Artículos en Inglés
Interview with Jorge Schafik Handal – ALBA Foods
By: Mauricio Gonzalez
Translated by Vivian Melara
How did Jorge Schafik begin in ALBA?
I am in ALBA and in ALBA Foods, too. I became a part of the ALBA group last June; I specifically became a part in ALBA Foods’ efforts to help organize the Service Promotion department, which is practically the window, or rather the entryway to all the ALBA Foods program’s efforts.
We are the ones that do contact work with people; that give initial follow-up, the ones that organize them into production groups within ALBA, which are like an extension of ALBA Foods, to help solve both administrative and training problems and subsequently crop harvesting — organizing farmers to harvest crops and purchase them, of course.
Have you had any experience in the private industry before entering fully into ALBA?
Look, this is like asking someone: do you have experience for your first job? And if it’s their first job, what experience are you asking them to have, right? No, what counts overall is the disposition to learn, because there are organizational principles that are common to the private industry and the public function. There are organizing principles and functioning principles which are factual, I agree. And after that, you have to be clear with which team you are going to surround yourself to help you resolve problems, because that is precisely the function of managers and the team or the staff, as they say elsewhere, management, of support or operations.
What kind of staff surrounds Jorge Schafik?
Well, I have a financial manager, who has a long experience in the finance system. The general manager worked in the private sector and has a vast experience in microfinance. I have a business manager who comes precisely from another company specialized in microfinance; he started as a salesman until he came to precisely the position he works here: business manager. This is the same way we have hired people who have been general computer managers within the government’s IT department. This is why I tell you, we are not searching for a position for a person rather the person for the position we want, based on the vision we are developing.
There has been much talk about the political aspect of ALBA, but how would you separate that political aspect from the purely business aspect?
Look, I believe that here are some things that are, besides being treated as taboos, being treated as paradigms written in stone. For instance, when they talk about politics, everyone says: “Ah, political parties and, that’s not fair, whatever.” And that is a lie. Everyone does politics. You do it with your neighbor, for example, with the neighbor who lives to your right, you have a type of relationship; with the neighbor that’s to the left of your house you have another one. And that is a political relationship that you carry on without being affiliated to a political party. It does convey ideology if it agrees with your education, what you have been taught, okay; or what you have learned about life along with both moral and ethical norms and your own ideas about how human relationships should occur.
Tell me what great businessman linked to the right wing has not been associated to Arena. They are and have even been leaders of Arena; then why is it that they separate us here: with Arena it is good, ah, but with others it is not, especially those of you who say they are from a different party. And it’s true, we have a different party and we have a different way our party understands the role that an entrepreneur should play in society. We are not opposed to an employer making money. We oppose the methods he goes about doing it, and we oppose that he uses the state as a resource to gain money, like how it was done before.
What is the scheme, the vision that ALBA has?
Look, we see business as something that must be profitable in order to subsist, to further develop. But what is being produced from the sale of the business should be re-invested in the development of society, in the same productive development of the country, which is what we are doing. For example ALBA Petroleum, out of the bill that allows 40% of that bill to stay for 25 years, well, from that bill we take part of that money and invest it, for instance in agriculture (ALBA Foods.) We are investing rather than allowing that money to leave the country, it comes and stays here. How do we pay that bill? Ah, we have an agreement, too, that allows for that bill to be paid in goods or money. In goods is best, why?, because the money stays here, it does not leave. Then, we produce here and take it there.
Much has been spoken about the origin of ALBA’s funds, what composes that capital and who are the main investors?
Look, there are no main shareholders, let’s start with the last part of the question so this is understood. There are no major shareholders because there are no shares. There are shares with institutions which are the ones that formed this entity. An inter-municipal society represented by municipal councils was formed here, but the mayors don’t act in their capacity as individuals, rather in their capacity as a legal entity representing others. Therefore, these shares are not under the name of an individual, they are under a collective, in this case a local government that obeys the agreements that were established.
