The Republic of El Salvador has been restored after 12 years of civil war. The government is stable and has even proclaimed that democracy has been established, and great expectations are directed at future development. Her Excellency Ms. Martha Lidia Zelayandia Cisneros, the ambassador from El Salvador, is married to a Japanese man and speaks fluent Japanese. Toshio Motoya spoke with Cisneros about topics including the long-established ties between Japan and El Salvador and El Salvador’s strategies aimed at economic growth.
Motoya Thank you very much for joining me on Big Talk today.
Cisneros Thank you for having me, and for inviting me to the wine gathering at your home the other day. I had a good time.
Motoya Your Japanese is excellent. The language in El Salvador is Spanish, correct? I also assume you can speak English…
Cisneros I speak French as well. I am proficient in these four languages, but I am also studying German and Chinese and can speak them imperfectly. As for Japanese, I won the Japanese-language speech contest for the embassy staff of various countries stationed in Japan that was held on April 19. I was the only ambassador who participated (laughs).
Motoya Congratulations! The number of Japanese people that know about El Salvador is still small. I hope you will teach our readers a bit about your country today.
Cisneros Japan and El Salvador have very strong ties. One interesting and good story is when the Treaty of San Francisco was concluded between the Allied Nations and Japan in 1951. El Salvador was one of the Allies, and our ambassador to the United States participated in the peace conference. Only a few big countries had already created an original draft of the treaty, which was given to the other countries right before the conference. The Salvadoran ambassador, after reading the document, immediately thought this draft could not be put into effect in El Salvador because Article XIV (which said that each of the Allied Powers shall have the right to seize, retain, liquidate, or otherwise dispose of all property, rights, and interests of Japan nationals, persons acting on behalf of Japan, Japanese entities and entities owned or controlled by Japan, and Japanese nationals) is contrary to the Political Constitution of El Salvador. At the same time, this draft could not be accepted or ratified based on the commitments that other nations may have contracted with respect to the transference of those territories enumerated in Article II of the Treaty of Peace with Japan, in all cases in which the freely expressed will of the affected populations was not consulted or respected. This reservation applies to the transference of the Kurile Islands, a part of the Island of Sakhalin, and any other similar cases and any commitments concerning the Island of Formosa.
Motoya It’s only natural that the seizure of property is not allowed.
Cisneros Yes. And in addition to the seizing of property, having a territory become part of another country without the approval of citizens goes against the Constitution of El Salvador. The Salvadoran ambassador immediately sent a report to his homeland, and was given approval to give a speech in opposition of this treaty draft regarding these two points at the peace conference. Shigeru Yoshida, who was Japan’s prime minister at that time, wrote later that he was grateful for the speech given by the Salvadoran ambassador.
Motoya I’ve never heard that story before.
Cisneros On the day after the speech, the American ambassador to El Salvador met directly with the Salvadoran foreign minister to lodge a protest. However, the foreign minister answered, “The ambassador to the U.S. has been ordered to speak in a way that conforms to our constitution. The treaty draft goes against the constitution, so he had no choice but to give that speech. Ambassador, you have questioned me, and I have answered. The door is over there.” The American ambassador said nothing more before leaving. However, the opposing view was not accepted, and in the end El Salvador signed the San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1952.
Motoya I think El Salvador did something that was very significant for Japan. The Cold War had already begun in 1951, when the San Francisco Peace Treaty was concluded. The Korean War – which was like a war by proxy for this – broke out in 1950. The peace treaty with Japan was concluded only with the Western countries, excluding the Soviet Union, China, etc. Japan’s independence was swiftly recognized because of the advancing waves of communization into East Asia. Of course, this was a good thing for Japan.
Cisneros I think that’s true.
Motoya Japan’s presence in Manchuria until the end of the war curtailed communization in China. When Japan left, the Chinese Communist Party immediately gained control of the whole nation. Moreover, Joseph Stalin placed pressure on Kim Il Sung of North Korea and made him aim to unify the Korean Peninsula. This led to the outbreak of the Korean War. The South Korean and UN Forces were pushed all the way to the vicinity of Busan and driven into a desperate situation. However, recovery took place all at once due the U.S. Forces’ success at the Battle of Inchon. The U.S. Forces moved from Seoul and over the Thirty-eighth Parallel, gained total control of Pyongyang, and even drove the North Korean army to the area near the border between China and North Korea. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army joined the war at that point, and the U.S. Forces were pushed back once again. In the end, a cease-fire was achieved at the Thirty-eighth Parallel, which still lasts today. Japan was on the west side, and the U.S. had to also consider how to deal with the Soviet Union. The Salvadoran ambassador spoke sound arguments in a dignified way about the Northern Territories and Karafuto issues; these locations were occupied by the Soviet Union via unfair means. Even with recognition of this injustice, it is difficult to change things in the reality of power. I think that’s why this just reasoning was not accepted.
