E.E.U.U. stands for Estados Unidos (or United States in gringo speak). During the two weeks I’ve been here, my friends and family have continued to ask me what it’s like in El Salvador. To be honest, the US influence in this country is so strong, that sometimes I forget I’m in a different country.
Our team has had Quiznos for lunch (at least 2 times a week), we’ve frequented Pizza Hut and Tony Roma’s, sipped on bottled Starbucks frappuccinos, and at night fall asleep to the soft glow of the McDonalds golden arches across the street from our hotel. And while you might suspect that we are simply missing our country…in fact, we have spent considerable time trying to find local restaurants and food. But good old Americana is always in the forefront with its fast, quick, and dominating presence.
If you aren’t impacted by the neon signs of KFC, Burger King, Pizza Hut, and Mickey D’s, you need only to drive up the hill to the Santa Elena neighborhood where the enormous fortress of the US Embassy and USAID buildings stand. El Salvador receives more funding from USAID than many other Latin American countries – a legacy of the Cold War interventions of the US in the country. We’ve witnessed this in person as we have met with multiple non-governmental organizations and industry associations who all get their funding from…you guessed it, USAID. It’s quite impressive that our tax dollars have practically funded the entire social sector of El Salvador. And El Salvador has reciprocated – being the only country who continues to support the US presence in Iraq with the addition of its own troops.
Beyond the international politics, almost every Salvadoran has a US immigration story to tell, whether a personal tale, a friend, or a family member. While a few are legitimate marriages, or work permits, the vast majority are harrowing tales of desperate journeys through Guatemala and Mexico, river crossings, border patrol run-ins, and deportations.
But the one US presence you will not witness in El Salvador is its people. Unfortunately El Salvador’s past civil war, coupled with a strong gang presence has limited most American tourists from venturing here. But the few Americans (myself included) who have found themselves in this country immediately experience the fantastic potential this country has for tourism: beautiful scenery, temperate weather, national parks, deserted beaches, and warm friendly Salvadorans.
While I appreciate traveling in an “unspoilt” country, I hope for El Salvador’s sake that US tourism increases.