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Contesting Trade in Central America

Contesting Trade in Central America
Market Reform and Resistance

Through detailed case studies on Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, Spalding examines the debate surrounding the adoption of CAFTA alongside the simultaneous changes to the economic and political landscape of Central America at the turn of this century.

April 2014
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350 pages | 6 x 9 |

In 2004, the United States, five Central American countries, and the Dominican Republic signed the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), signaling the region’s commitment to a neoliberal economic model. For many, however, neoliberalism had lost its luster as the new century dawned, and resistance movements began to gather force. Contesting Trade in Central America is the first book-length study of the debate over CAFTA, tracing the agreement’s drafting, its passage, and its aftermath across Central America.

Rose J. Spalding draws on nearly two hundred interviews with representatives from government, business, civil society, and social movements to analyze the relationship between the advance of free market reform in Central America and the parallel rise of resistance movements. She views this dynamic through the lens of Karl Polanyi’s “double movement” theory, which posits that significant shifts toward market economics will trigger oppositional, self-protective social countermovements. Examining the negotiations, political dynamics, and agents involved in the passage of CAFTA in Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, Spalding argues that CAFTA served as a high-profile symbol against which Central American oppositions could rally. Ultimately, she writes, post-neoliberal reform “involves not just the design of appropriate policy mixes and sequences, but also the hard work of building sustainable and inclusive political coalitions, ones that prioritize the quality of social bonds over raw economic freedom.”


List of Acronyms and Initialisms


Introduction, Overview, and Methods

Chapter 1. The March to Market Reform in Central America

Chapter 2. Rule Makers and Rule Takers: Negotiating CAFTA

Chapter 3. Resistance: Competing Voices

Chapter 4. Ratification Politics: In the Chamber and in the Street

Chapter 5. After CAFTA: Antimining Movements, Investment Disputes, and New Organizational Territory

Chapter 6. Electoral Challenges and Transitions

Chapter 7. Post-Neoliberalism and Alternative Approaches to Change

Appendix A. Note on Interview Methodology

Appendix B. Presidential Election Results, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, 1978–2011





Rose J. Spalding is Professor of Political Science at DePaul University. Her previous books include Capitalists and Revolution in Nicaragua and The Political Economy of Revolutionary Nicaragua.


Chapter 1 The March to Market Reform in Central America

Laissez faire was planned. Polanyi ([1944] 2001)

The market is omnipresent. Those outside the market might as well disappear. Colburn and Cruz (2007)


Market reform made deep inroads in Latin America in the 1980s and 1990s, with Central American countries among the regional leaders. Their market shift was noteworthy, given the strong statist features of these economies in the early 1980s. In Costa Rica, then Latin America's solitary social democracy, the state maintained a monopoly in the banking, electricity, and telecommunications sectors, as well as a substantial national role in public health and education. Nicaragua had just undergone a revolutionary transition in 1979, and the new Sandinista government controlled banking, foreign trade, and a large slice of agricultural production. A reform government in El Salvador, attempting to forestall a revolutionary takeover, had also expanded state economic roles, with a banking takeover and a push for agrarian reform. Over the next twenty years, however, all three countries would experience a sharp shift toward the market.

Databases measuring policy reform permit a detailed analysis of the timing and sequencing of economic change. One of the first, by Morley, Machado, and Pettinato (1999), used annual data from 1970 to 1995 to construct a reform index for seventeen Latin American countries. Their scores indicate that Costa Rican economic policy shifted strongly toward a market model in 1987, with marked liberalization in four of five economic arenas (trade, the domestic financial system, external capital transactions, and tax reform); only in privatization did it trail behind.

El Salvador's reform effort fell behind the Latin American average in the second half of the 1970s and early 1980s. After the ARENA victory in the 1989 presidential race, however, economic policy moved quickly in a neoliberal direction. Bank privatization occurred in 1990, followed by liberalization of capital accounts in 1991 and tax reform in 1992. With this spate of policy changes in the early 1990s, El Salvador surged ahead of Costa Rica as the region's neoliberal leader.

Nicaragua moved against the regional tide during the 1980s, its decade of revolutionary government, and was not included in the Morley, Machado, and Pettinato data set. Economic collapse and the defeat of the Sandinistas in 1990, however, brought marked policy change under the subsequent National Opposition Union (UNO) government. By the middle of the 1990s, Nicaragua had also undergone extensive market reform. An IDB assessment of Latin American structural reform for 1985–1999 by Eduardo Lora (2001), which includes data for Nicaragua for the 1994–1999 period, placed it above the Latin American average (see table 1.1). In this framework, Nicaragua emerged as the leading reformer in Central America at the end of the 1990s, its high overall score driven by light financial and labor regulations. El Salvador, though lagging on financial and labor reform, was among the Latin American leaders on trade liberalization and privatization, giving it an intermediate place on this index in 1999. Even Costa Rica, where modest privatization levels resulted in the lowest of the three scores, had liberalized substantially across this fifteen-year period. Its 1999 score of .557 was far removed from its score of .306 in 1985. {Insert table 1.1 here}

Although each assessment uses a somewhat different measurement of structural reform, they all document a pro-market shift across time in this region. These countries began with numerous constraints on market processes; all of them ended this period with much more open economies. How can we explain the marked shift toward neoliberalism?

Market Reform Theory

Academic explanations of market liberalization commonly divide along three dimensions. The first division concerns the extent to which the primary impulse for liberalization is traced to external as opposed to internal forces. Analysts emphasizing the role of external actors generally focus on the direct or indirect impact of international financial institutions (the International Monetary Fund and World Bank), powerful states directing them (the United States or G5 countries), or international capital. Conversely, explanations that focus on internal or domestic processes commonly highlight the role of technocratic officials in charge of lead economic ministries.

The second debate focuses on the competing roles of ideas versus material interests in advancing structural reform. Proponents of the ideological position emphasize the impact of epistemic communities and norm entrepreneurs in shaping a value consensus in favor of market reform. Interpretations emphasizing material gain, in contrast, focus on the power of specific business interests to mold a favorable environment and extract rewards using techniques such as marketing, lobbying or bribery.

The third debate explores the pivotal roles of political elites (a top down model) versus mass preferences (a bottom up model) in shaping neoliberal reforms. Whereas the former approach concentrates on elite negotiation and decision making, the latter focuses on public opinion and voting behavior to explain how popular pressure affects policy change.

The present study contends that much of the previous work on market reform casts the question too narrowly and fails to grapple with the intersections among these various perspectives. My approach develops a multiphase theoretical framework that breaks the reform process into three parts and focuses on the shifting actors that dominate in each. The processes that catalyze and shape the first phase, reform initiation, differ from those that define the second, reform deepening, and the third, reform persistence. Reform initiation refers to the actions that introduce a sharp break from past practices and begin to move a country through the early stages of stabilization and structural reform. Reform deepening focuses on the layering in of additional, complementary policy changes that continue to advance marketization, as in ongoing tariff reduction, segmented privatization processes, or banking liberalization. Reform persistence turns attention to the processes that hold reform in place across multiple administrations, as new norms and practices consolidate.

This study argues that external actors are critical agents during reform initiation, providing both financial resources to ease the process and detailed policy templates to chart the course. The government officials with whom they collaborate generally have little expertise or experience with the new approach; in this early stage, local authorities depend heavily on assistance from foreign donors and the multilateral lenders to launch the project. As reform enters the deepening phase, domestic actors assume greater prominence. Local technocrats exercise leadership as norm entrepreneurs and ideational sponsors. Research centers and think tanks foster epistemic communities of market advocates who explain, implement, and legitimize ongoing reform. Business pioneers, some internationally networked, reorganize investment and production around opening opportunities, and state-elite relations recalibrate. As economic activities shift, displacing previously privileged elites and forming a critical mass of new economic groups, business actors become important advocates of continuing reform.

In the final phase, reform persistence depends on broader political reorganization. Pro-market political parties and coalitions present a steady sequence of reform candidates, and voters provide them with continuing support. At this point, public preferences for market reform play a critical role in explaining the durability of the new arrangement, even in the face of episodic protests and strikes.

What follows is a review of market reform theory, which foregrounds the arguments embedded in a multiphase theoretical framework.

International Actors and Reform Initiation: The IMF, Dominant States, and International Capital

Studies tracing market reform in developing countries commonly emphasize the contributions of external actors, often focusing on the International Monetary Fund. During the 1980s debt crisis and in subsequent lending agreements, IMF advisers used leverage over vital resources to encourage the scuttling of state intervention and protectionist measures in favor of structural adjustment. A wide array of mechanisms (macro-and microconditionality, tranching, signaling to private creditors, de facto cross-conditionality, discretionary waivers on benchmarks and targets, etc.), served to leverage and pace policy reform (Vreeland 2007; Stallings 1992; Kahler 1992).

Focusing just on nonconcessional loans to middle-income borrowers, Copelovitch (2010) identified 197 IMF loans to forty-seven countries between 1984 and 2003. Lending occurred across time periods and regions, moving through the Latin American debt crisis of the 1980s, the postcommunist transitions in the 1990s, and, after a period of decline and internal reform, with new energy in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis (Pop-Eleches 2009). Beginning with few specified conditions, the IMF loans came to include a large number of performance requirements accompanied by prolonged supervision. Vreeland (2007, 58) identified forty-nine countries with continuous, long-term (ten to twenty-one years) participation in IMF programs between 1967 and 2000.

IMF lending tended to follow external financial crisis, but terms and conditions varied, even when triggered by similar events. Significant differences in loan size, timing, and requirements prompted closer academic examination of lending politics, and competing explanations of Fund behavior emerged. One set of arguments concerned the extent to which IMF lending reflected the preferences of powerful IMF shareholder countries, which manipulated Fund decisions in pursuit of their own national interests.