And if so, why don’t we follow closely what is lost? Ah, this is because there is a clause which states that membership is renewed every April 30th and of course we already learned the lesson that the instruments that have been formed for society’s development can’t be allowed to fall in the hands of those who are going to make it their own private business.
Could you provide an example?
I provide this example: San Salvador’s landfill. Who constructed it? FMLN. With whom? In partnership with Canadian aid. The Canadian entity experienced problems or was caused problems. The entity then supposedly sold their shares to a Swiss company. Curiously, the Swiss company hired or associated itself with a Salvadoran representative, from Salvadoran entrepreneurs. Who was practically excluded from this society? The local governments since they only had a 10%, totally subjected to other’s decisions. This type of relationship persists, but we learned now. If we want something to be well built and for it not to be perverted by personal interests, then the best is to preserve it so it remains fruitful.
And the funds?
Well, they come from the alliance with Petrocaribe, in which Petrocaribe contributes with part of the capital, the local governments contribute their part, proportionately speaking. You cannot compare Petrocaribe to our local governments. It is clear that although they are local governments, the cash flow managed is not the same. They provide more: we are in a relationship, more or less, of 51 and 49 (percent); they provide 51% and we the 49%. That’s where the initial capital comes from.
What is your opinion regarding the Superintendence of Competition’s investigation on the ALBA business group?
It will come to nothing. First of all, because they are departing from the lawsuit against ALBA. It is a lawsuit that has false bases. You began asking me under whose names the shares are under. I clarified that there are no persons here. The Superintendence already made this petition of information and asked us under whose name these shares are under. There are no shares. First, we made a loan; ALBA lent money, in this case to two people. When you have money, what do you do? You lend money to whomever you want to. You can lend two dollars to him, you can give thirty dollars to another person or you don’t lend your money to another. Period. That’s your wish. What has ALBA done? Lend money to whom it wants and that’s it. There is an association, I agree. There is no ALBA Petroleum representative who has a share under his name. Moreover, the same manner in which we are constituted here does not allow anyone to have shares, because when it comes to voting we all have one vote.
Then, from your perspective, what are they investigating?
What are they investigating? They are investigating whether ALBA has bought companies which exceed the initial capital they had, something along those lines. A new project has been created, for example, ALBA City Hall, a completely new company. ALBA has bought it. It’s a new investment, right? ALBA Foods did not exist at the time, it’s a new investment and there are no associates in ALBA, not even mayors. Mayors are in Enepasa, but none of the Enepasa mayors are members of ALBA Petroleum or ALBA Foods, much less in the credit union and much less in ALBA City Hall. Then this is going to amount to nothing, but it’s a good thing they are doing it. We are facilitating all the information requested without hiding anything, because in the end this is going to be propaganda for us, because we doing things well. I would want this procedure and investigation done on others and for them to be asked about their secret societies, so many of them, about whom and how many shares they have and where these are represented.
Regarding the lawsuit the FMLN made against the Execute Director of the ANEP, what do you think about it not being successful?
I think this demonstrates the class of judicial system that we have. To top it all off, in these days they have had two other cases. For example, the Post case, the directors of the Post in the times of Arena recognized they had spent money on things that the fund was not destined for, a misuse. They were confessed perpetrators, or confessed criminals of corruption, and; nevertheless the District Attorney’s office claims that in order to avoid wearing down they asked to give them a year in jail. Then comes the ISSS case, the ISSS employee that was caught selling workers compensation excuses with all the fake documentation he had there and he, too, was set free. Now, see our case.
In other countries, I invite them to review their legislation, they already accept this lawsuit, because the subjects which make them up: are not tables, chairs, computers or cups, but rather people. If an attack is launched in this manner, you are attacking people. Great lawsuits have existed in the world, millions, but not here.
The president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, is in a precarious health condition. In the case the Venezuelan leader dies, how would ALBA be affected?
