President Obama recently finalized the dates for his trip to Central and South America. Pending U.S. government budget resolutions, he will tour the region March 19 to 23, visiting Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, Santiago, Chile, and San Salvador, El Salvador. If the budget resolutions are not passed in time, however, his trip will almost definitely be cancelled or postponed.
While many are confounded by the President’s choice to visit El Salvador, there are several hot-button issues on the table. Salvadorans compose the 6th largest immigrant population in the U.S., numbering approximately between 1 and 1.5 million people. Most of them live and work in the U.S. under a Temporary Protected Status (TPS), begun in 1991 and extended in 18-month increments since then (the current TPS is set to expire March 2012). Given the continued violent and unstable political climate in El Salvador, Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes hopes to work with President Obama to establish permanent residence for those currently living under TPS.
In addition to immigration, a discussion about drug trafficking is likely to be a priority. Organized crime syndicates trading in drugs or weapons are a major cause of violence throughout Central America, though this remains largely unrecognized and untreated. Where Mexico, the focus of the U.S.’s war on drugs, has 15 murders per 100,000 people yearly, El Salvador has 73, the highest rate in the region.
Funes recognizes that, in both of these cases, it’s important to unearth the root causes of the problem. In the same way that immigration issues can be addressed by reducing the flow of emigrants from El Salvador, so can narco-trafficking concerns be relieved by reducing North American drug consumption. Besides these international objectives, Funes hopes to impress upon Obama the dire need to reduce poverty in El Salvador. Some measures have already been proposed for the resolution of this problem; first, the BRIDGE initiative, which proposes formalizing and securitizing a system for workers to remit money from the U.S. to El Salvador, thus hypothetically increasing the long-term benefit of these remittances for the country as a whole. Second, Funes intends to open negotiation of a renewal of El Salvador’s 5-year compact with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (currently in its 3rd year), with grant money financing improvements in education, public services, agricultural production, rural business development, and transportation infrastructure.
Overall, President Obama’s visit to El Salvador seems to mark real intent to ally the two countries, and we at Voices are hopeful that these upcoming talks will result in a mutually beneficial relationship.