Cisneros I agree.
Motoya El Salvador and Japan have close ties as you have described. Can you tell us some fundamental information about your country?
Cisneros Of course. El Salvador is bordered by Guatemala to the west, Honduras to the north and east, and the Pacific Ocean to the south. It has an area roughly half the size of Kyushu, and a population of approximately 6.3 million people. The capital city is San Salvador. As I said before, the language is Spanish, and the main religion is Catholicism. The northern part of the country is a mountain district, and the Pan-American Highway runs down the open coastline.
Motoya El Salvador is located on the narrow Isthmus of Central America, so one can say it has a strategic position for transportation.
Cisneros Yes, that’s true. It was occupied by Spain in the beginning of the 16th century, and developed as a colony. El Salvador became independent from Spain in the early 19th century. Various governments were established after that point, which still takes place today.
Motoya There was a civil war in El Salvador that lasted from 1980 to 1992, and 75,000 people were killed. Civil wars are one of the world’s worst tragedies; more people die in them than during external wars. For example, 620,000 people were killed in action during the American Civil War between the North and the South, its largest number ever. This even applies in the U.S., which views war as a type of public-works project. The civil war in El Salvador had some aspects of a war of proxy between the U.S. and Soviet Union – just like Vietnam – against the backdrop of the Cold War between the East and West. Revolutions also took place in nearby countries.
Cisneros El Salvador became destabilized due to social injustice, big economic gaps in the society, fraudulent elections, and government oppression of protestors. Revolutions occurred in Cuba and Nicaragua. The U.S. gave strong assistance to governments in Central America to avoid repeating its failures in Cuba. Based on this background, the government of El Salvador relentlessly suppressed the left-wing forces. Due to this strong pressure, these left-wing powers – which had acted on behalf of their country – swiftly obtained arms and became guerilla forces, figuring it was better to die fighting if they were going to be killed at any rate. This led to civil war. The government at that time, to avoid the left-wing forces, was able to get weapons from Nicaragua at an island in eastern El Salvador. Because the government was occupied with its combat with the guerillas, it requested that Honduras monitor this island. After the end of the civil war, the government of that neighbor country willfully constructed a heliport on the island and claimed that it had territorial rights. El Salvador has continuously objected to this.
Motoya That’s exactly what South Korea did at Takeshima. Even though the island was a historical territory of El Salvador and the requested monitoring was a temporary thing, this territory is occupied by the neighbor country. Territorial disputes are not rare throughout the world, including Japan’s issues at the Senkaku Islands and Takeshima. More than logic, it seems that effective control over a territory is the most important factor. In any case, it is wrong to accept changes to the present condition via armed force. Changes to the existing situation were recently affected via military power at the Republic of Crimea in Ukraine. However, I think the territorial issues in El Salvador are proof that it has overcome the civil war and become a peaceful country. When internal conflict is taking place, it seems that territorial conflicts do not occur with other countries.
Cisneros That may be true. Regarding the end of the civil war, we are proudest of the fact that the government and guerilla forces put down their weapons and fully discussed each of their terms. A peace agreement was concluded on January 16, 1992. Looking at world history, it is very rare for wars to end in this way. One can say it was the most successful example of UN peacekeeping activities. I think this happened because both parties recognized that the country would be destroyed if the war were not ended.
Motoya After, El Salvador has made favorable progress to become a stable nation.
Cisneros Yes. Now, it has become able to declare to the world that democracy has been established. The final vote of the presidential election took place in March of this year. After a fierce battle, Salvador S?nchez Cer?n of the Farabundo Mart? National Liberation Front (FMLN) was elected. The FMLN is the former group fighting against the government. It became a political party after the peace agreement was signed in 1992, as this was one of the conditions to end the war. Then the traditional ruling party won the presidential elections four times, which means it was in charge of the government for 20 years. In 2009, for the first time in history the victory was for the FMLN party and President Mauricio Funes was elected. The victory of Salvador S?nchez Cer?n is the second time the FMLN party has won a presidential election. A presidential inauguration ceremony will take place on June 1.
