El Salvador Time Zone UTC-06:00
Capital City San Salvador
Currency United States Dollar
National Day Mar 26
A CAREER DIPLOMAT who joined her Foreign Ministry in 1997, El Salvador’s new Ambassador Gilda Velásquez Paz is no stranger to London’s diplomatic community. She was Minister Counsellor and Deputy Head of Mission at the Embassy here from 2009 until 2018. A warm and charismatic character, many people are glad to see her back in the nation’s capital. After assuming her duties on the 24 January, she notes, “It’s been quite touching to receive such warm welcomes.” Presenting credentials to Her Majesty was hugely memorable. “To represent the country I love, and deliver a message from my President has been my tallest moment as a proud Salvadoran diplomat.” Indeed, the Ambassador credits her “love for country as the number one qualification to be a diplomat. I’ve also had the privilege to work under some of the best officials at the Ministry. As well as teachers, they have been an inspiration.”
The Ambassador’s career began working as an assistant at the Embassy in Canada in 1997. “Temporarily, I thought. And here I am 23 years later.” In 2000, she was transferred to New York, being promoted to Consul just two years later. “Working in a city with such a large Salvadoran population was a big challenge but an amazing learning experience.”
Home beckoned in 2006 when she became Director of Consular Affairs at the Vice Ministry for the Salvadoran Abroad. “It was incredibly hard and demanding work, but also very satisfying,” she recalls. In 2009, she was appointed Minister Counsellor and joined the Embassy in London, her first diplomatic post, where she stayed for nine years until her transfer to Sweden in 2018. In this previous post, Ms Velásquez Paz paid special attention to promoting El Salvador’s specialty coffee. “Specialty coffees are growing in the Nordic region and even though I know El Salvador’s coffee is one of the best in the world, I was surprised how highly regarded our coffee is among roasters in Sweden.”
Her years at the Embassy in London provide her with a “solid foundation of valuable experience to work from. When I first came to London everything was new and different, and it took a long time to learn how Parliamentary and local government works.” Her familiarity with these British systems has allowed her to hit the ground running. “It helps to have the key institutions already identified for partnerships; but most of all, the valuable contacts I met previously.”
As Ambassador in the UK, her main priority “is to work closely with the British government and institutions in priority areas such as climate change, education, trade and investment. This is part of President Bukele’s Despegue Económico(Economic Take Off Plan).” Furthermore, she explains, “We recently signed the UK-Central America agreement, which establishes a political and economic association between the UK and the region. We need to take advantage of this new platform and work towards increasing trade.”
Education is another priority. “I want to cooperate and collaborate with British universities as much as possible, hoping that our nationals can take advantage of the UK’s first-class educational institutions.
She and the Embassy team will also work to make El Salvador’s interests more visible at the International Coffee Organisation, International Sugar Organisation and the International Maritime Organisation. “I look forward to finding ways for cooperation with all three.” The diaspora is another major priority. “Our consular section will work assisting the Salvadoran community’s needs and to also keep them involved with El Salvador.”
Ms Velásquez Paz believes her country’s greatest diplomatic challenge is “to direct international attention to the opportunities that we have to offer. El Salvador does have a serious problem with organised crime, but that is changing. The situation is being addressed through the Territorial Control Plan implemented by President Bukele. This year, the murder rate has decreased by almost 60 per cent.
“These improvements have been reflected by the fact El Salvador successfully hosted the 2019 ISA World SUP and Paddleboard Championship. El Salvador has also been chosen by the International Surfing Association (ISA) for the 2020 ISA World Surfing Games that will determine the Olympic qualifiers for Tokyo 2020.
“As security improves in El Salvador, the next challenge is to identify further opportunities to increase trade and investment with other countries.” Overall, she notes, both the UK and El Salvador “are going through a historic and challenging transition. But challenges bring new ideas, and new ideas bring opportunities. The British government has made clear that they are looking to work more closely with new partners, and El Salvador wants to be one of those partners. I am confident the relationship will get stronger.”