Look, ALBA is not with Venezuela, or more specifically Chavez. It is with Venezuela’s government, Argentina’s government, Ecuador’s government, Bolivia’s, Cuba’s, Guatemala’s, because Guatemala is there; it is involved with Honduras’ government, where, despite the coup d’etat, it continues, it was frozen but it seems they are going to reactivate it; it is involved with Nicaragua’s government, Costa Rica’s government, it is involved with governments from the majority of Caribbean countries. It is involved with governments, not with people. The fact that Chavez, Rafael Hugo Chavez Frias, was part founder of this has a lot of undisputed weight. He is the founder; he has been like the spearhead that has been attacked by the United States, the dictator, communists before that. Today it’s Chavez, but Chavez is harmless. Chavez was its founder, but ALBA made arrangements with the government, and what a great agreement.
How would ALBA be affected if FMLN doesn’t win the 2014 elections?
In no way at all, because, for example, ALBA Petroleum started as the opposition. We started in 2005 when we proposed to Saca, the president at the time, when Shafik Handal proposed he joined ALBA, but he didn’t because of the Chavez deal; “no, dictators, no,” said the government. We respected this under the Enepasa with Petrocaribe formula. We started it; we didn’t start it while in the government. We started this while being the opposition, against wind and tide, and we got to where we are. And we are going to continue. You know why? Because these programs are not electioneering. Well, it was proposed in the middle of the electoral battle. I lost the elections and I fulfilled the initial promise.
Given that ALBA is a company with social service, what formalized programs do you manage at the moment and which ones do you wait to obtain on the long term?
Well, there is ALBA Scholarships, which is called this way precisely because its funds come from funds ALBA Petroleum transfers to Enepasa as part of the society so they can reach this program: 3,450 scholarships. There have been social projects already, for instance, construction walls, houses for the working woman; we have supported the governments in the municipalities’ literacy plan with funds that the ALBA Company has given to the local governments so they support this program. In ALBA Foods we have concretely supported, for example, the preparations of the farmers’ sons in the management of agricultural products given in the accoutrement packages. We have a school in ALBA Foods for the agricultural training of boys and girls, sons and daughters of producers, so that they have a sort of vocation that can convert later on into a profession or career.
ALBA Foods also gives scholarships to the National Agriculture School (ENA); it has given them to the ten best students at the end of last year. There are social projects. Here in the Financiera not yet. We already reached one month like this so we are set, but we have more social impact plans.
How do you perceive the panorama of the 2014 elections? Is Sanchez Ceren going to win?
Yes, he is going to win. If you watch closely, the polls are changing. The other candidate started with four points of difference. No he has five, three, it has dropped.
And the Tony Saca factor?
Look, he’s going to cause a racket, a riot, overall in the right party because he comes from the right wing, not from the left wing, right? He nourishes and thrives with right wing people. Now, he is center-right, let’s call it, he is going to cause much displeasure to the right. He is already attacking them. FMLN has nothing to do with him, but Tony Saca has a big problem which is that when he won the past elections he won not based on his figure. He won because of Arena; Arena amassed all those votes in the elections.
How does the FMLN parliamentary group perceive the minimum wage increase?
We think it was time. If you see, the only entity that has increased wages in a significant matter was the government when they said the minimum wage for the government was $300 for everyonel in the government. The minimum wage for the private sector is $252 and the minimum wage for the rural area in less than $200. The textile factory’ wage, I believe, is under the $252 range, taking away tax deductions, what do they have left? They have nothing to live with. In addition, inflation is below the dollar, below the dollar makes the purchasing power of people since 2001.
Jorge Schafik: Political activist
ALBA: A company that has the dawn precisely in its horizon
Free market: The market’s rules
Superintendence of Competition: Controlling agency
Tony Saca: Candidate for some position
Mauricio Funes: President
Norman Quijano: Attempt to govern