El Salvador, once marred by high crime rates and gang violence, has witnessed a remarkable transformation in its security landscape. This transformation has culminated in the return of U.S. Peace Corps volunteers to the country, marking a significant milestone after their withdrawal in 2016 due to escalating violence and the presence of criminal gangs.
The successful security plan championed by President Nayib Bukele has paved the way for the reestablishment of the American volunteer mission of the Peace Corps in El Salvador. This momentous occasion was formalized with the signing of an agreement between the United States and El Salvador. The signing ceremony was attended by the Minister of Foreign Relations, Alexandra Hill, and the Director of the Peace Corps, Carol Spahn, underscoring the confidence this globally recognized program places in El Salvador.
“This unequivocally demonstrates how the security efforts undertaken by President Nayib Bukele’s government have transformed our nation, to the extent that institutions now have the confidence to return with their programs to contribute to the development of Salvadorans,” Minister Hill stated during her remarks.
Furthermore, the Salvadoran Foreign Minister noted that the return of volunteers signifies a landmark event, given that in 2016, their operations ceased due to the high levels of violence and criminality perpetrated by gangs and other criminal groups.
“In 2016, when the Peace Corps decided to leave, this level of security did not exist, not for them nor for the thousands of Salvadorans who were victims of gangs. At that time, our country topped the lists of the most violent countries in the world, a reality completely contrary to what we experience now,” the Republic’s chancellor remarked.
For instance, in 2015, El Salvador became the world’s most dangerous country, with a staggering 6,656 homicides that year and a rate of 104 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.
The representative of the Foreign Ministry also stressed that the country is working for the well-being of its population, hence the conditions for international organizations to operate on our territory are now favorable. “We are ready to welcome you in an environment that is safe and free from violence like never before,” Hill reaffirmed.
The U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, William Duncan, emphasized that the agreement marks the reestablishment of the Peace Corps in El Salvador and its renewed commitment to a shared vision of community improvements and sustainable growth.
“The bond between our nations is both historical and dynamic. I am deeply honored to witness this signing and support a new era of collaboration. Together, we will build upon past successes and chart a path forward filled with hope, progress, and mutual respect,” declared the diplomat.
During their presence in El Salvador, the Peace Corps focused on supporting Salvadorans in four key areas: Agro-Forestry and Environmental Education; Rural Health and Medicine; Municipal Development; and Youth Development.
Meanwhile, Carol Spahn, the Director of the Peace Corps, expressed her excitement about this long-awaited moment.
“All Peace Corps volunteers who have served here in El Salvador use the same word to describe the strong bond they feel with the people of the communities they serve. That word is trust. It is a uniquely powerful word to describe that profound feeling of trust and mutual respect that is only possible when one believes in the other,” Spahn remarked.
One year after their inception in 1961 by then-President John F. Kennedy, the government of El Salvador requested Peace Corps volunteers in 1962. In April of that year, 20 volunteers arrived. By 1977, approximately 150 volunteers were participating in various programs. In 1980, following two attacks on Peace Corps offices and vehicles, operations were suspended. Approximately 13 years later, they returned in April 1993 and withdrew in 2016, during the FMLN’s governance.