Margarito Nolasco, the National Youth Secretary of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) party and a substitute Parliamentarian for the department of San Miguel, recently participated in CISPES’ Fall Tour, “Salvadoran Youth, Adelante!” One of the purposes for the tour was to inform people in the US, including Salvadorans, about the primary achievements and challenges of the first two years of the first FMLN government and the aspirations of the next generation of social movement organizers in El Salvador. CISPES sat in on Margarito’s interview with El Tiempo Latino in DC.
What is the situation with youth in the country today?
One of our biggest challenges is to bring young voters into the political process; the youth of our country have the potential to be powerful political force but many of them don’t want to participate in politics. According to a recent poll, only 3% of the youth in El Salvador are members of a political party. This is a very important challenge for us. We need to raise their level of consciousness around the fact that yes, there are problems and challenges but that we can address them.
How can you ensure that people’s high hopes for President Funes aren’t frustrated the way that many people’s hopes for President Obama have been frustrated here in the US?
Rather than leave youth with frustrated expectations, they can become hopeful participants in the process of change. We need to show them that there are public officials who are at the service of the people; we have an opportunity to take advantage of the structures of the government to benefit the majority, especially the youth. One of the characteristics of young people is that they hope for things to happen quickly, rather than thinking about medium- and long-term change. Part of our challenge is to make people understand that the problems the country faces today aren’t problems that have arisen with the FMLN government; rather, they are an inheritance from the former ARENA governments. Now we are on a distinct path toward change. For example, the government is providing free education for all young people, from Pre-K to 9th grade. This is the only administration that has ever had a national youth policy… This focus on youth reflects a focus on what people in El Salvador need, not on the needs of the economic elite. This government has a focus on providing access to education, health and jobs for youth.
What is the government doing to create employment for youth?
Employment for youth should be an opportunity for young people to develop themselves, to overcome challenges and to create an alternative to migrating out of the country. When the FMLN won the elections, we inherited a broken economy. But due to investment and the creation of new jobs, the Gross Domestic Product is expected to grow 2.5 % this coming year, despite obstacles that the economic elite is trying to create. One [way] of creating new sources of employment is the Temporary Income Assistance Program (Programa de Asistencia Temporaral al Ingreso, or PATI).Through this program, young people are hired in their municipality to work and get skills trainings for six months. The work might be in construction, mechanics, electronics; the goal is to provide skills that will allow young people to insert themselves in the economy… and to allow young people to separate themselves from social problems, like drugs or gangs, and to orient their energy toward something positive.
What about the issue of youth violence? It’s certainly something we hear about a lot in the US.
…One of the biggest issues facing the country, and one of the biggest challenges of this government, is violence. Two years ago, the homicide rate in El Salvador was 13 per day. This level has gone down but people wouldn’t believe it, since they are constantly bombarded by images of murders in the news. Under the previous government [of Tony Saca] the media had a “pact of unity” to tone down the information about the levels of violence. Now, it’s the opposite. Despite that, the new government
is making an effort to reduce the levels of violence but we need a lot of support, from technical expertise to equipment. The Funes administration has proposed a tax increase on those who are making over $500,000 per year. Though this tax would affect only 3,000 people and businesses, the right-wing is creating a lot of obstacles, since they don’t want to pay their share or contribute to solving this problem. The other big problem is the high level of corruption; even the government has admitted that the judicial system is corrupt. So we need to combine increased resources with correct application of the law. The FMLN has proposed reviewing and purging the judicial system but the Supreme Court has resisted, as they are under strong pressure.
What should be the role of Salvadorans outside the country, who don’t have access to the vote?
All Salvadorans have the right to elect public officials, which is why the FMLN has proposed that Salvadorans living outside the country be able to vote. There is a tremendous effort to get this process ready for the 2014 elections, including the creation of an inter-institutional commission made up of representatives from the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, the National Registry of Naturalized Persons, and the Unique Identification Document (DUI) system. In the past, we’ve had a history of political parties manipulating the creation of DUIs to the benefit their candidates so we need to make sure that we aren’t opening the door to the creation of false DUIs in the US. We first need to find out who can vote and make sure that it’s only Salvadorans who are able to vote from outside the country. As part of this process, we plan to open 14 centers in the US so people can participate in the voting process.
What message would you like to send to Salvadoran youth?
First, that we have many problems facing youth in our country and second, that we are part of this society and can play a role in solving these problems. There are solutions and if we participate actively in our society, we can be protagonists in creating those solutions… It’s important to know that we have structural problems, which will require big solutions. While we have the power to change these economic power structures, it requires our participation, choosing the people who will best do that work in the government… I want to tell young people here and in El Salvador that we don’t need to wait for a miracle. We can do it ourselves; we can create a better life.