Skip to main content

Common Dreams. Journalism funded by people, not corporations.

There has never been—and never will be—an advertisement on our site except for this one: without readers like you supporting our work, we wouldn't exist.

No corporate influence. No pay-wall. Independent news and opinion 365 days a year that is freely available to all and funded by those who support our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good.

Our mission is clear. Our model is simple. If you can, please support our Fall Campaign today.

Support Our Work -- No corporate influence. No pay-wall. Independent news funded by those who support our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. Please support our Fall Campaign today.

U.S. Helps Push Privatization Scheme in El Salvador

A cross-border fight erupts against a public-private partnership law.

Hilary Goodfriend

 by Dollars & Sense

Unions in El Salvador are on high alert, fighting a privatization scheme that has the full weight of the U.S. government behind it. Led by the Salvadoran Union Front, a militant coalition of public- and private-sector unions, workers are mobilizing against a proposed Public-Private Partnership (P3) Law, drafted by Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes’ office with U.S. Treasury Department assistance. The law is an initiative of the bilateral development agreement called the Partnership for Growth, which the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador calls a “signature effort of President Obama’s development policy.” With everything from ports, airports, and roads to municipal services and higher education on the auction block, the P3 law threatens public-sector workers with layoffs, wage cuts, and union busting. In the face of aggressive U.S. pressure for the law’s passage, Salvadoran workers are counting on international solidarity to protect their jobs and defend state services.

“For us,” says José Alberto Cartagena Tobias of the SITEAIES airport workers union, “a public-private partnership is nothing more than privatization.” Workers like him know firsthand the cost of privatization. After state banks, telecommunications, electricity, and pensions were sold off under the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) administrations of the 1990s, labor conditions plummeted. Five thousand workers were laid off at the telecommunications company, and those remaining saw salary reductions, the loss of seniority, and their union dissolved. Nearly 1,000 workers were laid off at the Acajutla port following privatizations in 2001; dock workers’ daily wages dropped by 90% and their union was dismantled. At the airport, security, cargo, and cleaning services were privatized that year; these workers now earn $240/month, while the unionized airport workers earn a minimum of $552/month.


Soaring utility rates and rising unemployment soon turned public opinion against privatization. In 2003, 150,000 Salvadorans took to the streets to shut down ARENA President Francisco Flores’ attempt to privatize the health-care system; little has been privatized since.

Today, the U.S. government and Salvadoran economic elite are trying a different tack. The new strategy, explains Gilberto García of the Center for Labor Study and Support (CEAL), “appears more ‘lite’.” The P3 Law is designed to shield new contracts from the controversies that damned past concessions. Currently, all privatizations and concessions require legislative approval. The proposed law, however, would create a body in the executive office to approve concessions, with many contracts bypassing the legislature entirely. And the bill is more generous to corporate bidders than it is to state budgets; for larger concessions requiring legislative approval, a bidding corporation would be guaranteed a 1% return on bid value if debate extends past 45 days, or if the bid is rejected. Furthermore, equal-treatment stipulations ensure a major bidding advantage for transnational corporations, which generally have more capital than local companies. Workers like Cartagena fear that with concessions funneling former sources of state funding into foreign bank accounts, vital social programs will inevitably suffer: “The few resources that remain with the State will be in private hands—people who come from other countries to exploit [us] and then take our money who-know-where.”

Through constant lobbying and mobilizations over the past year, the Salvadoran labor movement has made its position clear. These efforts have won the support of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), the leftist governing party that allied with Mauricio Funes, a non-FMLN member and progressive journalist, to win the Presidency in 2009. But while the FMLN opposes the President’s bill, it alone does not hold enough legislative seats to block the law’s passage. “We are rejecting public-private partnerships,” shouted Mari Carmen Molina of the Union Confederation of Salvadoran Workers to the cheers of 70,000 amassed in a San Salvador plaza on May Day 2012, “because even though the government sells it as a concession, we know that these are privatizations!”

But the U.S. is hitting back. In recent months, U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador Mari Carmen Aponte has launched a pressure campaign for the passage of the P3 Law, warning in national media that the law is a “prerequisite” for a disbursement of over $350 million in development aid, and stating that $50 million of those funds must be reserved for P3 projects.

Salvadoran public-sector unions are calling on U.S. allies to denounce this intervention. In February, Salvadoran labor leaders met with union members and officials in cities across the United States during a tour organized by the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES).In Washington, D.C., Jaime Rivera of theElectrical Sector Workers’ Union (STSEL) emphasized the stakes of the struggle: “This matter goes far beyond what will happen to us as workers. This is a matter of defending our national assets, of not allowing them to be turned over to private hands, who will profit off of our infrastructure and national resources at the expense of our people.”

U.S. unions and labor councils, recognizing similar privatization threats to U.S. workers, are heeding the call. Labor groups including the San Francisco and Washington State labor councils, SEIU local 6, ILWU local 5, UNITE HERE local 2, the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement NYC, DC 37 and many others have passed resolutions condemning the US pressure for the P3 Law, and have sent letters to President Funes’ office and party leaders in the legislature to support the Salvadoran unions’ opposition to the bill. In addition, over 1,000 US residents have added their signatures to a petition to Ambassador Aponte, demanding an end to US pressure for the law.

Early debate around the P3 law has already begun in the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly. The right-wing parties have the majority votes necessary for the bill’s approval; only massive popular opposition can stall its passage. Addressing U.S. workers, SITEAIES’ José Alberto Cartagena Tobias calls for solidarity: “What we need, definitely, are allies. We need a lot of allies. ... And as soon as possible, because we know that this is practically already on top of us.”

To learn more, take action, or to join the 2013 labor solidarity delegation to El Salvador for International Workers’ Day, please visit www.cispes.org.


© 2021 Dollars & Sense

Hilary Goodfriend

Hilary Goodfriend is a researcher based in San Salvador and a former board member of the Committee in Solidarity With the People of El Salvador (CISPES).

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'Outrageous and Shameful': Dems May Cut Paid Leave Due to Manchin's Opposition

Decrying the plan, advocacy groups vowed that "the American people are not going to allow that essential human need to be ignored and negotiated away behind closed doors."

Jessica Corbett ·


Open Letter Warns Trump's 'Big Lie' GOP Poses Existential Threat to Democracy

"Now is the time for leaders in all walks of life—for citizens of all political backgrounds and persuasions—to come to the aid of the republic."

Brett Wilkins ·


Ahead of Historic House Hearing, Fresh Big Oil Misinformation Campaign Exposed

"It's always helpful to remember that big fossil fuel companies (besides being overwhelmingly responsible for carbon pollution) are also skeevy disinformation hucksters."

Jessica Corbett ·


'Very Welcome' Progress as Iran Agrees to Restart Talks on Nuclear Deal Sabotaged by Trump

One peace advocate urged all sides to reconvene negotiations "as soon as possible and with renewed urgency" to avert "disastrous" consequences for Iran and the world.

Brett Wilkins ·


House Progressives: 'When We Said These Two Bills Go Together, We Meant It'

"Moving the infrastructure bill forward without the popular Build Back Better Act risks leaving behind working people, families, and our communities."

Andrea Germanos ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo