampant corruption, political violence and human rights violations in Honduras.
El Salvador’s National Association of Private Enterprise (ANEP) is now recommending the installation of similar autonomous, privately run “charter cities” across the country. This vision stands in stark contrast to that offered by President Sánchez Cerén, who also addressed the ENADE. The president appealed to El Salvador’s recalcitrant private sector to seek a model of economic development that “has human beings and their quality of life at its center.”
With El Salvador’s leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) party currently holding the presidency and the most seats in the Legislative Assembly, the constitutional reforms necessary to implement the “charter cities” are highly unlikely at this juncture. Nevertheless, the proposals forged at this year’s ENADE provide a sobering insight into the conservative elite opposition’s vision for the country’s future.