Using statistical analysis of UN voting and IMF lending, and controlling for loan need, Strom Thacker (1999) determined that countries that shifted their voting patterns to favor positions that the U.S. State Department identified as important were more likely to receive IMF loans. This finding, suggesting that the U.S. government used Fund resources to reward geopolitical allies, was supported by Randall Stone's (2004) research on the link between U.S. foreign aid in Africa and Eastern Europe and IMF flexibility even in the event of noncompliance with loan conditions. Comparing IMF lending across time and regions (in Latin America during the debt crisis, in Eastern Europe during the postcommunist transition, and in Latin America during the 1990s), Pop-Eleches (2009) also found evidence of geopolitical influence on IMF behavior, at least in the Eastern European cases. Such findings are consistent with Realist theory, which assumes that powerful countries use access to resources to increase their power and advance their strategic interests.

Alternative claims about international lending shifted the focus away from geopolitical interests of nation-states and highlighted the influence of powerful business groups (Cox 2008; Harvey 2005). William I. Robinson's (2003), neo-Gramscian analysis employed the construct of a "transnational elite," formed by a hegemonic bloc of global business leaders. This dominant class was found to direct a "transnational state" comprising international financial institutions (the IMF, World Bank, and regional development banks) along with critical state segments (the U.S. Treasury Department and USAID). Robinson described the emerging economic elite as deracinated, no longer headquartered in or privileging the North, but linked cross-nationally through corporate mergers, licenses, subcontracts in ever-denser global networks. According to this argument, global elites used direct and indirect instruments to compel market openings and the elimination of national barriers that constrain the international flow of capital and production. The removal of impediments to capital and trade flows through market reform in turn facilitated the consolidation of transnationalized elite power.

Structuralist arguments, which tend to assume homogeneity and durability of elite interests and uncomplicated control over national and international institutions, are ill equipped to explain policy variation, inconsistency, and change over time. They can, however, capture a subterranean exercise of power and general convergence of elite interests. This theoretical approach is reinforced by some finely tuned quantitative studies that identified ways in which the needs of finance capital shaped the behavior of the IMF and its main shareholders. For example, Broz and Hawes (2006) demonstrate that U.S. congressional support for IMF bailouts tended to be stronger when large obligations to U.S. commercial banks were at stake. Mark Copelovitch's (2010) study of nonconcessionary IMF loans found that lending followed the combined preferences of G5 (United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Japan) countries, preferences that were shaped by the intensity and heterogeneity of G5 commercial bank exposure.

Some analysts of IMF lending question this approach and find the emphasis on the power of northern states and national financial interests to be overstated. Using principal-agent theory to explore the gap between the preferences of powerful states that determine the Fund's governing board and the policies pursued by the organization, a number of studies have interpreted the Fund as possessing some measure of autonomy. Much of this literature centers on how the norms and values that permeate the institution shift over time. Looking at a range of IMF and World Bank initiatives, including debt and poverty relief and gender empowerment, Park and Vetterlein (2010) highlighted the role of ideas and nonmaterially powerful actors in the rise and fall of policy norms. This constructivist approach focused on the role of "norm entrepreneurs" who advanced policy change through a three-stage cycle of emergence, stabilization, and contestation. In a careful study of the changes in IMF policy positions, Chwieroth (2010) used data on professional training characteristics of over 400 IMF staff to explore the relationship between different schools of thought in the economics profession, IMF recruitment patterns, and the rise and fall of Fund commitment to capital account liberalization between 1944 and 2009.

All of these approaches, whether emphasizing dominant countries, international economic forces, or the internal norms of international financial institutions, highlight the role of external actors in the advancement of neoliberal reform. An alternative approach centers on the impact of domestic actors.

Domestic Actors and Deepening Reform: Technocrats and Business Elites

The ability of external actors to demand domestic economic policy changes like trade liberalization is obviously limited, even in poor countries historically influenced by the United States or international financial institutions. Except in times of crisis (and, arguably, even during crisis moments), the power of external financial agents to determine policy outcomes is normally constrained by the interplay of domestic forces (competing elite networks, institutional arrangements, bureaucracies, etc.). International lenders may provide a catalyst for reform initiation, but the layering in of market policies (policy deepening) and implementation of reform require internal actors to share leadership. Significant variation in the depth and durability of structural adjustment, in spite of the formulaic tendencies of the IMF, suggests the importance of local forces in this process (Kahler 1992; Vreeland 2007; Pop-Eleches 2009). As analysis shifts from understanding policy initiation to exploring policy implementation, retreat, durability, or amplification, the role of domestic actors assumes greater importance. Two sets of local actors have drawn close attention: domestic technocrats in key economic ministries, and business leaders, particularly those who dominate business associations.

A now-extensive body of literature explores the training and deployment of domestic technocrats in upper levels of administration and the ways in which they intersect with international agencies to promote an economic reform agenda (Edwards 1995; Domínguez 1997; Dezalay and Garth 2002; Golob 2003). With advanced foreign training in economics, planning, or other technical fields, these elites entered the government at high levels and provided a new ideological orientation to guide policy reform. Persuaded through mainstream academic training and research that economic objectives (growth, efficiency, development) are best obtained through open markets, trade liberalization, and models emphasizing comparative advantage, these proponents used their positions in key government agencies to advance the cause of market reform through advocacy, persuasion, and intimidation. These officials were often aligned with and rotated into and out of key think tanks and universities, which, providing cultural capital and a salaried resting point between government appointments, assisted with recruitment, socialization, and legitimation.

Drawing on the cases of Mexico and Canada in the NAFTA negotiations, Golob (2003) argues that the combination of exogenous shock and an internal legitimacy crisis created space for state leaders to redefine traditional "policy frontiers" based on an emerging ideological consensus. She finds that the trade-policy shift in Mexico and Canada was not due to the rise of new economic sectors that used pluralistic pressures to advance this cause--not even in Canada, where political pluralism was more fully established. Instead, this decision was orchestrated by political leaders based on their own ideological alliances and following an abrupt economic downturn that delegitimized preexisting approaches. This initiative was, in turn, heavily marketed to the public, where it took root (see also Cameron and Tomlin 2000). Sebastian Edwards (1995, 42) observed how key figures such as Pedro Aspe in Mexico and Domingo Cavallo in Argentina "became the core of technocratic reform teams that, from within the national bureaucracies, engineered the practical aspects of the transformation process."

The pivotal role of this nucleus figures prominently in Waterbury's (1992) work on the "change team" and Teichman's (2001) on the "policy network," a broader construct that also includes elected officials, business leaders, think tanks, and civil society representatives who contributed to neoliberal policy negotiations. By virtue of frequently shared academic credentials, technocratic actors may be portrayed as emissaries of the international financial institutions with which they collaborate. However, in their study of developing human rights and neoliberal ideologies in Latin America, Dezalay and Garth (2002) challenged the notion of economic policy migration as simple diffusion. Local actors, they found, exercised discretion over what they imported, and the process of reform domestication was affected by local conditions.

Confusion over the respective roles of internal and external technocrats is exacerbated by the tendency of some local authorities to ascribe reforms to the IMF, even when they were locally endorsed. Vreeland (2007, 62–67) identifies three reasons why domestic actors emphasize the role of the IMF in the reform process and minimize their own: blame, signaling, and leverage. Blame allowed domestic authorities to portray the IMF as responsible for policy reforms, which were sometimes unpopular, thus avoiding responsibility and political penalty; signaling allowed local leaders to convey IMF approval of these reforms, thereby reassuring skittish foreign investment; and leverage allowed local officials to use IMF symbolism to push through reforms they desired when they did not have (or want to spend) the political capital required to secure approval, as when there were many veto players that could impede reform. In such cases, local technocrats could present a market reform as an externally imposed requirement when in fact they may have actively pursued the measure.

Studies of market reform that focus on technocratic-elite ideology compete with a second body of domestically oriented analyses--those that highlight the material interests at play in the business sector. Implicitly adopting the structuralist premise that stable states build up and around solid class coalitions, the latter explore the reshuffling of ties between the dominant political elite and the new class segments benefiting from market reform. The new economic model is understood to develop in close consultation with business elites (or an increasingly important subsector thereof) whose material interests are advanced by the policy reforms. Whereas a traditional agroexport-based regime may develop in alliance with agrarian oligarchy, and a populist state may be constructed in alliance with domestic industrialists and corporatist labor organizations, the neoliberal state builds off an alliance with exporters, financial interests, and perhaps maquila assembly plant labor. A new equilibrium emerges as (particularly nontraditional) exporters and private financial interests gain organizational momentum, economic leverage, and lobbying capacity. Using these resources, economic elites secure a policy framework and legal environment that allow them to further advance their interests.

Various studies of market reform highlight the role of domestic business groups in shaping the trade liberalization agenda (see, for example, Milner 1988; Dur 2010). "Two-level game" analysis (Putnam 1988) of trade negotiations examines deal making not simply between representatives of states who hammer out trade terms (Level I), but also between each government and its constituents at home (Level II), foremost among them the business lobbies that will be directly impacted by trade reform. In discussion of ten historical attempts at trade liberalization, Michael Lusztig (2004) identifies various conditions and government strategies that weaken business opposition and build business support. Interactions that transform "inflexible rent seekers" into "flexible rent seekers," or diminish the power of the former while expanding the influence of the latter, allow governing elites to minimize the political risks associated with eliminating protectionist policies. Detailed case studies of bargaining and consultative processes surrounding trade liberalization routinely demonstrate the active role of business lobbyists, whose support must be carefully cultivated (Thacker 2000; IADB, Munk Center for International Studies, and Inter-American Dialogue 2002; Fairbrother 2007).

Business elites have a wide repertoire of strategies they can deploy--individual and collective, formal and informal, associational and electoral--to advance their interests. The structural dependence of the state on capital gives the business sector enduring power, which political elites ignore at their peril. At the same time, the ability of business to exercise this influence depends on the extent to which they attenuate the differences among themselves through negotiation, persuasion, intimidation, or exclusion of weaker segments. Although historically state-dependent and fragmented in many countries, Latin America's business organizations often gained organizational capacity during market transitions (Durand and Silva 1998). Complex multisectoral peak associations worked to unify the business voice and amplify its impact.

