The road is the baby of Mexican President Vicente Fox’s Plan Puebla Panama, an initiative meant to facilitate the transport of goods between Mexico and other Central American countries. At first glance, its promise to carry El Salvador to economic prosperity is convincing. Yet, a second glance, through the smeared window of an old US school bus chugging painfully up the asphalt’s easy grade, raises doubts.
For those riding in creaky vehicles puttering along in the right lane, or waiting among the crowds that mill on the shoulder, the road merely accentuates the contradiction of Salvadoran economic progress that has left them behind. In the emergency lane, the informal economy thrives. Elderly women plod slowly with bundles of firewood, jugs of water, cans of cooking gas, and baskets of vegetables balanced elegantly on their heads. Small children trail behind them, using their hands to steady the smaller items that sway above them. Piles of coconuts wait for thirsty travelers under improvised thatch roofs at every curve. Two long-eared cows are tethered to a tree in the median.