Motoya Former President Mauricio Funes was also very popular. Do presidents serve just one term?
Cisneros The term is five years, and presidents cannot be re-elected in succession. I think Cer?n’s recent victory was aided by Funes’ high approval rating. The new government must accomplish a huge number of things. One strategy for economic growth is attraction for investment. I have a kind of dream to make El Salvador International Airport into a hub airport, which would be a great opportunity for the country. This airport was constructed via an international yen loan from Japan, and was completed right before the civil war.
Motoya Speaking with many ambassadors, they often talk about projects by which Japan has contributed to countries across the globe. But since Japanese people do not advocate for this enough, they are not known by people in Japan and throughout the world. Plaques are not put up in these countries indicating who provided aid, so the people in the country that received assistance don’t even know how the projects were accomplished. In contrast, Japan’s reputation has deteriorated because of false history propagated by China and South Korea. South Korea was able to accomplish rapid revival – referred to as the “Miracle on the Han River” – during the era of President Park Chung-hee thanks to aid from Japan. I suspect that Park Geun-hye, his daughter, is aware of this. China and South Korea often say that Japan must take a straight look at history, but they are the ones who should do so. There is absolutely no proof that 300,000 people were killed at Nanking, and ample evidence that no massacre took place. Regarding the comfort women issue as well, there is a record in the National Archives in Washington, DC of comfort women who were captured in Burma and questioned by the U.S. Forces in 1944. This record clearly describes the comfort women as mere prostitutes who followed the armed forces and carried out commerce. It is unreasonable to describe them as sexual slaves or say they were forcibly transported.
Motoya Have the lives of people changed due to political stability?
Cisneros Yes. In the past many people were poor and could not go to school or receive medical care. A left-wing administration was established for the first time, led by Funes, in 2009. At first it experienced severe friction with people in the surrounding environment, but it became able to gain understanding. Funes devoted efforts to internal unity. Right now the priority issue for the nation is economic growth. We need financial resources for social investment. To that end, measures are being implemented to improve productivity in all fields.
Motoya You said the population is roughly 6.3 million people. I’ve also heard that many people from El Salvador are living in other countries.
Cisneros Many people immigrated to other countries during the civil war. My two older sisters and younger brother are living in San Francisco. I have heard of Salvadorans working in several fields. People comment that they are good workers and passionate about what they do. I think that this is one of the common characteristics of Salvadorans and Japanese. An example is the cases of Salvadorans working at Japanese restaurants; they are good learners and they work as cooks sometimes.
Motoya Maybe they resemble Japanese people.
Cisneros Yes. Other countries refer to El Salvador as the “Japan of Central America.” We have no resources, so we depend on the people who live there. That’s why we are very industrious. We are also a country of volcanoes and many earthquakes, like the major earthquake of 2001. We resemble Japan in this way as well.
Motoya That’s because El Salvador is located on the Ring of Fire. Japan possesses some of the world’s foremost earthquake-resistance technologies.
Cisneros Yes, I know. Disaster mitigation and earthquake resistance are pillars linking El Salvador and Japan. The Japanese words “taishin” (earthquake resistance) and “b?sai” (disaster preparedness) are used as-is in El Salvador. Some of our students are studying abroad at Japanese universities to learn about technology.
Motoya How many people are studying in Japan?
Cisneros I do not have the exact number now, but certainly only a few students are in Japan. We hope to increase this number in the future.
Motoya The Japanese side should establish better systems for accepting students from pro-Japanese nations like El Salvador, such as scholarships and university international student quotas. I have also repeatedly advocated that the National Defense Academy should accept more students from pro-Japanese states. The Shinzo Abe Cabinet made a decision in April to revise the Three Principles on Arms Exports. In addition to weapons, Japan should proactively carry out human resource exchange with pro-Japanese nations. In that way, good national relations could be constructed centered on Japan, which I think would contribute to world peace.
Cisneros I agree.