In Mexico and Chile, strong business associations were found to play a strategic role in crafting detailed provisions in NAFTA and in the Mercosur trade agreement (Schneider 2004, 221-230; Teichman 2001). Business representatives, who were more expert in their industries than government officials, actively collaborated in these negotiations, advancing recommendations on tariff schedules and timetables. In her study of Chilean free trade negotiations, Bull (2008) found that business elites used control over not just capital but also knowledge to influence the shape of the trade text. The professional staff of business associations, some of whom rotated between private sector and government roles, blurred the distinction between public and private and helped to synchronize business and government positions.

Market reform deals both winning and losing hands to business elites, leading to fragmentation and organizational reconfiguration. Hierarchies among business groups with differential access to policy makers lead to policy reforms that favor particular interests over others. Detailed case studies of privatization in Latin America and Europe challenge conventional arguments about the ideological or technocratic base of privatization policy, even in neoliberal showcases like Pinochet's Chile or Thatcher's Britain, and frequently identify ways in which a handful of conglomerates gained privileged access to policy arenas and shaped particular reforms to their benefit (Schamis 2002; Manzetti 2009). Hellman (1998) notes the problem of "state capture" in postcommunist systems, in which insiders aligned with emerging economic interests to stall economic reforms at an equilibrium point that fell short of full transition, a strategy that allowed them to extract rents and noncompetitive benefits. The particular coalitional formation between state elites and economic elites may direct the reform process to different benchmarks.

State and class coalition analysis draws attention not just to which sectors are included but also to which are excluded or expelled. Kurtz' (2004) analysis of the impact of neoliberal reform on the solidarity structures of rural workers and peasants in Mexico and Chile suggests ways in which old alliances, once undermined, eroded quickly. Neoliberal reforms cut into the small farmer resource base and disrupted peasant organizational capacity, making it easier for the state to dismiss their claims--an argument that also extends to organized labor. As traditional state-society links deteriorated and new alliances were forged, domestic pressures built in favor of particular market reforms.

Political Dynamics and Reform Persistence: Parties, Elections, and Public Opinion

Market reform, even when supported by technocratic-norm entrepreneurs and reconstituted business networks, may still be truncated and temporary. Since economic reform occurred in tandem with political liberalization in much of Latin America and Eastern Europe, its persistence would depend on voter preferences and electoral outcomes. Policy durability is affected by the extent to which candidates and parties come to be identified with market opening and voters come to endorse their ascent.

Research on the impact of democratic political processes on the entrenchment of neoliberal reform may be divided between institutional analyses, which focus on formal electoral outcomes and processes, and work that emphasizes the shifting patterns of public opinion. Institutional analysis attends to the formal political processes that advance or constrain policy innovation, with attention to executive mandates, constitutional veto points, party coalitions and fragmentation, legislative behavior, formal decision-making rules, and electoral timing. The margin of victory in presidential elections and number of institutional checks on presidential power, for example, have been found to affect the pace and extent of economic reform (Haggard and Kaufman 1995; Pop-Eleches 2009), and the introduction of reform proposals early in an administration has also been found to improve their approval prospects (Frye and Mansfield 2004).

Advocates of a "bottom-up" model, in contrast, focus on the extent to which ordinary citizens come to view market reform as desirable. Empowered with the opportunity to select from among various candidates, citizens may endorse or oppose market reform and, in theory, replace leaders whose performances disappoint them. According to this body of work, the durability and progressive advance of a market-based economic model in newly democratized countries respond to rising popular preferences for the economic stability and wider consumer choices that these reforms deliver (Weyland 2002; Armijo and Faucher 2002; Baker 2009). In the end, it is the citizens themselves who evaluate the success of market reform and choose officeholders who conform to their preferences. Ongoing market reform, in this model, is ultimately driven by the positive assessments made by ordinary people.

Whereas some early analysis of market reform in Latin America suggested that these policies had limited mass support and frequently resulted from elite imposition or subterfuge (Stokes 2001), other studies identified bases of popular support, emphasizing public desire for either avoidance of loss or affirmation of gain. Much of this work builds on the robust finding that linked high levels of inflation with the introduction of market reform (Remmer 1998; Biglaiser and DeRouen 2004). Weyland (2002) explains shifts in public preferences regarding economic reform in Latin America in terms of "prospect theory." Faced with the prospect of severe economic loss, as under high inflation, people become less risk averse and more willing to accept changes whose outcomes are uncertain.

Findings about the power of hyperinflation to elicit support for market reform are echoed in Armijo and Faucher's (2002) analysis of forces shaping reform in industrialized Latin American countries. Noting that ten out of the fourteen presidential elections held between 1983 and 2000 in Argentina (precrisis), Brazil, Mexico, and Chile were won by pro-market candidates, they conclude that the most significant factors explaining sustained marketization were pro-reform preferences of the general public and political leaders.

Analyses drawing on survey research and public opinion polls permit clearer specification of the social base of reform. A large body of research ties support for market reform to education, finding that those with a higher level of education tend to be more pro-market (see, for example, Kaltenthaler, Gelleny, and Ceccoli 2004). Much of this literature implicitly draws on a human-capacity hypothesis; better-educated people who have skills and resources needed to successfully compete in a market economy favor its adoption, whereas those with less education recognize their vulnerabilities and are more resistant to market transformations.

While this literature offers suggestive insights about variations in popular views, it has limited ability to explain why reform support might sweep through a society, even in countries where the general educational levels are low. Baker (2009) develops an alternative consumption-based theory of market reform. Using Latinobarómetro data on public opinion in eighteen Latin American countries, he argues that support for trade liberalization soon became widespread and multiclass and far surpassed opposition to it. He concludes that respondents tended to approach trade from a consumption perspective (consumismo), where they could see a direct link to lower-cost imports, rather than from an employment perspective, where the connections between trade liberalization and job loss were less apparent.

As we will see in the course of this book, debate continues about the intersection between popular attitudes and market reform. Acceptance of neoliberal policy was hardly uniform, as ongoing protests and social justice campaigns attest. Nor did public approval necessarily arise spontaneously. Endorsement was sometimes accompanied by a hard-selling campaign designed to achieve that result; public attitudes toward trade reform have been linked to marketing and manipulation (MacArthur 2000), with resulting volatility. Even among those who affirm support, internal inconsistencies in market perceptions have been identified, with privatization eliciting more negative reactions than trade (Baker 2009; Baker and Greene 2011). Many analysts have also noted the onset of "reform fatigue" (Lora and Panizza 2003) as initial gains fade and costs became more apparent. When economic conditions stabilize, the propensity to accept additional reforms may decline, explaining why former supporters of reform may subsequently reverse course, even if reform has brought improvement.

Detailed case studies, while not representative of the universe of reform, can help us understand subregional variations in reform processes and clarify particular policy sequences. They also help us tackle the conundrum of why people might endorse market reforms that seem suboptimal or even adverse to their interests. What follows is theoretically informed process tracing of market reform in three Central American countries, moving through initiation to deepening and concluding with an assessment of reform persistence on the eve of the CAFTA negotiations.

Central American Market Reform

Case studies of market reform in Central America allow us to identify the actors and processes that shaped economic restructuring in the region. Each country had a distinct historical-institutional profile, and reform processes varied along key dimensions. Costa Rica entered into reform via a debt crisis, and policy changes were negotiated piecemeal through a well-institutionalized democracy. In both El Salvador and Nicaragua, in contrast, market transitions were driven by economic disarray, institutional weakness, and political polarization associated with revolutionary struggle and war.

In spite of these differences, structural and geopolitical similarities created important parallels in the region. These countries were not hermetically sealed; reform processes in one urged reform in others as cross-regional capital mobility and competition played out across this well-networked landscape. In that sense, one of the fundamental assumptions of comparative politics--that each unit is discrete.-is not fully operative; the tools of international political economy, which explore the larger framework within which countries are embedded, provide crucial assistance.

Careful analysis of these neoliberal transition processes permits the sequencing of reform phases and fuller specification of the actors involved at each stage. This analysis concludes that reform initiation depended on external funders, with USAID playing a leading role, subsequently reinforced by the IMF and other international lenders. Their catalytic impact required the cooperation of key state leaders who, during a time of economic crisis, took guidance from the external donors. The deepening of reform depended on the active participation of technocratic leaders and the construction of institutional infrastructure (public and private agencies, research centers, think tanks) that facilitated recruitment and legitimation of reform ideas. Technocrats received assistance from an expanding network of market-oriented economic elites, who reshaped business associational life and sought reform adjustments. Finally, the persistence of reform across administrations required not just business adaptation but public support, as evidenced by electoral victories of pro-market candidates and parties across the period. (Appendix 2 provides an overview of the 1978–2011 presidential election results in these three countries.)

Although the case study method does not allow generalization beyond the countries analyzed here, this approach suggests several lines of inquiry that can inform future research. In what follows, these cases are discussed in the order that their market reform processes unfolded, beginning with Costa Rica and ending with Nicaragua.

Market Reform in Costa Rica

During the 1970s, the Costa Rican economy deployed a variant of Latin America's reigning import-substituting industrialization model (Hidalgo 2003; Monge and Lizano 1997; Wilson 1998). By comparison with many other countries in the region, the ownership role of the Costa Rican state was relatively modest, and activism was concentrated in the social-service sector through the provision of health and educational services. Nonetheless, the state did control several core economic activities, the most important of which were in energy and telecommunications and the banking system, which had been nationalized in 1948. State-owned companies were managed by the Costa Rican Development Corporation (CODESA), a holding company formed in 1972, which included fourteen companies at its peak (Edelman 1999, 64–65; Wilson 1998, 101). The state also created a growing number of autonomous institutions (AIs), with thirty-six new AIs established in the 1960s and fifty added in the 1970s (Edelman 1999, 61). Local industry was encouraged and protected by a series of tariff and nontariff barriers much like those prevailing elsewhere in the region.

Rising petroleum prices in the 1970s hit the economy hard, but easy foreign borrowing allowed leaders to postpone adjustments. By 1980, the budget deficit reached 8% of GDP (IMF 1998, 16). External debt stocks, already 59% of gross national income (GNI) in 1980, rose to 165% in 1982.9 In 1983, the per capita debt was the second-highest in Latin America (Korten 1997, 34). The Carazo administration (1978–1982), facing the collapse of the Central American Common Market (CACM), which had absorbed 80% of Costa Rica's manufactured exports, declared a debt moratorium and defaulted in July 1981. The inflation rate soared to 90% the following year. As economic conditions deteriorated, the government signed a stabilization agreement with the IMF, but the country immediately fell out of compliance (Newton et al. 1988).

