GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (Sept. 21, 2005) - Francisco Flores, one of the most prominent voices for a new generation of political leaders in Central America, will deliver a keynote address at the Acton Institute annual dinner in Grand Rapids on October 24. Flores, president of El Salvador from 1999-2004, will discuss the transformation of El Salvador from a war-torn and poverty stricken land to a nation that has achieved political stability, economic growth, and vastly improved conditions for poor people.
He will be joined on the annual dinner program by Rev. Robert Sirico, president and co-founder of the Acton Institute, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary.
Flores became a cabinet member at the age of 29, president of El Salvador's Congress at 36, and then ran for the presidency at 38. Following the 1992 peace accords, the country was faced with daunting task of recovering from a 13-year civil war that left tens of thousands dead while some 30 percent of the population had fled the country.
“Salvadorans had become convinced that all political parties were responsible for El Salvador's conflict and economic disaster,” Flores says. “When the whole political spectrum was seen as shouldering a historical guilt, the only way out was a generational change. And this is why El Salvador has had since 1989 exceptionally young leaders in all fields of government.”
No sooner had the country begun to recover from war, it was hit by Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and a series of earthquakes in 2001. Despite these major setbacks, El Salvador advanced political freedom under its new constitution, deregulated the economy, dismantled monopolies, and reformed government institutions.
As a result, El Salvador has reduced the poverty rate from 60 percent to 30 percent in 12 years — the most accelerated poverty reduction rate in Latin America. Infant mortality has been reduced, unemployment halved, and low income housing provided. Schools and health centers have been expanded dramatically.
“The only real wealth of any nation is its people, and the true wealth of the individual is his creativity,” Flores says. “Only in freedom can an individual be creative and productive. This is the secret to development.”
Flores currently heads the Washington-based América Libre Institute, a think tank that assists democratic countries and institutions in promoting freedom and prosperity for their citizens.