El Salvador’s Ambassador to the United States: Who Is Francisco Altschul?
Francisco Altschul Fuentes was appointed ambassador of El Salvador to the United States in August 2014. It’s Altschul’s second posting to his country’s top job in Washington and he is also accredited to Barbados.
Born in Antiguo Cuscatlán on December 31, 1948, Altschul studied architecture at the University of El Salvador. He went on to study urban development, housing and planning at Bouwcentrum International Education in Holland and the Economic Development Institute of the World Bank in Washington, D.C.
While a university student, he became aware of “some of the social and economic inequalities present in our society.” His school “was next to a squatter area; that was our laboratory. You begin to think, what can I do?”
During the 1970s, he worked on social housing and urban development projects for nongovernmental organizations and government agencies, such as the Salvadoran Foundation for Development and Minimum Housing, and the Executive Hydroelectric Commission of the Lempa River. He joined the Ministry of Planning as a technician, but resigned after three months. “We could see that none of the reforms would ever come through; eventually you see that the only way out is by armed revolt,” he later told The Christian Science Monitor. “Anytime the people tried to voice their problems, they were not listened to. And so, the revolution is because of this social injustice.”
In November 1980, Altschul left El Salvador for Mexico City, and became a spokesman for the Democratic Revolutionary Front of El Salvador, the political wing of the guerilla movement, FMLN (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front). In December 1981, he was a member of a delegation that met with representatives of the U.S. State Department. He soon settled in Washington D.C. and provided information and analysis to Congress, academics, media and U.S. opinion leaders, and attempted to engage in dialogue with the administration of President Ronald Reagan.
In addition, Altschul was a member of the FMLN delegations in Yugoslavia and Algeria, and he participated in meetings of the Non-Aligned Country Movement and supported lobbying efforts at the United Nations General Assembly.
Signed on January 16, 1992, the Chapultepec Peace Accords put an end to El Salvador’s bloody 12-year civil war. The FMLN began taking part in national elections in 1994 and gained a plurality of votes for the first time in 2003.
In 1997 Altschul was councilor for the city of San Salvador, heading the Urban Development Commission, where he oversaw projects to rescue the historic downtown and handle solid waste management in the city.
Altschul is the founder and president of “Eco Desarrollo,” a private agricultural company dedicated to the practice and promotion of organic agriculture in El Salvador.
From May 2003 to December 2007 he acted as the executive president of SACDEL (Consulting and Training System for Local Development), an NGO dedicated to the promotion of local development projects and policies for government decentralization.
He also has worked as a professor in the Department of Architecture at the José Simeón Cañas Central America University.
Altschul has been a member of the National Commission for the Environment, the board of directors of the National Development Foundation, Consulting and Training System for Local Development, the Architects’ Association, and Friends of the National Anthropology Museum Association.
In March 2009, for the first time, an FMLN candidate, Mauricio Funes, was elected president of El Salvador. Four months later, Altschul was appointed chargé d’affaires at the embassy of El Salvador in Washington, D.C., and eight months after that, he moved up to ambassador. He served until 2013, when he was replaced by Ruben Zamora. In August 2014, Zamora was moved to the United Nations in New York and Altschul was brought back as ambassador in Washington. Much of Altschul’s time in his second tenure as ambassador has been spent working on issues relating to immigrants from El Salvador.
Altschul is fluent in English and speaks basic French. He and his wife, Melinda Delashmutt Altschul, have a son, Jorge Enrique, and a daughter, Margarita Eugenia.
-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky
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