During the Luis Alberto Monge administration (1982–1986), special U.S. foreign policy interests in the region brought increased attention and financial flows. The Reagan administration's geopolitical concern about "communist" expansion fueled hostility to the newly installed Sandinista government in neighboring Nicaragua, which was perceived as a Soviet ally and national security threat. With administration officials eager to stabilize Costa Rica and showcase a successful democratic market alternative in the region, U.S. economic assistance to Costa Rica more than tripled between 1981 and 1982, and then quadrupled to $214 million in 1983 (see table 1.2). U.S. aid to Costa Rica averaged 4% of GDP for the critical 1983–1987 market-transition period.

As controversy over Central America policy flared in the United States, a special bipartisan commission chaired by former secretary of state Henry Kissinger proposed a five-year, $1.2 billion annual aid program for the region. Labeled "the Sandinista windfall" in a 1998 USAID retrospective on the Costa Rica aid program, real average annual USAID funding for Costa Rica in 1982–1995 increased sixfold over the 1973–1981 levels (Fox 1998, 17). This assistance proved a catalyst to a market reform process that carried across subsequent administrations. In all, U.S. economic aid to Costa Rica totaled over $1.4 billion between 1982 and 1995 (see table 1.2).

Official development assistance, over 90% of which came from the United States, equaled 25% of general government spending in 1983–1985 (Sauma and Trejos 1999, 353). U.S. funds were used for balance of payments support, covering the dollar costs of private sector imports, with the importers' local currency payments used to support a series of mutually agreed upon reform projects. According to USAID evaluations and reports, priorities included CODESA enterprise divestiture, promotion of nontraditional exports, and the construction of a network of new public and quasi-private institutions that would become internal advocates for further market transition (Fox 1998; Newton et al. 1988).

The new institutional framework included the Costa Rican Investment Promotion Agency (CINDE) and the Foreign Trade Ministry (COMEX). CINDE, created in 1983, provided a convergence space for pro-reform policy elites to coordinate recommendations with representatives from domestic and multinational firms. This agency prepared proposals promoting foreign investment and exports and lobbied elected officials to secure passage. During its first five years of operation, CINDE was entirely funded by USAID, which provided grants, between 1983 and 1994, totaling $70 million (Robinson 2003, 139). USAID also supported the creation of COMEX, which emerged from modest beginnings as a program within the president's office to form a separate trade ministry with a full professional staff.

International financial institutions soon returned to sign a series of agreements that pulled the Costa Rican economy in a market direction. The IMF provided six loans for Costa Rica between 1985 and 1995, which together contained thirty-four performance criteria and fifty-six total conditions (Copelovitch 2010, 321). These loans were coordinated with the World Bank and the Paris Club (bilateral lenders) through a system of cross-conditionality, in which approval of one became a condition for approval by others. Three structural adjustment programs (PAE) developed between 1985 and 1995 provided clear financial and normative incentives to local policy makers to redirect the economy along market lines.

The first agreement, PAE I, signed by the Monge administration with the World Bank in 1985, entailed a commitment to launch privatization and reduce state spending. Following a drop in USAID funding during the Arias administration (1986–1990), PAE II was signed with the World Bank in 1988 for $200 million to strengthen the state's fiscal capacity; cut state subsidies for public services, agricultural price supports, the petroleum refinery, and railroads; and promote nontraditional exports while further reducing trade barriers. Additional debt relief came under the Bush administration's 1989 Brady Plan, with a Paris Club arrangement allowing Costa Rica to buy back 64% of its $1.6 billion external debt at a discounted rate of 16 cents on the dollar (Booth 1998, 164). Consolidating this phase of trade reform, Costa Rica became a member of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1990.

PAE III, a $150 million loan package from the World Bank and the IMF, was negotiated in 1994–1995 during the Figueres Olsen administration (1994–1998). This agreement pushed for deeper reforms and proved more conflictual (Weisleder 2004, XXIII–XXV). Lacking the party majority in the legislature that was held by his National Liberation Party (PLN) predecessors, Monge and Arias, and by Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC) president Calderón (1990–1994), Figueres Olsen found it more difficult to secure legislative support. With IMF and IDB agreements calling for a sharp cut in public sector jobs and major tax increases, this negotiation triggered a month-long teachers' strike in 1995 and violent protests in Limón in 1996 (Booth 1998, 165).

Although the legislature ultimately approved the loan, the World Bank canceled its part of the package when the government proved unable to reach an agreement with the IMF. The IDB came through in 1995 with a series of loans totaling $250 million after an IMF agreement was reached (Edelman 1999, 81). With the economic crisis waning and regional politics normalizing in Nicaragua and El Salvador, Costa Rica moved out of the phase of "tutored reform" under international management (Sojo 2004), and the market reform process slowed, as the structural reform index in table 1.1 suggests.

Reform repeatedly elicited resistance, both in the legislature and on the streets, and the results did not converge with an orthodox neoliberal model. The state still played an important role in the national economy, and the Costa Rica variant of neoliberal reform retained several heterodox features, including a substantial state-run social service sector (Seligson and Martínez 2010). Even after the gradual opening to private competition, state banks continued to dominate the banking sector. The state also controlled sugar commercialization, petroleum imports, insurance, telecommunications, and energy distribution. Economic "distortions" connected to the ISI model were temporarily replaced by new ones associated with export promotion to ease the transition.

Nonetheless, Costa Rica had launched a significant process of structural reform. The Wall Street Journal/Heritage Foundation Index for Economic Freedom, which includes a corruption indicator, placed Costa Rica among the regional leaders in market liberalization ( With an overall score of 67 in 2003 (based largely on its high fiscal and trade freedom and low corruption scores), Costa Rica was ranked fifth in Latin America, behind Chile (76), El Salvador (71.5), Uruguay (69.8), and Panama (68.4).

New economic space was created under the Caribbean Basin Initiative, the Reagan administration's unilateral U.S. market opening for exporters from the region. Established to counter revolutionary agitation and deepen market connections, the CBI eased access to the U.S. market for nontraditional exporters in Central America. Costa Rica responded strongly, and nontraditional agricultural and industrial exports increased quickly. Costa Rica's export processing zone (EPZ) regime provided investors with 100% tax exemption for eight years and 50% for the following four (PNUD 2003, 133). From 56 companies producing 6.5% of exports in 1990, the country's EPZs expanded to 229 businesses, generating over 47% of exports in 2001 (PNUD 2003, 129).

External actors played a critical role in advancing this market reform, with USAID, for geopolitical reasons, taking the lead and working in close collaboration with the IMF and the World Bank. But restructuring could advance only with the active cooperation of domestic economic policy makers. A new team of technocrats, appointed by President Monge to fill the Central Bank presidency and the major economic ministerial positions in 1984, provided local management for the policy shift. Initially appointed to increase the confidence of foreign lenders during a period of economic difficulty (Church and Loria-Chaves 2004, 8), this cohort, which centered on the new Central Bank president, Eduardo Lizano Fait, expanded into an array of official roles. Lizano served as Central Bank president in parts of four administrations (Monge, Arias, Rodríguez, and Pacheco) between 1984 and 2002, and he worked closely with the IMF and the IDB, subsequently serving as an IMF governor in 2000–2001. The "chief architect and lobbyist" for liberalization measures (Nelson 1990, 187), Lizano collaborated with like-minded economists to change the dominant economic ideas.

According to Lizano, the pretransition Costa Rican economy was riddled by distortions and rent-seeking practices. At a USAID-funded conference hosted by Costa Rica in June 1991 and attended by prominent neoliberal theoreticians and practitioners from the United States, Chile, Mexico, and Costa Rica, Lizano concluded the following (1992, 173): "For several decades, the Costa Rican economy was characterized by the growing creation of rents that benefited specific groups of producers and certain labor groups. This collection of measures was embodied in laws, regulations, norms, and provisions of a widely varying nature, such as subsidies, exonerations, controls and prohibitions. All of this made the Costa Rican economy highly distorted." Recommending a strict free market approach, including "severe penalty" for entrepreneurs who failed to adapt, Lizano concluded, "If there is not enough competition, entrepreneurs get drowsy. Only competition obligates them to sleep with their eyes open" (176).

Lizano further argued that economic freedom was integral to the cause of liberty in much the same way as political freedom, and that each depended on the other. This forceful pro-market outlook came to reign in various Costa Rican think tanks and research centers, particularly those like CINDE and the Academia de Centroamérica, which had been established with USAID funding. These centers gave resident economists consulting opportunities and a "resting point" between stints of government or quasi-public service (Church and Loria-Chaves 2004; Blanco Lizano 2010, 166–171).

With Eduardo Lizano as president, the Academia de Centroamérica played a pivotal role generating and diffusing market professionalism. It became a "concept center" for market-norm entrepreneurship, deliberately focused on creating an epistemic community and preparing a network of emerging economists for graduate work in the United States and Chile (Lizano 2005). The Academia's educational outreach included monthly information sessions for "junior economists" who wanted to engage with peers and continue their education; journalists covering business and financial news; and legislative staff members seeking to deepen their understanding of economic affairs. It awarded cash prizes to junior economists participating in essay competitions and to journalists for outstanding coverage of economic news. It also set up virtual help centers for journalists and clergy members who had inquiries about economic issues. These programs allowed a network of classically trained economists to disseminate a market-friendly orientation to economic issues and to reach a broad segment of opinion makers in Costa Rican society. Following the leveraging pattern identified by Vreeland (2007, 62–67), local technocrats also urged external funders to withhold resources in order to extract reforms and, well-positioned to understand the pressure points and timing of domestic political deliberations, helped identify strategic moments at which to act (Wilson 1998).

External actors collaborated with domestic technocrats to advance the new model, but, as structuralist analysis suggests, the durability and deepening of market reform would depend on the way it resonated with the local class structures. As industrialists producing for a local and/or Central American market were displaced by the new emphasis on nontraditional products for a global market, the privileged position of that historically favored class fragment eroded. An innovative business subsector would have to develop quickly around the new economic model, or its durability would be jeopardized.

