Today a delegation of Americans is scheduled to cruise the blue waters here by motorboat, walk on sandy undeveloped beaches and drink fresh coconut milk from a sprawling grove with unpaved roads.
In return, they will listen to representatives of the Salvadoran government pitch the country's latest investment opportunity: a 250-room resort with bungalows on the bay, restaurants, swimming pools and a convention center.
The Americans visiting this proposed Salvadoran tourist site are Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) and his 10-member delegation of Washington area politicians and business leaders. The group includes six Salvadoran Americans, and the government here is putting on its best face for them. These immigrants traveling to their homeland represent the country's best hope for new investment.
El Salvador is trying to strengthen local industries, such as tourism, and is on the hunt for foreign investors -- particularly Salvadoran Americans -- to put up the money. Salvadoran officials have begun asking for money from their countrymen living in the United States.
"For many years, we have been talking about how to strengthen this link," said Patricia Figueroa, executive director of PROESA, Promoting Investment in El Salvador. "There is an untapped potential that we really need to work on with our people."
But, in its attempt to attract foreign investment, El Salvador must overcome a history of economic instability, corruption and civil war -- some of the reasons many Salvadorans migrated from the country in the first place.
Only about 10 percent of the more than 1 million Salvadorans living abroad have any kind of business investment in their native land, according to a study released last month by Georgetown University's Institute for the Study of International Migration. The report, led by political scientist Manuel Orozco, also found that 16 percent of Salvadoran immigrants have bank accounts in El Salvador, and 10 percent are still paying off some form of debt in their native country.
In comparison, nearly 70 percent of Salvadoran immigrants regularly send money to family members in El Salvador. Last year, Salvadorans living in the United States sent $2.5 billion to their families, according to the Inter-American Development Bank. The money that they send, known as remittances, is mostly used to buy food, clothes and other consumer goods.
The government and business groups here are also encouraging Salvadorans abroad to invest in property and businesses. El Salvador's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which tries to maintain ties with the country's emigrants, is pushing for a government program that will give incentives to Salvadorans living elsewhere to invest in job-creating ventures.
Along with tourism projects, the government is promoting investment in traditional agriculture, call centers and auto-parts manufacturing.
"That way they are not just sending the money for consumption, but doing something that will last," said Francisco E. Lainez, Salvadoran Foreign Minister.
However, some Salvadorans living in the United States are hesitant to invest in their homeland, pointing to the crime -- spurred by gangs and poverty -- that is rampant in parts of El Salvador.
"They want us to buy land and hotels on the beach," said Faustino Merino Jr., a Salvadoran immigrant who lives in Lorton, Va. "They want us to open better restaurants with the same food that we have here. Then they think that the tourists will come. But what does it serve us to open when they don't provide the security that we need?"
When Merino left El Salvador 24 years ago, a civil war was raging. During the 1980s, he could not safely travel back to El Salvador, and he says the government made no attempt to stay connected to its emigrants in the chaos. When the conflict ended in 1992, Merino and his family had established roots in Northern Virginia. Now he is an owner or investor in five Central American restaurants there.
Merino said he has been invited to several meetings with the Salvadoran consulate. Last year, a representative of El Salvador's economic ministry met with him and others to promote investment opportunities.
"Now they see that we can invest," Merino said. "They see that we are big people now, and we put the money in [the United States]. Now they are jealous. They see we are strong here. They want us to put our money [in El Salvador]. They have to make sure it is secure."
Figueroa said her agency is trying to overcome such perceptions. The country's economy is one of the most stable in Central America, she said. Since El Salvador adopted the U.S. dollar as its legal currency in 2001, inflation has remained low. Its exports have nearly doubled to more than $3 billion in the last 10 years, she said.
"I am very optimistic," Figueroa said. "We as a government are facilitators. We can tell [Salvadoran emigrants] where the sectors of opportunity are, and build a regulatory environment that is conducive for doing business."
Representatives of the Salvadoran government's foreign affairs office also say Salvadorans living in the United States are familiar with their home country and will be more likely to see profitable investment opportunities in tourism, housing and other sectors.
"It is especially important if Salvadorans [living abroad] are willing and eager to invest in their home country," Lainez said. "There is a whole array of industries that can benefit from investment."
One hopeful investor is Mauricio Alarcon, a teacher in the Arlington public school system, who came to the United States from Santa Ana, El Salvador, 26 years ago. He plans to retire in 12 to 15 years and is considering using his retirement money to buy a home in El Salvador, where much of his family still lives.
"At the end of my career if I can retire [in El Salvador], I would love to. People know me there," Alarcon said. "I hope that it will become a reality. First it has to be a safe country. . . . . Old people need to have a safe community."
On the Bay of Jiquilisco, another Salvadoran immigrant is doing more than dreaming. Jose Barahona, the owner of the franchise licenses for the Pollo Campero chicken restaurants in the Washington area, owns a swath of beachfront property here. Barahona, who is part of the delegation traveling with Duncan, plans to build a fishing resort, golf course and hotels on his property.
If he can persuade the government to build roads and hang electrical lines, Barahona said, he can raise the $25 million to $40 million he said the project requires. If it works, other Salvadoran immigrants will see the benefits of investing in their country of origin, he said.
"I believe we have to start it," Barahona said. "Somebody has to break the ice."
Researcher Richard Drezen contributed to this report.