Today’s ceremony is an opportunity for El Salvador and the United Kingdom to renew a friendship that was started a long time ago.
Madame President of the Asamblea, distinguished deputados, dear diplomatic colleagues, distinguished invited guests, members of the press
Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you all today. It is not every day I get the opportunity to address such a key audience, so please permit me to share a few personal thoughts. I would like to speak about several key themes today. These will include the Magna Carta, the economy, gangs and security and, of course, flamingos.
When I first arrived in El Salvador eight months ago, I was given the challenge of presenting our flag to the Asamblea. So I would like to say to my colleagues, thank you for the challenge - Promise made, Promise kept. But today is much more than about accepting challenges. After an unfortunate absence of ten years up to 2012, today’s ceremony is an opportunity for El Salvador and the United Kingdom to renew a friendship that was started a long time ago. It is once again a reminder of our presence in El Salvador and a proud moment for the Embassy.
I hope that the Union Flag will serve as a reminder of our friendship, one that we value and missed during our absence.
I am particularly delighted to be able to do this ceremony in the year of the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta.
As you know, this is a charter agreed by King John of England at Runnymede near Windsor on 15 June 1215. It was recently described by one of the United Kingdom’s leading judges as “the greatest constitutional document of all times – the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot”. The principles of the Magna Carta have served as the basis for the foundation of many States and institutions, including the US and the United Nations.
Of course we are all familiar with the central theme of upholding individual human rights and freedom from persecution without the rule of law. But perhaps the most important clause of the Magna Carta was that nobody, not even the Monarch himself, was above the law and free from prosecution. It is a principle retained in the UK to this day and a reminder to all that no matter how important we think we are, we must still be subject to the rule of law. I hope that this flag will stand here in the Asamblea as a reminder of the principles of the Magna Carta, encouraging all of us present today to continue to seek the highest standards of public life.
It is of course important to remember and to understand that, like all true friends, we may sometimes disagree. However, just like true friends, we will respect each others’ views but support each other when it really matters.
I am proud to say that despite our small Embassy, we have been active in many areas. We have a new Chamber of Commerce encouraging business between our countries. We have a new parliamentary friendship group, ready to share ideas. We have increased the number of Chevening Scholarships for Salvadorans wanting to do post graduate studies in the UK. We believe strongly in the rights of women and work with women’s action groups. Anti-corruption and transparency is an important objective across all sectors of government and business, and we work hand in hand with these sectors. We are also working with El Salvador on climate change and I am now pleased to hear El Salvador is announcing its INDCs. We are, of course, a member of the Security Council. As a country which endured thirty years of crime related violence, we are happy to share our experiences. In particular our road to peace and prosperity.
El Salvador is a beautiful country with wonderful people, but it is consuming itself from the inside. I do not share the idea that the only solution to the gangs is to kill or imprison everyone. By doing so, you condemn El Salvador to violence and hopelessness. There are other options, but you need to be willing to consider them. It is not about having a truce. I call it dialogue – the first step in understanding how everyone in El Salvador can – and must - be a positive part of its future.
El Salvador has so much to offer. I have heard so much about the great work Salvadorans do and that given the right opportunities they can turn their hand to anything. It is not about the money either – El Salvador is not a poor country – but it is more about using the money efficiently and creating the right environment. The international community can help. The United Kingdom can help. The United Kingdom wants to help. In addition to our work in the Security Council, we are already directly working across many layers of government with several NGOs and working through community projects. We are also working with and through the European Union and UNDP.
But in order to get things to work, we need your help.
A strong political system with clear constitutional divisions is a good start. But we also need a political system that puts El Salvador before any party political agenda. A system that recognises that good ideas which benefit El Salvador need to be supported, irrespective of party boundaries – or indeed the fact that an opposition mayor might benefit from a positive outcome. El Salvador and its people must always come before politics. You will all have the opportunity to show the country and the International Community how willing you are to do this in the forthcoming election of the Fiscal. Choose someone with the right qualifications who will get the job done, not simply protect old alliances.
The economy needs investment, competition and also diversity. Transparency and the application of the rule of law are key to attracting investors, demonstrating support for investment and recognising the rights of foreign companies to operate in El Salvador. But this is not an argument for capitalism over socialism – both have a role to play and cannot exist totally without some form of the other.
A good friend once told me that a country is like a flamingo. Perhaps, like me at the time, you are thinking The Ambassador needs to take more water with his whisky. But I gave it more thought, and he was right. A flamingo spends much of its time standing on one leg. So, a flamingo may favour the left for a while, but sooner or later, it will change over to the right. And so it is in politics.
However, what is perhaps more important is to understand that when things get rough, the flamingo cannot continue to stand on one leg. It realises that it needs both – to be able to balance and continue standing.
But what happens if things continue to get worse? It may steady itself with its wings, or more probably bunch up with other flamingos. It uses the support and stability of others to provide additional safety for itself.
What I am trying to say here is that politics is not about left and right. It is about a balance. It is about understanding the need to work together to ensure the prosperity and safety of the country, but also to understand that working together means compromise. It does not mean my way or the highway.
Also, governments need to rely upon excellent cooperation from key State institutions – like a strong and politically independent Fiscal General, the judiciary, the constitutional court. This is where it gains the strength and stability, like that provided by the other flamingos. Without it, our flamingo would fall over and possibly die. But with it, a state with strong rule of law, excellent anti-corruption and transparency regulations which exist not just on paper but are properly applied, can attract international investment and flourish.
I am honoured to be here with you all today and I thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak.
My appointment as Ambassador to El Salvador is something I will cherish.
This is an incredible country, with wonderful people. The potential is enormous, whether in tourism, eco-tourism, green energy production, the export of fruits or the manufacture of goods.
The beauty of El Salvador is also its size, which means it should be easier to set things on the right path. We are here to help, to stand shoulder to shoulder. That is what true friends do.
Bernhard Garside UK Ambassador in El Salvador