An emerging coalition of new exporters and financial interests helped to consolidate the transition, broadening elite support for market reform. The change was facilitated by its steady but gradual nature and by the availability of transition support, which gave exporters time to shift to new products or expand markets into new terrain. Over the course of twenty years, some agricultural producers, for example, were able to reconfigure their crop allocations or adjust their production and shipping practices to gain entry into nontraditional markets. Some local firms entered joint ventures or licensing agreements with transnational corporations and adapted operations accordingly.

In his study of the local stock market and firm-level growth, Diego Sánchez-Ancochea (2005, 697–704) identified three major changes in the Costa Rican business sector during the 1980s and 1990s: the concentration of capital in the largest domestic firms; expansion into the Central American and Mexican markets; and increasing ties with foreign investors and transnational corporations. The opening to private banking created new opportunities for local entrepreneurs (Robles Rivera 2010, 105) and attracted regional and international financial investors, with Nicaraguan and Salvadoran banks among the ten largest private banks in Costa Rica in 2003 (Sánchez-Ancochea 2005, 703).

Economic groups began to organize politically, ultimately creating an activist network of business associations. Several of the established business chambers initially resisted market reform, concerned about the loss of protection. Pro-market technocrats engaged in "a little social engineering" and worked with emerging exporters and bankers to create a new set of specialized business chambers (Lizano 2005; see also Lizano 1999, 170–172). Gradually, traditional chambers like the Costa Rican Chamber of Industry (CICR) underwent major internal changes, with a new emphasis on competitiveness and quality controls as the industrial sector strengthened its export capabilities. The business peak association, the Costa Rican Union of Private Sector Chambers and Associations (UCCAEP), expanded to include 43 chambers by 2005, many in new economic sectors. Membership in the American Chamber of Commerce of Costa Rica (AMCHAM–Costa Rica) mushroomed to 400 Costa Rican and U.S. companies in 2005, reportedly representing 80% of U.S. foreign investment (Denton, July 8, 2005).

As the new business networks emerged, labor and the peasant sector suffered reversals. Organized labor in Costa Rica was concentrated in the public sector, and the contraction of the state in the 1980s and 1990s cut into the unionized workforce. By 2000, organized labor represented only 10% of the workforce, down from 15% in 1995 (PEN 2001, 209). New industrial jobs, many of which were located in the EPZs, generally were organized in solidarity associations, not unions, with limited capacity to press sectoral demands (Mosley 2008). More traditional business elites, particularly those in declining sectors, approached reform with skepticism (Colburn and Sánchez 2000, 53–67) but were losing the ability to influence the private sector political voice.

In the rural sector, the organizational capacity of small and medium-sized agricultural producers (and even large ones in the less successful parts of the economy) eroded over time. As the traditional agricultural economy declined, farmers responded with a surge of protests, and protective tariffs stabilized in the agricultural sector after 2000. Many small producers, however, failed to flourish in a more competitive environment. Some peasant organizations became shells almost overnight, although led by feisty leaders whose passionate commitment and internal struggles led them to invent and reinvent their movements (Edelman 1999, 2008). As the portion of the population employed in agriculture continued its steady fall and the regime became more deeply committed to neoliberal practices, ongoing protection of the agricultural sector came under question.

The economic and organizational consolidation of new business sectors in banking, EPZ, tourism, and nontraditional exports, combined with the erosion of public sector unions and small farmers associations, provided sectoral grounding for the economic policy shift. But in an open political system, like that found in Costa Rica, citizens and voters have the final say. Public support for economic restructuring (as opposed to stabilization) may be limited at the outset due to transition costs and uncertainties. Unless voters acquiesce to ongoing change, the turnover of elected officials could soon detain transition. In Costa Rica, parties and officials associated with restructuring repeatedly won reelection or were replaced by others that shared this commitment. Although weak party discipline meant that presidents could not assume uniform support from their party's legislative bench or from the national party leadership, they strengthened their hold on the government through an increasing use of executive decrees and regulations.

The historically dominant PLN enjoyed two additional circumstances in the 1980s that helped it launch an economic transition. For the first time, the party won two terms in a row with an outright majority of the vote. The victory margins, with Monge's 58.8% of the vote in 1982, followed by Arias' 52.3% in 1986, were historically unprecedented (Booth 1998, 67); previously, party victories had tended to rotate between parties and coalitions. Second, although the PLN lost the elections in 1990, 1998, and 2002, the Center-Right PUSC also endorsed the restructuring agenda, and a new elite consensus emerged around what Cornick and Trejos (2009, 155) called "the sensible center." Indeed, the overlap in PLN and PUSC positions on economic reform was such that critics began using the "PLUSC" label to suggest that these parties had merged.

Electoral outcomes are based on many factors, only some of which are related to candidate and party policy positions; assumptions about public preferences for particular economic models based simply on election results may be questioned. In fact, PLN leaders initially obfuscated the party's deepening embrace of the market, as a segment of the leadership began to redefine the party's economic orientation (Wilson 1999). Over time, however, the PLN position of economic globalization and domestic reform became clearer, and voters still returned its leaders to power.

Taken together with information derived from public opinion polls, these electoral results are suggestive. Further evidence of public support for market reform during this juncture emerges from the annual eighteen-country Latinobarómetro polls. Poll results are sometimes volatile and contradictory, but they can also capture changing preferences. The present study focuses on one broad question and follows the responses across time and cross-nationally. Asked to indicate their level of agreement with the statement, "The market economy is best for the country," three-fourths (76%) of respondents in Costa Rica answered affirmatively (strongly agree or agree) in 1998. After fifteen years of accumulated reform, public acceptance of a market economy was strong in Costa Rica, topping the Latin America average of 66% by ten percentage points at that time (Latinobarómetro 2009, 91).

Adjustment had caused some pain, and growth had slowed in 1981–1989 to an average annual 2.4%. But in the 1990s, growth resumed, averaging 4.7% in 1990–1997 and an even stronger 4.8% in 1998–2003 (ECLAC, 2010d, 53). New sectors had emerged, as seen with the rapid growth of tourism and the free trade zones, capped by the 1996 INTEL announcement of a $300 million investment in Costa Rica. The country's two major political parties had converged around a new model, which had trimmed the state sector and deepened Costa Rica's integration into the global market. And public acceptance of the shift, while neither uniform nor unconditional, as we shall see, was widespread.

Market Reform in El Salvador

As Costa Rica underwent debt crisis and structural reform, El Salvador was descending into civil war. Before the peace accord was signed in 1992, an estimated 75,000 people would die (1.8% of the population) (Wood 2003, 8). Conflict between the U.S.-supported government and the FMLN set off a national-security alarm for the Reagan administration. In an effort to undercut a revolutionary movement and stop "communist" expansion, the U.S. government funneled massive military and economic assistance to El Salvador in the 1980s. Focusing just on economic aid, U.S. assistance rose quickly from $58 million in 1980 to peak at $462.9 million in 1987 and remained high until after the war concluded (see table 1.2). Total economic assistance to El Salvador in 1980–1993 topped $3.6 billion. Annual U.S. economic assistance averaged 6.5% of El Salvador's GDP for the nine-year period between 1981 and 1993, and exceeded 11% of GDP in 1985 and 1987. In both absolute and relative terms, U.S. economic assistance began earlier, peaked higher, and continued longer in El Salvador than in any other Central American country.

During the early years, under the leadership of Christian Democrat José Napoleón Duarte, who served as a member of the reformist civilian-military junta (1980–1982) and president (1984–1989), the Salvadoran government pursued several state-centered structural reforms intended to weaken the traditional agroexport elite (Johnson 1998; Segovia 2002, 10–14). With technical and financial assistance from the United States, the government initiated agrarian reform, introduced state control of coffee and sugar exports, and nationalized the banking system. This "communitarian" interlude, in which the government sought to increase state autonomy from traditional elites and undercut FMLN recruitment, won few adherents in this increasingly polarized country.

Duarte was soon pushed to reverse course by USAID, his principal ally and financial backer. Economic stabilization and reactivation emerged as central objectives when the war reached a plateau after 1985 (Rosa 1993; Segovia 2002, 95–104). The United States conditioned aid on a currency devaluation designed to stimulate exports, leading to confrontation and eventual concession by the Duarte government. A stabilization plan was approved in 1986, followed by a 1987 program to develop nontraditional exports. Duarte, however, discontinued debt-service payments in the first part of 1989 as war resurged, and the World Bank and the IDB suspended loan outlays (Segovia, 2002, 32, n43).

Duarte's faltering attempts to slow or resist market reforms were swept aside with the legislative (1988) and presidential (1989) victory of the right-wing ARENA party. From its early association with anticommunist death squads, ARENA had emerged as a pro-business party that recruited leaders from among the economic elite. Its economic reform proposals were heavily guided by research and policy papers crafted by the Salvadoran Social and Economic Development Foundation (FUSADES), a Salvadoran think tank.

Created in 1983, FUSADES quickly became a major recipient of USAID funding. As in Costa Rica, USAID helped to build the institutional infrastructure that would serve to advance market reform over time. Given financing of over $150 million between 1984 and 1993 (Robinson 2003, 90), FUSADES provided technical and ideological support for a slate of market reforms. Following the 1989 election of ARENA candidate Alfredo Cristiani (1989– 1994), seventeen FUSADES leaders swept into economic ministries, most in high-level positions (Segovia 2002, 30).23 Several had headed major business associations (Johnson 1998, 143), blending business and policy credentials.

In addition to its role as a recruiting ground for ARENA economic ministries, FUSADES' Economic and Social Studies Department (DEES) played the lead role in policy development. With support from USAID, DEES tapped into an emerging pool of internationally trained economists and contracted high-profile economic consultants to prepare the Cristiani government program, Hacia una economía de mercado en El Salvador: Bases para una nueva estrategia de desarrollo económico y social (1989–1994). Prominent neoliberal economist Arnold Harberger played a critical technical and symbolic role in preparing the document (Vidal 2010, 93–97) and remained a long-term FUSADES affiliate.

