Benedicte Bull & Nelson Cuellar: Elites and the limits of interactive environmental

ENGOV Working paper No. 5, 2013


El Salvador is often viewed as the quintessence of a Latin American oligarchic state, in which a small group of families controlled the agro‐export economy and the state, in shifting alliances with the ilitary. This model not only resulted in marginalization of peasant farmers and widespread rural poverty, but also the most severe deforestation in the hemisphere, as well as soil‐degradation and water‐pollution, particularly in the cotton and sugar producing zones. However, El Salvador has undergone a thorough economic shift since the 1980s towards being a largely service‐based economy highly dependent on the remittances from Salvadoran guest‐workers in the United States, but with a weak performance in terms of economic growth, poverty reduction and job generation.

When the government backed by the left‐wing party and former guerrilla, Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN) took power they were faced with the triple challenge of restoring national growth and production, of ensuring a more equitable distribution and of overcoming the deep environmental crisis and severe impacts of climatic change that El Salvador suffered from.

However, in order to implement the ambitious plans for the transformation of the economic model into a more sustainable one, the government depended on cooperation with the old economic elites for tax‐income and investments. This case study focuses on the evolution of the relationship between the government and the economic elites and implications for environmental governance. It shows how the government’s attempts to establish non‐hierarchical, multi‐stakeholder governance initiatives have been hampered by the extreme structural weakness of the state confronted with the economic elites, and by the deep politicization of the economic elites. Indeed, the elites have rejected regulation and governance mechanisms even where they would have invoked limited COSTs and could have signified new economic opportunities, due to the political antagonism between the economic elite and the government. The paper discusses the implications of this for theories of environmental governance.

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Environment, governance, El Salvador, elites, development.


Published Dec. 11, 2013 2:54 PM - Last modified Dec. 11, 2013 2:54 PM