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Nueva Esperanza is a rural community on the Pacific coast of El Salvador, close to the mouth of the Lempa river in Usulután. The community, partly established by returning refugees, has for many years been supported by a solidarity group in the UK. The group has launched a video (in Spanish, with English subtitles), depicting the work of a farm co-operative there, which is producing non-GM maize seed. The co-op provides employment for up to 60 workers and produces the H59 Esperanza variety of maize, which they say is well adapted to the country’s extremely variable climate.
Co-operative workers are very frank in acknowledging that their success has been heavily dependent on low interest credits provided by ALBA Alimentos, one of the ALBA initiatives established by an agreement between the Salvadorean and Venezuelan governments and linked to the various oil trading arrangements Venezuela has promoted with its neighbours.
In September, Luz Estrella Rodriguez, Director of Alba Alimentos, told ElSalvador.com that, following a record harvest of beans, rice and, especially, maize, the consortium would in November fix the amount of grain to be sent to Venezuela in payment of the oil shipments.
Unsurprisingly, ALBA initiatives attract persistent criticism from business circles. Jorge Daboub, Director of ANEP, the Salvadorean National Association for Private Enterprise, is no exception. In a recent interview with La Prensa Gráfica, he described the work of ALBA Alimentos as “yet another intervention by the government in an area which should be managed by private enterprise”. ANEP had in February 2013 demanded that the Superintendencia de Competencia (equivalent to the UK’s Monopolies Commission) investigate acquisitions by ALBA Petroleos and its associated companies, including ALBA Alimentos. In Diario El Mundo, commentator Lorena Mendoza asks “This amounts to express-delivery cash, delivered to your home with very few strings. On top of which, the same lending institution buys the harvest from the producer at an excellent price. If the market price is $13 per quintal, Alba Alimentos will pay you $18. Too good to be true! And who really benefits? Can this company really be profitable? It’s clear that the profit is counted not in dollars, but in votes. If free milk for children and free school uniforms have been successful and popular, why wouldn’t the kind of credit offered by Alba Alimentos be similarly successful?”
The writer fails to observe the irony of her argument, the miserable parsimony of her implicit objection to milk and school uniforms, and the unconscious acceptance that the programme is successful. As the FMLN itself states, “The visionary social projects launched by the ALBA Petróleos company in El Salvador in every case guarantees the development of sectors who have traditionally been marginalised and excluded from government economic policies.”. Nevertheless, more disinterested commentators may reasonably wonder about the sustainability of some of the projects: credit for rural co-operatives is extremely difficult to assess and manage, and without thorough systems of control and support, high failure rates are not uncommon. Hopefully Nueva Esperanza will survive and thrive.