Over time, FUSADES developed greater internal technical expertise, and it contributed to economic plans for each of the three successive ARENA administrations (FUSADES, Carta Informativa, April 2004). DEES recommendations emphasized privatization, deregulation, trade liberalization, and capital mobility. Exports were understood to drive growth in the global economy. Attention centered on competitiveness, and proposals drew on diagnoses of problems provided by detailed surveys of the business sector.

As the war reached a stalemate and restructuring began, El Salvador entered into a series of discussions with the IMF. Between 1990 and 1998, the government signed six standby loan agreements, which thirty-four performance criteria (Copelovitch 2010, 323). Unlike Costa Rica, where debt crisis and inflation were drivers for IMF engagement, El Salvador's external debt stock was a relatively modest 49% of GNI, and the consumer price increase was moderate and falling in 1990.25 Agreements made after 1990 with the IMF focused less on stabilization and more on increasing international recognition for the reform effort and quelling dissatisfaction among dissenting elites (Segovia 2002).

Bank privatization and new export-promotion legislation were approved in 1990, followed by liberalization of prices, the exchange rate, charges for public services, and tariffs. Additional measures (Central Bank autonomy, creation of a stock market, and elimination of export taxes) were designed to attract foreign investment (Segovia 2002, 32, 37–40). As table 1.1 indicates, these market reforms boosted El Salvador's structural reform scores, with sharp increases in 1993 and 1998.

The historic peace process, which ended the civil war in 1992, absorbed the FMLN into the political system but did not derail the marketization agenda. Although Cristiani ally and FUSADES founding member Roberto Murray Meza failed to get the ARENA presidential nomination for the 1994 election, the essential neoliberal framework was not contested. ARENA candidate Armando Calderón Sol's (1994–1999) election brought a push for additional privatization (of telecommunications and electricity). Economic leadership was conferred on Enrique Hinds, a former World Bank official and free market theoretician known for his advocacy of dollarization (see Hinds 2006; Steil and Hinds 2009). Official dollarization was achieved under Francisco Flores (1999–2004), in the third ARENA administration. In spite of controversy about this policy, Flores announced the dollarization decision on November 22, 2000, and quickly pushed it through a compliant legislature. Implementation began only weeks later, on January 1, 2001 (Towers and Borzutzky 2004). El Salvador's national currency, the colón, soon in effect disappeared.

Export promotion, advanced with USAID support since 1984, was facilitated by the Ley de Reactivación de las Exportaciones (1990) and deepened at the end of the decade with laws encouraging increased foreign investment (the 1998 Foreign Investment Promotion and Guarantee Law, 1998 Free Trade Zones Law, and 1999 Investment Law). The value of nontraditional exports surpassed that of traditional ones in 1991, a gap that widened over the decade. Coffee export value, already down to 5.4% of GDP in 1990, fell to 0.7% of GDP in 2002 (Acevedo 2004, 351). The maquila sector, which provided investors a twenty-year tax exemption (PNUD 2003, 133), rose quickly from modest beginnings to become a major anchor of the new economy. Whereas maquila exports totaled $81 million in 1990 (1.7% of GNP), they increased to $1.76 billion (12.3% of GDP) in 2002 (Acevedo 2004, 351).26 By 2001, 86,000 Salvadoran workers were employed in 339 enterprises in the export processing zones (PNUD, 2003, 129).

As elsewhere, neoliberal policy reform could hardly be sustained unless business activities reconfigured around the new model. The war era had broken the power of the traditional coffee elite, facilitating a shift in economic structure. Although land in the historically dominant coffee sector remained largely unaffected by the agrarian reform,27 agroexport production and distribution processes were disrupted by fighting and labor displacement in the war zones. Production losses, capital flight, and self-exile hurt the coffee sector, and innovative Salvadoran agroexporters searched for new profits outside of agriculture. Fissures opened in the 1980s between the traditional agroexport elite and those shifting to an emerging industrial-financial sector, strengthening the latter and laying a groundwork for a change in the economic model in the 1990s (Paige 1998; Madrid 2009).

The 1990 bank privatization and 1992 peace process created opportunities for reformulated sectors of the Salvadoran elite to acquire interests in finance, commerce, construction, and real estate--areas that anchored a series of new economic groups. As suppliers and importers and through joint ventures, businesses built links to transnational corporations. Segovia (2005) identified eight postwar corporate clusters in El Salvador, each with shares in multiple local and regional businesses (see also Madrid 2009). Two Salvadoran business groups were anchored in the expanding banking sector (Banco Agrícola and Cuscatlán), whereas others extended from their base in regional airline transportation (Taca), large hotel and mall development (Poma), and retail sales, storage, and real estate (Siman). Market opportunities throughout Central America facilitated cross-regional investment, and networked economic groups began to redefine regional economic relations.

Salvadoran business elites developed various mechanisms that strengthened their access to political power. As elsewhere in the region, elites used their business associations as a mechanism to advance collective interests. El Salvador's traditional business peak association, the National Private Enterprise Association (Asociación Nacional de la Empresa Privada or ANEP), founded in 1966, expanded to include almost 40 chambers in the late 1990s (Johnson 1998, 139). As in Costa Rica, a chamber was created specifically to strengthen the organizational voice of the new export sector. Originally set up as a committee within the Association of Salvadoran Industry (ASI), the Corporation of Salvadoran Exporters (COEXPORT) split off to form a separate chamber with funding from USAID (Orellana 2005, fn. 5).

As ANEP expanded, chambers were added for nontraditional exporters, banking, real estate, construction, insurance and AMCHAM-El Salvador, which represented firms with U.S. investments or markets. These networks allowed association leaders to link internally with like-minded others and externally with dominant institutions. Nine of thirteen members of ASI's 1990–1991 board of directors, for example, also served on FUSADES executive committees (Johnson 1998, 135).

In addition to these conventional mechanisms of interest representation, the Salvadoran business sector had direct access to state leaders through ARENA. Unlike many business elites, who steer away from visible partisan alliances for pragmatic reasons, the Salvadoran elite cultivated strong party ties. Three of four ARENA presidents (Cristiani, Calderón Sol, and Saca) hailed from the business elite, as did prominent members of the party's governing board. A business identity percolated through the party structure and helped to define it. According to official biographical profiles reviewed by Koivumaeki (2010, 91–92), 26% of ARENA deputies in the 2006–2009 legislative assembly self-identified as businessmen or businesswomen, and biographies of 40% of ARENA 2009-2012 mayoral candidates referred to their status as business owners. This close connection with the business sector provided ARENA with valuable strategic resources. Through financial contributions, public opinion leadership, and direct service as candidates, party leaders and advisers, business elites played a critical role in the party's twenty-year history of electoral victory (Koivumaeki 2010).

In the end, of course, electoral outcomes depend not simply on the views of business elites but on the voters. Pro-market ARENA presidential candidates won four consecutive elections between 1989 and 2009, three of them in the first round of balloting (1989, 1999 and 2004). In conjunction with the PCN, a traditional, clientelistic party, ARENA also controlled the legislative vote.29 The FMLN, which offered an alternative approach, remained a minority party.

ARENA's repeated victories suggest broad acceptance of market reform in El Salvador during this period. As in Costa Rica, electoral results affirming pro-market parties provide but one indicator of public approval; public opinion polls provide a second. Although not all policies won support (dollarization was particularly unpopular [IUDOP 2004, 85]), the market system in general was widely endorsed. When asked in the Latinobarómetro poll about their views on the statement, "The market economy is best for the country," 78% of Salvadorans indicated either strong agreement or agreement in 1998, a support level that surpassed even the high levels found in Costa Rica (Latinobarómetro 2009, 91).

Factors contributing to this outcome are undoubtedly complex. Desire to leave behind the trauma of civil war, combined with deep dependence on U.S. government aid and migration agreements, encouraged this view. Steady pro-market messaging in the conservative mainstream media probably contributed, as did the portrayal of FMLN opponents as violent ideologues bent on destruction. In addition, general economic improvements encouraged a favorable assessment. Whereas average annual GDP growth during the war years 1981–1989 had been –0.9%, it increased to 5.2% as the war concluded in 1990–1997 (ECLAC, 2010d, 53). Although the growth rate declined to an average annual 2.6% in 1998–2003, most Salvadorans remained optimistic about the positive potential of this economic arrangement at that time.

Market Reform in Nicaragua

Market reform in Nicaragua advanced quickly following the 1990 electoral defeat of FSLN candidate and sitting president, Daniel Ortega. The new president, Violeta Chamorro (1990–1997), who emerged at the helm of the 14-party UNO coalition, brought an end to the turbulent Sandinista decade and shifted the country toward a market system. Over the next three administrations, market-friendly policies unfolded.

In the previous decade, the Sandinista Revolution (1979– 1990) had established a mixed economy that prioritized state-centered accumulation. Following the 1979 ouster of Anastasio Somoza, the revolutionary government seized the assets of the Somoza family and its allies, thus acquiring extensive agricultural holdings and a large network of industrial and commercial activities. Private banks collapsed during the insurrection, and were replaced by state-owned banks. The new banking system modified credit distribution practices, improving access for small producers and domestic market crops, although in a financially unsustainable way. The government quickly assumed monopoly control over the export of major commodities, eliminating private trading firms, and imposed increasingly complex regulations on trade and domestic transactions. As the decade wore on, other expropriations followed. By the end of this era, about 30% of GDP was controlled by the state sector, and the private sector faced extensive regulation (Spalding 1987; Conroy 1990; Martínez Cuenca 1990; Solà Montserrat 2007).

Limited state capacity, deepening internal polarization, and military pressure prevented the Sandinista government from consolidating these reforms. Conflict with the Reagan administration fueled the "contra" war, which the U.S. sponsored and financed. By 1987, the costs of the war absorbed 62% of the Nicaraguan government budget and 30% of GDP; the inflation rate soared, topping 33,000% in 1988 (Conroy 1990, 16; Rodríguez Alas 2002, 38). Government efforts to stabilize the economy had only modest results, and living standards tumbled. With the economy contracting and the war still not fully resolved, Nicaraguan voters chose a change of course in 1990.

