Small Business Owners and Gangs in El Salvador

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As an small business owners in El Salvador are targeted constantly by gangs for protection payments in order to allow their businesses to keep running. Gangs exert influence over neighborhoods by requiring an impuesto de guerra or “war tax” on businesses. Failure of businessmen to pay the gangs has resulted in pilfering of merchandise, destruction of the business, or at worst death to the owner and his family.

In particular, gangs target small business owners who are seen as profitable. In the vast majority of communities in El Salvador, successful small business owners clearly stand out from the average person in the population.

In U.S. immigration court, arguments have been made that small business owners are recognized as separate and distinct by their enterprising nature as well as from the official recognition and support by international organizations, and both the Salvadoran and United States government. While likely not meeting the legal definition of an immutable characteristic ( Castellano-Chacon vs. INS. 341 F.3d 533, 547 (6th Cir. 2003)), small business owners are clearly a distinct entity in their society and arguments can be made that such actions by gangs against these owners are not random acts against the population but targeted actions against a specific, recognized group who is the linchpin of economic prosperity for their country.

El Salvador

Small business owners are officially recognized in Salvadoran law and fostered in their activities and growth by El Salvador, the United States, the United Nations and Non-Governmental organizations (NGOs). Salvadoran law recognizes small business owners. The Law for the Promotion, Protection and Development for Micro and Small Businesses as well as the Law for the Promotion, Protection of the Arts Sector along with Article 6 of the Commercial Code give special recognition in law to these organizations [1].

The Salvadoran government have two major funds which give aid to small business. Fondepro is a financial Fund destined to grant non-reimbursable co-financing to small businesses. The entrepreneur initially executes his project with his own resources and then asks the fund to reimburse him. Projects could be a) Individual (one company), with a co-financing limit from $ 8,001.00 up to $ 100,000.00 of Fund contribution, b) Associative (three or more companies), with a co-financing limit from $ 8,001.00 up to $ 200,000.00 of Fund contribution. Bandesal gives credit through its “Banca Emprendes” program to micro and small business entrepreneurs who are interested in executing productive projects. These credits are intended for the purchase of furniture, machinery, working capital and remodeling of facilities, among others. Amounts from $1,000 to $25,000. The entrepreneur must present a business plan along with documents to prove his participation in an entrepreneurial training process [2].

The United States

The U.S. Agency for International Development has a 5-year program (2017-2022) called “ Proyecto de USAID para la competitividad Económica”. The total USAID project is $48 million that will be used in various programs to improve the competitiveness of companies. Two of their main goals are: 1. strengthen subject matter experts and the companies that support them and 2. promote a more favorable business environment to companies [3]. They are funding a 15-month project in 2019 in which 50 small businesses will receive workshops focused on how to develop links with other national and international companies. The program will be executed by FUNDE which is an organization dedicated to promoting the competitiveness of micro, small and medium enterprises in Latin America [4]. CDMYPE-UFG, a micro and small Business Development Center operated by Universidad Francisco Gavidia, is strengthened with technical and economic support provided by USAID since 2013. They provide business advice and specialized technical consultancies, in order to make small companies more competitive [5]. USAID also signed agreements in 2018 with ten financial institutions in the country to support micro, small and medium business. Their goal is to support banks with training and technical assistance so that they can develop the products and services tailored for micro, small and medium businesses [6]. They also work with Business Council for Peace (Bpeace) in a program known as “Maximizer” which will put at the service of the companies a whole staff of international experts that will help them in the elaboration of a diagnosis on their current situation and what are the points in which they can improve [7].

International Governmental and Non-Governmental Organizations

Regional and World organizations are also assisting small businesses in El Salvador. Central American Bank for Economic Integration (BCIE) is the main development agency that manages and channels resources and has seven active programs in El Salvador [8]. The United Nations just finished the Programa Desarrollo Proveedores with its goal of strengthening of the capacities for the implementation of supplier development methodologies for the improvement of competitiveness and employment small businesses [9].

NGOs such as Fundación CENTROPYME ( Fundación Promotora de la Competitividad de la Micro, Pequeña y Mediana Empresa ) was created to promote and integrate micro and small businesses in El Salvador through the generation of business links with other companies, both nationally and internationally [10]. Asociación CDMYPE ( Centros de Desarrollo de la Micro y Pequeña Empresa) is an organization created by nine institutions (some universities among them) that, in alliance with the National Micro and Small Business Commission (CONAMYPE), operate Business Development Centers to boost economic growth in El Salvador [11]. Finally, Fundación para el Autodesarrollo de la Micro y Pequeña Empresa (FADEMYPE) it’s a non-profit organization that promotes the self-development of entrepreneurs of micro and small Salvadoran companies, through loans and business advice. Its purpose is to improve the living conditions and the participation of businessmen and women in local economic development [12].

Conclusion

As shown in this essay, small business owners are a vital element of the social and economic life of El Salvador, are distinct, and recognized as such by the Salvadoran government, the United States and international bodies. These entrepreneurs are specifically and systemically targeted by gangs because of their success and the fact that they standout economically and socially from the larger society. In immigration court, arguments can be crafted that show this “distinctness” and thus bolster arguments about the reasonable fear such persons have if they are returned to El Salvador.

Notes:

[1] See Código de Comercio (Art. 6) ( https://www.asamblea.gob.sv/decretos/details/348 ); Ley de Fomento, Proteccion y Desarrollo Para la Micro y Pequeña Empresa ( https://www.asamblea.gob.sv/decretos/details/1767 ); Ley De Fomento, Protección Y Desarrollo Del Sector Artesanal ( https://www.asamblea.gob.sv/decretos/details/2889 )

[2] See Fondepro at http://www.fondepro.gob.sv/; Bandesal at http://www.bandesal.gob.sv/programas/banca-emprendes/

[3]See:https://issuu.com/proyectodeusaidpar...o_de_usaid_par

[4] See: https://www.laprensagrafica.com/econ...0401-0510.html ; http://funde.org/proyecto-de-usaid

[5] See: https://www.ufg.edu.sv/i.cdmype.ufg.html#.XUycguhKjIU

[6] See: https://www.laprensagrafica.com/econ...0504-0100.html ;

https://www.elsalvador.com/noticias/...r/477825/2018/

[7] See: https://www.elsalvador.com/noticias/...s/517806/2018/

[8] See: https://www.bcie.org/modalidades-e-i...mas-de-mipyme/

[9] See: https://open.undp.org/projects/00099058

[10] See: https://www.centromype.org/

[11] See: http://www.acdmype.org/

[12] See: https://fademype.org.sv/

About the Authors:

Robert Kirkland is a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and operational Latin American Foreign Area Officer. He has a B.S. from the United States Military Academy, West Point and a M.A. and Ph.D. in Latin American history from the University of Pittsburgh. He also has a graduate certificate in Latin American Studies from the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. He has provided expert testimony on drug cartel and gang violence in Mexico and Central America since his retirement from the Army in 2014. He can be reached at info@robertkirklandconsulting.com

Duncan Breda is an investigator for the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command at Fort Bliss outside of El Paso, Texas. He is a graduate of St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas where he earned a BS in Criminology.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.


About The Author

Robert Kirkland Robert Kirkland is a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and operational Latin American Foreign Area Officer. He has a B.S. from the United States Military Academy, West Point and a M.A. and Ph.D. in Latin American history from the University of Pittsburgh. He also has a graduate certificate in Latin American Studies from the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. He has provided expert testimony on drug cartel and gang violence in Mexico and Central America since his retirement from the Army in 2014. He can be reached at info@robertkirklandconsulting.com.