Donut Wars

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Each September, the restaurant chain Mr. Donut in El Salvador has a month long 2-for-1 promotion on its donuts.   The annual sale has become a major event, with long lines of customers at every Mr. Donut location waiting to carry out boxes filled with the frosted donuts.

This donut sale even attracted attention in  the US press.  A 2014 article in the New Yorker described September at Mr. Donut:
Every fall in El Salvador, at the height of the wet season, a fast-food chain called Mister Donut offers a two-for-one deal that lasts a whole month. From morning to night, long lines form outside the more than thirty locations in the country. Residents of the capital, San Salvador, brave its public-transit system—a fleet of decaying American school buses and overcrowded vans—clutching flat boxes of doughnuts, then leap off at their destinations, hunched protectively over their cargo.
For 2019 Mr. Donut adopted a "Donut Wars" theme for the September promotion -- or as the advertisements proclaimed "DONAWARS"

"DonaWars" TV commerical 2019

But at the end of September, Donut Wars took on a new meaning and significance in El Salvador.  The Ministries of Health and Labor moved to close four locations of Mr. Donut in the greater San Salvador area citing sanitation and working conditions issues.

All the Mr. Donut franchises in El Salvador are owned by a conglomerate controlled by millionaire Salvadoran businessman Adolfo “Fito” Salume.  Salume has aligned himself with critics of the new government of Nayib Bukele.   Salume and his supporters saw the moves against Mr Donut as an attempt to punish a political opponent.

The Mister Donut operation released statements on social media, here and here, denying the allegations of health and safety violations and  asserting that Bukele and his minister of labor were "using the apparatus of the state for the purpose of taking vengeance on critics and political rivals" and that such actions were one of the first symptoms of dictatorship. 

When a fourth location was  shut down.on Saturday, October 5, a video circulated rapidly on social media showing female workers holding hands in a circle and sobbing and praying:

The point person for the government in this dispute has been Minister of Labor Rolando Castro who has been constantly out in the media defending the actions and attacking Fito Salume.

Friends are not above the law. Here everyone is going to have to answer to legal requirements. They have violated the rights of the workers; we have proceeded based on the law.

Castro's attacks argued that Salume was a multi-millionaire profiting off violations of the health and labor rights of poor Salvadorans, and the Ministry of Labor asserted that it had jobs in 20 other companies for all the employees affected by the closure of Mr. Donut branches.

Rolling out a program of "dignified job re-location," Castro said that any Mr. Donut employees who came to the ministry would be placed in better jobs at better salaries. The Ministry of Labor also tweeted out video of inspectors locating violations and photos of alleged unsanitary conditions.

Shortly after the video of sobbing displaced workers surfaced, president Nayib Bukele entered the fray with a string of tweets translated here:

1. In all the developed countries of the world, the LAWS ARE TO BE COMPLIED WITH, not only by one who steals a chicken, or by the mareros, but by anyone, even if this is one of the wealthiest and most powerful in the country.
2. In the priorities of any good government, are health and safety, above any other economic argument.
3. The fault is not the Government (which only applies the law), nor the workers (who endure exploitation by necessity), but unscrupulous entrepreneurs who do not care about the safety of their employees, or the health of their customers. All for making more money.
4. In the case of Mister Donut closures, these have been done for serious violations and imminent danger to their employees and customers. There was no other option. At least, not immediately.
5. The anxiety is understandable of some people who think they will lose their jobs (we are so used to being exploited, that we are willing to endure everything, in order to have a salary).
All these people HAVE NOTHING TO FEAR. With the “Dignified Labor Relocation” program, the Government GUARANTEES anyone dismissed for a government shutdown, will be immediately relocated to a similar job (without losing a payday), with a salary increase.
IN ADDITION to guarantee that you will be paid 100% of the corresponding compensation (which will be insurance for other expenses).
6. I know we are used to not touching the powerful. In fact even the FMLN went out to defend Fito Salume. It is part of our history to lower our heads, even for those who call themselves "revolutionaries." But that story ended on February 3. 
This is a new El Salvador. One that we will build little by little. And with God's help, it will be the country we always dream of.
I often meet people for coffee, conversation and the occasional donut at Mr. Donut. I'm not happy that one of my usual spots has been shuttered. On the other hand, I don't want to eat a contaminated donut, and I want the women who serve me with a smile to be treated with dignity and respect.

What happens in coming weeks and months will provide evidence of the motivations for the government's move against Salume and Mr. Donut. Does the government continue with a process of actions designed to safeguard the health and safety of workers and consumers throughout El Salvador? Do regulatory actions only seem to be directed at persons who criticize the government? Does the government actually have dignified replacement jobs in place for the displaced workers? We will see.

In a perfect world, the fact that Mr. Donut is owned by a powerful business figure and critic of Nayib Bukele should neither insulate it from regulation nor make it a specific target. But El Salvador is not a perfect world. If El Salvador wants to attract foreign investment, it will need to show that government regulation of all types is applied in an even-handed fashion without regard to political affiliation.


Don said…
Damned if you do. Damned if you don't. I am impressed by your even handedness in this article considering the possibility that Mister Donut served you rat turds.