The George H. W. Bush administration (1988–1992) funded Chamorro's campaign and greeted her victory with a promise of assistance. During the transition period preceding her inauguration, representatives from USAID and the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, State, Treasury and Commerce formulated a $300 million assistance plan designed to stabilize the country and advance its economic recovery (GAO 1992, 9). Congress approved the funding in the 1990 Dire Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act, and USAID reassigned 1991 allocations to meet additional needs in Nicaragua. As in Costa Rica and El Salvador, U.S. support came largely in cash transfers that financed "non-luxury" imports from the U.S. and Central America, supporting a consumer boost during the Chamorro government's early years. The U.S. also provided $75 million to help clear the arrears on Nicaragua's debts to the World Bank (unpaid since 1984) and the IDB (unpaid since 1987), to allow renewed lending from these organizations and the IMF.

U.S. economic assistance to Nicaragua, which had been negligible from 1983 through 1989, jumped to a total of $443.9 million in 1990 and 1991 and $1 billion across the decade (see table 1.2). U.S. aid equaled a remarkable 22.2% of Nicaragua's GDP in 1990 and 14.7% the following year. The 1992 GAO report on U.S. assistance provides a list of conditions governing the aid, which included reducing government spending, re-establishing private banks, re-licensing private trading companies, privatization of state-owned enterprises, and contracting the size of the government workforce (GAO 1992, 16).

Nine private banks quickly set up shop, and by 1995 they held over half of all bank deposits (World Bank 1995, 26). State trade monopolies were eliminated in 1991–1992, and import tariffs were unilaterally reduced. Of the 351 state-owned firms slated for divestiture, the government had privatized, liquidated or transferred 233 by 1992. The central government Occupational Conversion Program provided a generous severance package (averaging 20 months of salary) to those state workers who were willing to forfeit their jobs.

U.S. geopolitical concerns played the central role in USAID's rapid intervention. This economic assistance was sometimes held hostage to political objectives, as the U.S. government moved to "desandinize" the Nicaraguan state. North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms secured a partial aid suspension in 1992, for example, over Chamorro's failure to remove FSLN army chief Humberto Ortega, brother to the defeated president. USAID assistance to Nicaragua declined sharply after 1994 (see table 1.2), replaced by rising assistance from multilateral lenders. In spite of the drop off in U.S. aid, total official development assistance from all bilateral and multilateral sources equaled $3.8 billion in 1990–1996, an annual average of 30% of GDP at that time (Solà Montserrat 2007, 123).

Sustained, single-minded attention to economic reform was provided by the IMF, which renewed lending in Nicaragua in 1991 following massive devaluation and a series of policy agreements (Lacayo Oyanguren 2005, 201–202, 232–233, 239–245). Between 1994 and 2002, three multiyear structural adjustment loans were signed with the IMF. For the ten years between 2002 and 2012, Nicaragua did not pass more than 15 months at a stretch without an IMF lending agreement in place.

In collaboration with the World Bank and with support from USAID, the IMF provided close supervision of Nicaraguan economic performance. According to a Government of Nicaragua (2000, 14) report on structural reforms undertaken in the 1990s, public sector employment (including the armed forces) dropped from 285,000 to 89,000 between 1990 and 1999. The state banks retrenched, and BANADES, the main source of agricultural credit, sharply cut staff and branch offices before closing its doors in 1998 (Enríquez 2010). Once the economy stabilized, the government moved to privatize the remaining state banks, telecommunications and electricity, and further liberalized trade under the second structural adjustment plan, which was launched in 1999 (IMF 1999; Solà Montserrat 2007, 130–147).

The country periodically failed to meet budgetary benchmarks due to heavy debt obligations, natural disaster and political pressures, but policy change generally advanced along market lines, as Lora's structural reform index indicates (see table 1.1). This transition took place in spite of the formal opposition of the FSLN and its continuing status as the country's largest single political party. The rise of an entrepreneurial sector within the FSLN, which entered vigorously into the openings emerging under the new rules, raised complex questions about its role in the process.

Nicaragua's foreign debt had increased from $1.6 billion in 1979, when the Somoza government collapsed, to $10.7 billion in 1990, and the debt rose further to $11.7 billion in 1994. International lenders helped secure some debt forgiveness, repayment, and rescheduling for Nicaragua, but the total debt remained very high (Solà Montserrat 2007, 84, 125). Pressure from civil society and some Western nations eventually pushed the World Bank and IMF to increase attention to debt relief. Under their subsequent Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative, Nicaragua became a candidate for IMF monitored debt reduction. Progress was slow, however, and debt obligations still topped $6.6 billion in 2003, equal to 159% of GDP (BCN n.d., table 17.)

The depth of Nicaragua's economic crisis, foreign debt, and its exceptional dependence on aid gave external actors special leverage over this transition. But even in this case, market reform depended on the active cooperation of local officials who were responsible for day-to-day economic management. As in the other two Central American countries, technocratic officials implemented the detailed schedule agreed upon with the international funders. Unlike Costa Rica and El Salvador, however, Nicaragua had undergone ten years of revolution. This experience had ruptured conventional technocratic recruitment mechanisms in Nicaragua, and with the virtual disappearance of USAID during that period, no counterpart to Costa Rica or Salvadoran neoliberal think tanks was in place.

Nicaraguan technocrats who had left the country during the revolution to work in international organizations and business or to pursue graduate degrees in the United States were now recruited back from self-exile to assume high-level administrative positions.31 Additional administrative support was provided by INCAE, a prominent Central American business school that had transferred programs from its Managua campus to Costa Rica during the period of the Sandinista Revolution. After the 1990 election, INCAE's Nicaragua program expanded and, with USAID financing, it took on technical training responsibilities for key ministries. According to the 1991 GAO report (1991, 21), 16 top technical advisers in the Central Bank, the newly formed Ministry of Economy and Development, and other economic agencies had INCAE affiliations. With $3.3 million in contracts from USAID, INCAE provided 33 consultants for government and private sector groups and had organized 54 seminars for over 2,000 public and private sector participants by March 1992 (USAID 1992, 3–4). Over time, other joint public-private agencies and partnerships were created, such as Export and Investment Center (Centro de Exportaciones e Inversiones, or CEI) and ProNicaragua, to promote trade and foreign investment (Gobierno de Nicaragua 1996).

Market transition produced some quick benefits. Inflation dropped sharply from 13,490% in 1990 to 12% in 1996 (Solà Montserrat 2007, 117), providing great and general relief. Economic growth resumed in 1994, after almost a decade of contraction. The average annual GDP growth, which in the 1980-89 revolutionary period was –1.4%, improved to 2.4% in 1990-97 and 3.5% in 1998-2003 (ECLAC 2010d, 53). Merchandise exports, which registered an average annual 3.8% decline in 1980–1989, grew an average annual 9.4% in 1990–1999 (ECLAC, 2010e, 69), in part due to the expanding export processing zones. Enjoying 100% tax exemption for 10 years (and 60% thereafter) in Nicaragua, the number of EPZ companies increased from 5 (with a workforce of 1,000) in 1990, to 45 (with a workforce of 37,000) in 2001. EPZ manufacturing, which represented 1% of export value in 1990, contributed 54% of export value in 2001 (PNUD 2003 129, 133). Non-traditional agricultural exports became another source of growth, strongly encouraged by USAID.

Market reform created winners and losers, and even in the new sectors, businesses often struggled. Rapid privatization and new regulations lacked transparency and allowed rent-seeking behavior, and well-placed investors moved quickly to extract gains (Mayorga 2007). Hardships associated with the loss of state bank credit and trade protection combined with evidence of favoritism to weaken business cohesion around neoliberal adjustments (Spalding 1994, 180–184; 1987). The gradual consolidation of the new economy, however, allowed the beneficiaries of economic opening to gain momentum and coalesce around market reform. As elsewhere in Central America, powerful economic groups coalesced, such as the Pellas and Lafise groups, some of which built on an economic foundation dating back to the pre-revolutionary period. The dominant economic groups quickly extended their investments across the region, many of them anchored in the rapidly expanding private banks (Segovia 2005; Mayorga 2007).

As new economic sectors began to emerge, business chambers reorganized around growth industries. New chambers were established in the banking, Free Trade Zone and tourism sectors; these associations allowed sectoral leaders to better coordinate around themes of common interest. As in Costa Rica and El Salvador, a specialized association for exporters, the Association of Nicaraguan Producers and Exporters (APEN), was created, with USAID covering its initial operating expenses (Spalding 1994, 185). By 2005, four new business chambers had affiliated with COSEP, expanding its coverage in tourism, fishing, food processing, and exporting (COSEP 2007). Improved relations with the United States restored trade and investment flows, fostering rapid growth of the local AMCHAM (González C. 2006).

Business support for the transition was reinforced by the polarized nature of Nicaraguan politics. After the clashes between business elites and the Sandinista government in the 1980s, which resulted in censorship, prison terms and property confiscations, many business association leaders developed a sharply adversarial relationship with the FSLN (Spalding 1994). Some, such as Enrique Bolaños, long-term head of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP), the business peak association, eagerly sought political leadership in the post.revolutionary era. Electoral competition in 1990, 1996 and 2001 pitted Daniel Ortega, as the perpetual FSLN candidate, against anti-Sandinista coalitions led by Chamorro, Arnoldo Alemán, and Bolaños, respectively. To ward off a FSLN victory, a steady majority of both elites and voters swung against the former revolutionaries, in favor of candidates seeking normalized relations with the U.S. and the transition to market economics that this entailed.

Across a sixteen-year period, Nicaraguan voters continued to reject the FSLN and elect presidents who pursued market reform. Chamorro, Alemán, and Bolaños all won the presidency with substantial majorities, in elections characterized by strong voter turnout.34 Much like their neighbors in Costa Rica and El Salvador, Nicaraguans accepted the market system in principle and expressed this support by voting for market advocates. Public opinion data reinforces the view that most Nicaraguans supported a general market transition during this period. When asked, in the Latinobarómetro poll, whether "the market economy is best for the country," 73% of respondents indicated approval (strongly agreed or agreed) in 1998, a figure that rose to 78% in 2002, when it exceeded the Latin American norm by 19 percentage points (Latinobarómetro 2009, 91).

