“Every Salvadorean owes $15,000 if you were to break down our national debt to only the US,” Jose told me on our shuttle bus. Turns out the figure is more like $1,300 but the societal impact is still the same: deep reliance on their massive neighbor to the North. During El Salvador’s civil war, the US loaned the ruling government seven billion dollars over 10 years in military aid. Though in spite of the damage done, San Salvador seems a very modern city by Central American standards. Signs of US-Salvadorean partnerships are everywhere and have no doubt, contributed to the emergence of some sort of middle class, which is probably why El Salvador is much more expensive to travel in than its neighboring countries.
Another externality of its deep relationship with the US is the rise of consumer culture in El Salvador, particularly in the capital. We stayed in near the zona rosa, which may well have been USA suburbia. Wendy’s, Tony Roma’s, KFC, Payless Shoes and no less than three Burger Kings were in the nearby shopping complex. We surveyed the surrounding area, looking for something decidedly third-world. Aha! Between a crack in a fence 10 blocks away we found some ramshackle abodes that are more characteristic of Central America. San Salvador does a pretty good job of hiding its poverty from foreigners, though if we had ventured into the true center, I’m sure we would have had a much different experience.