Motoya No matter how much the constitution sings the praises of peace, if another party exercises its military force, we will have to yield according to the logic of power. Just like the island in El Salvador and Takeshima, effective control makes it difficult to regain a territory. By all rights, we should take measures before the territory comes under effective control. South Korea drew the Rhee Syngman Line in 1952 and unilaterally declared that Takeshima was a Korean territory. At that time, Japan did not have the ability to make a counterattack. The Rhee Syngman Line has resulted in the capture of many Japanese fishing boats by South Korea. Fishermen have even been detained, wounded, and killed. This is the reality of power.
Cisneros That is unfortunately true.
Motoya The reality of international relations is quite harsh; there is no concept of compassion or thoughtfulness. Japanese people – citizens of an island nation who have obsessively desired peace – do not understand this. Japanese people believe deception is wrong, but it is even worse for another country to be deceived by lies.
Cisneros It is dangerous to not have a correct awareness of reality.
Motoya Yes, that’s true.
Cisneros The first overseas country where a Japanese company established a factory was El Salvador, back in the 1950s.The people of El Salvador have a very industrious character, so it is a suitable destination for investments from Japanese corporations. A former Japanese ambassador to El Salvador told me how a foreign investor in El Salvador was surprised about the Salvadorans’ character. One day after the major earthquake in 2001, the factory manager thought none of the Salvadoran employees would show up, but everyone came to work. People are particularly full of the desire to revive El Salvador now that the civil war has ended, and everyone is extremely forward-looking. The average citizen age is 24 years, so El Salvador is a very young country.
Motoya The low average age shows that many children are being born, which is evidence of the peaceful circumstances.
Cisneros Yes. I also hope that more tourists will visit El Salvador. Our currency is the U.S. dollar, so it is a very convenient place for travelers. El Salvador International Airport is a hub for Central America that is just four hours from Los Angeles, so it’s easy to get to any country from there.
Motoya Which airlines are based at El Salvador International Airport?
Cisneros The new Avianca was created through the merger of Colombia’s Avianca, which was the largest South American airline, and Salvadoran TACA, which covered a great deal of Central America. The number of flights has increased through this merger, and the airport will have to be expanded.
Motoya As the world becomes increasingly affluent, more people are boarding airplanes. Overseas vacations become popular when the average income of a country exceeds a certain standard. When the average incomes of China and India reach this standard, more people will travel throughout the world and the demand for airplanes will grow rapidly. Japan has long been unable to take part in aircraft development due to unwritten laws forced on it by the U.S. But this situation is changing, such as the mass production plan for the Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ), a small passenger plane. Japan should participate more proactively and with stronger intent in the aircraft market that seems likely to grow several times in scale in the future. It is normal for all countries to mutually assert the things that must be emphasized, and to search for common ground. Japan does not make sufficient assertions, which must be changed.
Cisneros To prepare for this era of increased travel, you should build an APA Hotel in El Salvador! We even have hot springs (laughs).
Motoya I understand (laughs). I always ask for a “word for the youth” at the end of the interview.
Cisneros I think young Japanese people are very lucky. There are different types of countries across the world, but none are as peaceful or honor human rights as much as Japan. I also think its citizens have fully inherited a sense of thoughtfulness, which is a true asset. I hope they will pass this down forever to future generations.
Motoya I’m very happy to hear someone from another country give such a high evaluation of Japan.
Cisneros I first learned about Japan in a class during my sixth year of elementary school. My textbook contained a photograph of the atomic bomb mushroom cloud, and said that Japan had been revived and grew into an economic power even though it suffered heavy damage in the war. I was a child, yet I thought this was amazing. I was also moved by the Japanese products available in El Salvador that are cheap yet offer good performance, like National, Toyota, and Honda. I married a Japanese man I met in El Salvador and came to Japan, the country I have long looked up to. I’m happy I was able to become the ambassador because it enables me to work and do more for my country and for good relations between both nations and people. I also hope that more Japanese people will learn about El Salvador.
Motoya I definitely hope to visit in the future. Thank you for joining me today.
Martha Lidia Zelayandia Cisneros
Martha Lidia Zelayandia Cisneros
Cisneros was born in 1957 in San Miguel, the third largest city in El Salvador. She studied music education and piano at a national music education school in El Salvador, and also studied topics such as biology at the University of El Salvador. Afterwards, she married a Japanese man and came to Japan. Since 1985 Cisneros has worked in Japan as a freelance translator, and has also held jobs including at the embassy, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), and Metropolitan Police Department. After working as a teacher at Fujisawa Municipal School, she became the minister-counselor at the Salvadoran embassy in 2010. She has served in her current position since 2011.