After the difficulties of hyperinflation, scarcity, and uncertainty compounded the miseries of warfare in the 1980s, economic stabilization in the 1990s was greeted with relief. The turbulent experience of "socialism" caused many to recoil from the economic insecurity associated with centralized controls and U.S. hostility. External intervention brought high levels of foreign assistance to support transition, and, after a painful adjustment, economic growth resumed. Major development problems endured, and market reform brought its own set of problems, as we shall see, but the reigning perception was that the market system was the best alternative for the moment.


Close analysis of these three Central American cases demonstrates the usefulness of multiphase theoretical framework, in which the market reform process is broken into a series of steps and analysis focuses on the factors that shape its advance in each (see table 1.3). Three transition stages--initiation, deepening, and persistence--involved varying combinations of actors and processes.

Market reform is disruptive and accompanied by costs (Weyland 2002). As such, it is unlikely to be introduced unless local economic performance deteriorates and triggers a crisis, discrediting alternative approaches. The economic crisis is commonly accompanied by strong bouts of inflation and may follow an extended period of contraction. In the Costa Rican case, market transition began with a foreign debt crisis that triggered rising inflation and placed pressure on the reigning social democratic system. In El Salvador, movement toward the market was fueled less by debt and inflation, which remained relatively modest, than by wartime polarization and production decline. Revolutionary Nicaragua experienced all of the above, with extreme debt and hyperinflation following a decade of war and economic contraction. By itself, however, economic decline does not necessarily lead to neoliberal reform. A production fall off would tend to foster change, but not necessarily of the market sort. For marketization to advance, other factors come into play. Polanyi's (2001 [1944], 147) observation that "Laissez faire was planned" provides a useful point of departure.

As the general literature on market reform indicates, external funders often serve as a catalyst in this process. In the Central American case, the key external actor in the initiation phase was USAID. With greater agility than the multilateral lenders and more at stake in the region, the U.S. government responded quickly to the opportunity to project its influence in a region of geopolitical significance and to cure Central American ills with market medicine. In all three cases, USAID provided massive funding, gradually imposing pointed requirements, including provisions to initiate negotiation with the IMF.

With a focused mandate, professional staff and training, and the ability to leverage additional resources through cross-conditionality, the IMF played a critical role in advancing marketization in this region. Its technical teams synchronized a timeline of reforms covering trade liberalization, privatization and deregulation. The market advance was hardly smooth in any of the cases, and lending sometimes stalled or was suspended, as in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The agency's legitimation function, however, enhanced the value of its approval, and the external financial flows it channeled made the process less painful, hence more likely to be sustained (or renewed following interruption).

In contrast to findings that link IMF lending to shareholder maneuvers on behalf of major financial lobbies, USAID and IMF intervention in Central America were not driven principally by core state financial interests. Unlike larger Latin American countries with heavy borrowing concentrated in a handful of foreign banks, Central American foreign debts were generally modest in relation to bank portfolios and unlikely to affect bank profitability. The Nicaraguan foreign debt, which was the most substantial of the three, was not primarily with U.S. banks; by the end of the Sandinista period, borrowing came largely from socialist countries. Intense U.S. interest in these cases was more directly connected to the cold war fears of "communist" expansion in a region historically defined as the U.S. "backyard" than to pressure from creditors. This catalyst gave neoliberal transition in Central America some distinctive features, including durable epistemic resource flows into local think tanks and training programs, and unilateral, but temporary, market access under CBI.

Reform Deepening

External funders could not secure a market transition unless local authorities actively cooperated in this venture. In the Central American cases, economic duress and war weariness fueled electoral transitions, and a new network of officials and technocrats emerged who endorsed policy change. Beyond simply signing onto the agreements reached with external funders, these officials provided on-going support for transition. Their numbers tended to increase over time, as new government agencies and private partnerships were established, and they gradually populated the corner offices and cubicles of key ministries. These officials came to serve as powerful norm entrepreneurs, reshaping the dominant ideas about how an economy should function.

Some who assumed technical leadership at the domestic level had long been persuaded to abandon the old model, and were waiting in the wings for the opportunity to serve. Others had gone into self-exile or for graduate study abroad during periods of heightened statism, and had served stints as technocrats in multilateral banks and international business management. The change of leadership at home now offered a propitious moment to return and contribute directly to the economic revamping. Prior USAID institution building helped to foster the transition by providing training and networking opportunities for market-oriented actors. USAID financial support for the market friendly Academia de Centroamérica, CINDE and COMEX in Costa Rica, for example, created a network of public and private institutions that would serve as local sponsors of marketization. FUSADES in El Salvador networked with international economic experts to design policy reforms, over time developing the expertise to complete policy planning in-house. Market reform-oriented governments in Nicaragua drew on resources available at INCAE, and nationals with foreign training and expertise staffed critical ministries in charge of finance, trade, and development.

Local bureaucracies, of course, were not completely replaced following election transitions, even when they were substantially downsized, as in Nicaragua. Market-oriented officials were often layered into agencies formed in an earlier era. Those public officials who failed to display sufficient confidence in liberalization, however, were commonly sidelined as inadequately prepared, anachronistic and "politicized." Through executive decrees, administrative rule changes, and hard-fought legislative battles, market reform policies were propagated.

Still, market transition requires more than the creation of a new policy framework. For the reforms to take root, producers and investors need to respond to the unfolding opportunities and reorganize production processes--to become "flexible rent seekers" rather that intractable ones, seeking government support under the new rules rather than insisting on the old. Because business elites tend to pursue concrete economic interests rather than an abstract set of principles, their commitment to market reform can be variable. Privatization and deregulation provide ample opportunities for favoritism, as the general literature on market reform demonstrates, and insider allegations of corruption appear regularly in Central America. In this region too, market transition in practice deviated from market transition theory.

But over time, Central American business elites moved into the opening sectors and successfully identified new markets. Once legal changes allowed for the establishment of private banking, elites founded domestic and regional banks that anchored new economic networks in all three countries. The CBI opened markets in the United States for nontraditional products and local producers found niche markets. Real estate revived, sprawling malls sprang up, and, as the transportation and telecommunications infrastructure expanded, tourism, particularly in Costa Rica, became a new growth industry. Importers relished the ease with which they could supply the expanding consumer market with foreign goods and brands.

One by one, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Nicaragua developed new export-oriented manufacturing activities, distinctively tailored to local labor skills and costs. El Salvador and Nicaragua offered low cost labor and secured jobs in the apparel sector; Costa Rica, where educational levels and salaries were higher, offered safety and quality control and secured investment in the computer and medical equipment sectors. Exports surged in each of these countries, albeit more slowly than imports, and foreign investment generally increased as well, albeit at widely varying rates. Traditional sectors, such as coffee cultivation, declined sharply in the new economy. Except in Nicaragua, the agricultural sector in general lost much of its significance. Business associational life reconfigured around the new economy, with new chambers providing robust support for market reform, as some historical ones lost ground.

Reform Persistence

Political and economic elites can introduce market change, in cooperation with external allies, but in political systems that are formally democratic, those changes are unlikely to persist unless the new model secures public acceptance. Parties and candidates need to sell the virtues of market reform and to resist the temptation to backslide; voters must demonstrate some buy-in. Although endorsement of neoliberal reform was far from unambiguous in Central America, as subsequent chapters demonstrate, ideational processes stoked a new "common sense," (Harvey 2005, 39–43) in which free market competition and global integration were widely understood to provide the only real road to modernity, and the means to leave instability, crisis and warfare behind.

In Costa Rica, the formerly social democratic PLN and the Christian Democratic PUSC converged around the need for market efficiency and global integration, thus stabilizing market reform in spite of party rotation. Although leaders from these two parties tended to endorse market policies that went beyond public preferences, such as telecommunications privatization, elites steered clear of the privatization of social services, and mass sentiment generally lined up behind the hybrid reform model that emerged in this country.

In El Salvador, pro-market ARENA enjoyed solid victories at the presidential level, and its stable working relationship with a traditional clientelistic party generally provided the legislative support needed to advance a pro-market agenda. Ideological antagonism toward the opposition FMLN rallied even centrists, as ARENA discourse fanned fears of Left radicalism and the loss of U.S. aid.

Opponents of the FSLN in Nicaragua likewise benefited from ideological polarization, recruiting the anti-Sandinista vote in broad coalitions. Memories of the devastation associated with the revolutionary period tended to strengthen resistance to FSLN campaigns. Business leaders played an active role in these electoral victories; indeed, in El Salvador and Nicaragua, business elites repeatedly vied for and won the presidency itself, and prominent business owners provided critical party leadership and financing.

The experience of revolutionary conflict and civil war in this region stiffened the resolution of the Right and tilted the Center away from actors tarred with the "socialist" brush. But voters could hardly be persuaded to endorse candidates and parties that ushered in market reform unless they associated these reforms with prospective opportunities and benefits. These perceptions were assisted by concerted ideational projects that emanated from elite institutions (think tanks, media), but they were not without material grounding. The governments' success in controlling inflation and restarting growth helped to make this case, as did their ability to secure foreign assistance, which allowed an import boom and increased availability of consumer goods. Positive attitudes toward a market system prevailed, even when these goods were out of reach for many and assessments of actual market impacts were mixed.

Central America entered the twenty-first century having undergone a neoliberal transition, with economies reorganized around trade and foreign investment, and national discourse focused on recovery and competition. These were the circumstances under which CAFTA was introduced.



“The book provides us with a nuanced—and balanced—account that illustrates the ways in which the distinct political and economic histories of these three countries led to the process unfolding in varied ways among them. . . . This is a very important contribution to the literature about market opening in Latin America.”
Laura Enríquez, Professor of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley

“This work makes a significant contribution to the field in a number of ways. . . . Scholars of social movements will be particularly interested in the rich discussion of the grassroots mobilization against CAFTA, which draws on both transnational social movement (TSM) theory and framing analysis. . . . This book will be obligatory reading for anyone interested in free trade and social movement organizing in Central America.”
Richard Stahler-Sholk, Professor of Political Science, Eastern Michigan University


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