“ I never hold grudges; I always look to the future, never back at the past.”
Editor’s Note: It is rare to see Salvador alone. He generally has a grandchild in his arms or is engaged in conversation with someone. He ALWAYS wears a huge smile on his face. He is in constant motion addressing whatever needs arise. As our interview progressed, he became physically agitated, and his daughter laughed, “He’s not used to sitting still this long.” In the business world Salvador is vision-oriented, always looking toward new opportunities. In his family Salvador looks at each one’s needs. In his community Salvador focuses on how he can address common issues from a government standpoint.
BACKGROUND: My family is from Santa Ana where they owned a large coffee finca. They also had cows. When my dad became general manager of the coffee cooperative, our family moved into San Salvador where I was born in 1953. My three sisters and I worked on the finca on vacations. (My brother died a long time ago.) I attended school and did a variety of jobs including working at the cinema. A friend and I went to the U.S. when we were teenagers, but I didn’t like it there and returned to Guatemala where I went to school to study mechanics.
LOVE AND WORK: When I was 20, I met the love of my life, who was 19. We married the next year and began working in two businesses: insurance and auto repair. I didn’t care for the coffee finca work plus my parents had divorced by that time. The car repair business was in the garage of our small house. I hired mechanics to do the work and procured the jobs while my wife served as the manager and administrator. As the work increased, we got a larger property to accommodate a bigger car repair business. At the same time the insurance business where I sold all types for the agency, was also growing.
FAMILY: We earned a good salary to pay for the education of our two children, a daughter followed by a son. The family wanted a vacation home outside the city to retreat to on weekends, and I began looking. I saw a property that I felt had potential because of the forest around it and because of the kind people within the community. Every time we went to visit we took toys, piñatas, and candy to its 20 children. I wanted my children to interact with the poor children in this community. At first my family didn’t like the area because it was full of mosquitoes, but I gave an ultimatum that if they wanted a vacation property, it would have to be here.
DURING THE WAR: We had much business in the auto repair shop during the country’s civil war due to all the accidents. However, the soldiers were requiring that businesses pay a “war tax” to them. I refused to pay four times, but on the fifth time in 1980 soldiers shot our car while I was driving our family 100 meters from our home. My wife had very serious injuries requiring surgeries and causing her to be in a wheelchair for a year recovering. Our eight-month old son nearly died. Our four- year old daughter in the back seat escaped injury, but the perpetrators threatened to kidnap her at her preschool. We quickly pulled her out of that school and found another one. I said nothing to authorities because the soldiers threatened my life.
Our family was emotionally shaken up and financially drained of resources to cover all the medical bills. We later discovered the leader of the group extorting us was the head of the intelligence of the country who had been scamming many people like this. He would try to make it appear as if it was a group of guerrillas behind it. He ended up in jail for one year, and the soldiers each disappeared. [When asked how he got through that difficult time, Salvador shakes his head and responds, “I just don’t know; God has a purpose in life for our family, I believe. At the end of that year I remember I prayed to God out loud to thank him for the opportunity to be able to pay for food, educations, etc. I never hold grudges; I always look to the future, never back at the past.”]
GETTING BACK ON MY FEET AGAIN: The president of the insurance company I worked for was a Swiss millionaire who felt deep compassion for my situation and helped a great deal. He sent all accident cars to my garage for business so that eventually I could begin to recoup some assets. Working is the key to keeping the mind busy. I’ve always had visions and instincts of future possibilities that perhaps appeared remote to others at the time.
Where others look to dark skies and see only threats, Salvador sees a beautiful sunset filled with hope and new possibilities. He is a man for the future.
VACATION HOME: When my daughter returned from studying in Canada, she wasn’t interested in the family insurance business but asked if we could develop our vacation property into a four-room motel. She always enjoyed traveling and asked to try running the hotel. I consented and watched her work very hard. She was the waitress and housekeeper and booked the rooms. My wife was the cook. It has continued to grow in size adding a restaurant and café. My son now is also involved in the daily operations, and my daughter does the bookings from her home while raising her children.
COMPASSION FOR COMMUNITY: Over time our whole family fell in love with the community at our vacation home. We felt compassion for the people and helped support the local school and became involved with local issues. I listen to their problems and help out where I can. One of the pressing issues in this area is chronic kidney disease among the sugar cane workers and their families. The workers living in those areas have little protection when chemicals are dropped by planes overhead without warning.
A sugar cane planting which can be harvested every year for five years.
As we began exploring and studying what was happening, we found that a nearby community was the site of a plantation where chemicals were left to leach into the soil after the multinational cotton company (and now sugar cane company) went broke and abandoned the property with its containers of chemicals stored there 60 years ago. We took our fight all the way to the National Assembly to ban the use of these chemicals in our country. It won at that level; however, President Funes vetoed it. We were disappointed on the one hand, yet in that one particular case, the tons of chemicals in the barrels were removed and placed on ships out of the country to go to de-contamination sites. No one seems to know exactly where they ended up.
MAYORSHIP WITH A PERSONAL COMMITMENT: The community members asked me to run for local mayor which I saw as my duty as a leader of the community to do. During the campaign our granddaughter was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. I became depressed and wanted to drop out of the mayor campaign, but my wife urged me to continue. It was more than her request that convinced me to stay in the race.
I made a promise to God that if our granddaughter survived her illness, I would run for mayor and give it my full attention. She survived, and I am now serving my second three-year term, which expires in 2018. The crusade for the sugar cane workers was one of many causes to help the poor. I try to provide alternatives for youth rather than gangs. I hear they are recruiting children as young as five years old to join. I would like to see the government take responsibility to cover the cost of treatments such as dialysis for the sugar cane workers across the country rather than send them home to die.
LOOKING AHEAD: I will always work. I wouldn’t know what to do if I weren’t working. I am now an insurance broker for the same company I began selling policies for. My car repair company continues also. My kids manage the vacation place.
Editor’s Note: Salvador seems a resilient man who is able to rise above the perilous events that happen in his life through sheer hard work and fortitude. He never expects a handout; just give him an opportunity and he will make the most of it.
Salvador’s very young grandchild who fought the battle of cancer now releases a newly hatched turtle into a large and dangerous sea with the certainty of her grandfather that it will survive and return another day to this very spot to bless her. Salvador’s life is one of danger and blessing to all in his sphere.