Jewish World Review March 8, 2001/ 13 Adar, 5761
Saving El Salvador with dollars and sense
SAN MIGUEL, El Salvador | The little boy, watching a puffy white cloud sitting like a wide
brimmed sombrero on top of Volcano Chaparrastique looming majestically over San Miguel,
squealed with delight: "The volcano wears a hat.'' Salvadorans take their pleasures in the landscape
where they can find them.
San Miguel's distinctions are not grand, but a grand one indeed is that the city did not take a direct
hit in the two earthquakes that struck exactly a month apart. But if this city escaped earthquake
devastation, it nevertheless suffers from the afflictions found everywhere else in this tiny country -- a
pervasive poverty, cramped housing, bad water and the dust, grime and pollution that make
everyday experience oppressive.
Mercifully, the fruits, vegetables and fish are delicious. During the long Marxist insurgency, the army
often landed small prop planes on a grassy field outside San Miguel just so soldiers could decamp
to feast on the mariscada, a rich creamy fish broth with juicy prawns and lobster. It's a specialty of
El Cuco, a beach of black sand on the Pacific, is an hour away and offers fantasies for the
starry-eyed Salvadorans who dream of it becoming a tourist mecca, with the beautiful people
sipping daiquiris on luxurious balconies as they watch the red-and-gold sun slip down the sky. Some
day, not today. A child near the beach is startled to see a covey of gringos, and quickly runs away.
She returns with necklaces and bracelets of roughly strung shells, offering them to the highest bidder.
(Everybody bargains no matter how small the sums.)
One afternoon I met with a group of professors from the San Miguel campus of the University of El
Salvador. The university buildings, like so much of the architecture in this country, is dull and
unkempt, brightened only by occasional murals in flamboyant hues. One mural honors Archbishop
Oscar Romero, a hero to the rebels in the insurgency who was assassinated by death squads while
saying mass in the chapel of the Divine Providence Hospital in San Salvador.
A number of the professors are still bitter that the United States supported the government and
complain that the United States hasn't sent enough help in the aftermath of the earthquakes. The next
day President Bush, meeting with Salvadoran President Francisco Flores at the White House,
agreed to halt the deportation of Salvadoran illegals for 18 months so they can continue to send
President Flores welcomed this measure, saying it was important because so many Salvadorans can
send American dollars directly to their families in towns devastated by the earthquakes. More than
150,000 Salvadorans who live in the United States without documents are expected to apply for
temporary working papers; many live in and around the nation's capital. In my own Washington
neighborhood, I can buy papusas, tortillas filled with cheese or pork, as well as plantains fried by
Nearly 1 million Salvadorans (including illegals) send an estimated $1.7 billion home each year,
which amounts to 14 percent of the country's gross domestic product. Salvadorans, after Mexicans,
make up the largest number of illegals living in the United States.
Bush also pledged $52 million in reconstruction aid this year and promises to match or increase that
next year. This may or may not assuage feelings of the professors who are angry that American
dollars are now distributed as legal currency along with colones. (Shops sell kitschy leather wallets
with the image of Ben Franklin imprinted on the one $100 bill next to wallets depicting a bill for 100
colones with the seal of El Salvador.)
Everyone worries about how aid money filters down to the people who need it most. I saw several
projects adorned with signs announcing that the Agency for International Development was
responsible for the reconstruction, but very little looked to have been accomplished since Hurricane
Mitch blew through two years ago.
Between the bureaucracies and the middlemen, between good intentions and greased palms, help
moves slowly. Two hundred thousand families have been made homeless by the earthquakes and
damage estimates run to $3 billion. Many Salvadorans once skeptical of George W. Bush helping
them much -- speaking Spanish was nice but not enough -- now hail him as friend. But soon
enough, alas, the earth will move
02/27/01: The last cowboys of their craft
02/23/01: When Bubba graduates to Bobo
02/16/01: Clarence Thomas addresses an imperfect world
02/12/01: Ariel Sharon, not by Steven Spielberg
02/07/01: Profaning the sacred with the political
02/05/01: What's the Creator got to do with it?
02/01/01: Live like the snopses, leave like the snopses
01/29/01: It's education, stupid
01/25/01: "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows"
01/22/01: Poetry and religion in the Bush administration
01/18/01: Ashcroft can't dance (don't ask him)
01/15/01: Clothes make the First Lady
01/11/01: Pity Jerusalem in the 'peace' process
01/08/01: Laying the political race card
01/04/01: 'What women want' in the new millennium
01/02/01: This year, looking ahead is sure sweeter than looking back
12/21/00: Black power with a Republican face
12/21/00: First impressions of two First Ladies
12/18/00: Challenge for the 'better angels of our nature'
12/14/00: What we've lost sight of
12/13/00: Hillary in the lion's den
12/08/00: Return of the 'second sex' on campus
12/04/00: Politics as entertainment today
11/30/00: Winner vs. whiner
11/27/00: Measuring against history
11/23/00: Memories of Thanksgiving past
11/17/00: In defense of the Electoral College
11/16/00: More than one way to win an election
11/13/00: Sexual politics squared
11/09/00: A Middle East legacy
11/06/00: Filling in the dots at campaign's end
11/02/00: His own man in full
10/30/00: The Oval Office, through a glass brightly
10/23/00: There'll always be an England. Maybe.
