We the People…

We the people of El Salvador live under a very different system of government than do ye the people of the United States.  I wish I understood it.  On the face of things, it seems it should be quite simple.  The country is the size of a small state.  It’s divided into 14 administrative departments composed of 267 municipalities.  To my knowledge, there are no unincorporated areas.  Therefore, every square inch of El Salvador no matter how rural or sparsely populated is part of a municipality.

El Salvador has a population slightly less than the city of New York but about the same as the state of New Jersey or the country of Israel.  About half are concentrated in the environs of the capital,  San Salvador, or the two major cities, Santa Ana in the west and San Miguel in the east.  The department seats are small cities or towns with outlying communities being part of the department’s municipalities.  El Refugio’s latest population figures indicate we have something over 10,000 residents.  I would estimate the “town” part has perhaps 5,000.  The rest live in the boonies.

Municipalities have a mayor, who is elected, and a council appointed by the mayor.  Services such as police, fire departments, schools, and utilities are under federal control.  Municipalities maintain the local streets, parks, and public facilities.  I don’t know what that leaves the town fathers to do other than collect the 45 cent per month property tax.  If there are any municipal building codes, food handling codes, traffic codes, or common public safety codes I am unaware of them and have not seen any enforced.

The departments have a governor who is appointed.  But he or she is not like a U.S. state governor.  The governor is involved in civil matters like performing marriages.  There is no departmental administrative, legislative, or judicial system.  That is all national.

The national government controls the military, police, fire, education, transportation, courts, utilities, and communication.  Being a small, homogeneous country, this is more efficient than having myriad geo-political sub-divisions and bureaucracies in constant conflict over authority and jurisdiction.

For me, it’s hard to see the government in action as we see regularly in the U.S.  The news shows us few major debates on the level of U.S. health care, how to create jobs, to control or not to control banks and insurance companies, or the prosecution of wars in Asia.  We’re too busy trying to keep our heads above water (figuratively and, for six months per year literally) to poke our noses in other countries’ businesses.

We have several political parties with fairly clearly defined ideologies in our legislature.  Coalitions are of needs formed in order to conduct the business of the nation.  They bicker and bargain to pass laws as Americans and all parliamentarians do.  People who follow politics have strong feelings about issues and their comments in the papers or TV interviews are highly emotional.

But how involved in the actual process are ‘we the people’?  There are no public town meetings that I’m aware of, no school board meetings, zoning committee meetings, neighborhood watch meetings.  There are none of the citizen-participation meetings Americans are familiar with even though they ignore them and miss their chances for input to their representatives.


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