10/19/00: The celebrity candidate
10/16/00: 'Ladies night' at the second debate
10/12/00: Gore vs. Bush: Volvo vs. Maserati
10/10/00: We weep for Rami for he is dead
10/05/00: Looking at Lieberman from inside the 'ghetto'
10/02/00: Campaigns, candidates, and kissy-face
09/28/00: Laughing and crying over Joe Lieberman
09/21/00: Targeting teenagers for money
09/21/00: Sexual politics in New York
09/18/00: Surviving the stereotypes and debates
09/14/00: Gloria Steinem runs cheerfully into captivity
09/12/00: Sex in the eye of the partisan
09/07/00: 'Sex and death' on the college campus
09/05/00: Joe Lieberman as a 'Menorah Man'
08/31/00: Rising suns of the conventions
08/17/00: Changing icons: From Loretta Young to Hillary Clinton
08/14/00: The Creator returns to the public square
08/10/00: Bursting with pride, but caution too
08/07/00: Brains, beauty and beastly politics
08/03/00: A candidate with a superego
07/31/00: The sizzling Lynne Cheney
07/27/00: The party of the aging Playboys
07/24/00 Hillary drives the Jewish wagon into a ditch
07/20/00 Conservatives gone fishin'
07/17/00: Snoop Doggy Dogg was a founding father, wasn't he?
07/13/00: When a teenager doesn't need a prime minister
07/10/00: Abortion as cruel and unusual punishment
07/06/00: Surviving 'survivor' TV
07/03/00: Independence Day with Norman Rockwell
06/29/00: Here comes 'something old'
06/26/00: Waiting too long for the baby
06/22/00: Good teachers, curious students and oxymorons
06/19/00: Wanted: Some ants for Gore's pants
06/15/00: Like father, like daughter
06/12/00: Culture wars and conservative warriors
06/08/00: Return of the housewife
06/05/00: Hillary and Al -- playing against type
05/31/00: The sexual revolution confronts the SUV
05/25/00: Waiting for the movie
05/22/00: Pistol packin' mamas
05/18/00: Journalists and the 'new time' religion
05/15/00: There's nothing like a (military) dame
05/11/00: 'The Human Stain' on campus
05/09/00: We've come a long way, Betty Friedan
05/04/00: From George Washington to Mansa Masu
05/01/00: Gore's ruthless doublespeak
04/28/00: Doing it Castro's way
04/24/00: Women's studies beget narrow minds
04/17/00: The slippery slope of anti-Semitism
04/13/00: A villain larger than life
04/10/00: When mourning becomes an economic tragedy
04/03/00: The last permissible bigotry
03/30/00: Seeking the political Oscar
03/23/00: The gaying of America
03/20/00: Pointy-eared quadrupeds on campus
03/16/00: The shocking art of the establishment
03/13/00: Sawdust on the campaign trail
03/10/00: Campaign rhetoric of manhood
03/06/00: The Amphetamine of the People
03/02/00: Elegy for Amadou
02/29/00: With only a million, what's a poor girl to do?
02/24/00: The changing politics of change
02/16/00: Tip from Hillary: 'Let 'em eat eggs'
02/10/00: No seances with Eleanor
02/07/00: Campaigning like our founding fathers
02/03/00: When neo-Nazis have short memories
01/31/00: George W. -- 'Ladies man' and 'man's man'
01/27/00: Dead white males and live white politicians
01/25/00: Smarting over presidential smarts
01/21/00: A post-modern song for `The Sopranos'
01/19/00: When personality is a long-distance plus
01/13/00: French lessons in amour --- and marriage
01/10/00: Reaching for the Big Golden Apple
01/07/00: Liddy Dole as the face of feminism
01/04/00: Hillary: From victim to victor
12/30/99: 'Dream catchers' for the millennium
12/27/99: In search of a candidate with strength and eloquence
12/21/99: The president as First Lady
12/16/99: Columbine with blurred hindsight
12/09/99: Homeless deserve discriminating attention
12/07/99: Casual censors and deadly know-nothings
12/02/99: Why mom didn't make general: A reality tale
11/30/99: Potholes on the road to the Promised Land
11/25/99: A feast for the spirit and the stomach
11/23/99: Fathers need to say 'I (can) do'
11/18/99: Adventures of a conservative pundit
11/15/99: Traveling with Jefferson on the information highway
11/11/99: Wanted: 'Foliage of forbiddinness' for the oval office
11/09/99: Eggs, art and rotten commerce
11/05/99: Al Gore, 'Alpha Male'. Bow wow.
11/01/99: Gay love
10/28/99: Lose one Dole, lose two
10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink
©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate