El Salvador Government, U.S. Relations

Developments in U.S.–Salvadoran Relations

On September 29, 2010, President Funes traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  This was President Funes’ second official visit to D.C.; in March he met with President Obama to discuss multilateral projects, security issues in the region, improving El Salvador’s tax collection system, and how the U.S. could serve as a strategic partner in combating drug trafficking and organized crime (click here for the official White House remarks following the March 2010 meeting).

During the meeting, Secretary Clinton vaguely alluded to enhancing security agreements and encouraging economic growth.  She also highlighted important steps taken to address the issue of financial inclusion, a topic addressed in President Funes’ March meeting with President Obama, namely that of the newly launched Building Remittance Investment for Development, Growth and Entrepreneurship (BRIDGE) initiative.  BRIDGE is an initiative designed to redirect remittances through formal financial channels so banks can leverage remittance flows to benefit society at large.  Secretary Clinton extolled the value of BRIDGE, stating at a September 22 luncheon, “BRIDGE will make it easier for communities in El Salvador and Honduras to get the financing they need to build roads and bridges, for example, to support entrepreneurs, to make loans, to bring more people into the financial system” (click here for full remarks).

Funes reiterated his goals to work with the U.S. to create task forces to combat organized crime and poverty in the region.  While neither leader elaborated on the specifics of said task forces, there already exists a degree of collaborative effort between the two countries.  In 2007, the FBI opened a Legal Attaché office based in San Salvador, headed by Special Agent Leo Navarette, which “[helps] apprehend and extradite gang fugitives; [provides] criminal histories and arrest warrant information on gang associates; and [locates] witnesses to testify at U.S. trials.”  It also works with in-country initiatives to help law enforcement and prosecutors crack down on gangs; including programs like the Central American Fingerprint Exploitation (or CAFÉ), the Transnational Anti-Gang (TAG) Unit, and the Police Officer Exchange Program (FBI press release, 7/03/08).  The FBI and US State Department also worked together to form the Central American Intelligence Program (CAIP), launched in 2009, which focuses on the intelligence aspect of battling transnational gangs (FBI press release, 8/11/09).

President Funes also thanked the Administration for renewing El Salvador’s Temporary Protection Status (TPS) for another 18 months, until March 9, 2012.  Currently some 200,000 Salvadorans live and work in the U.S. under the TPS designation, which was enacted on March 9, 2001.  A foreign country can be designated for TPS “due to conditions in the country that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely, or in certain circumstances, where the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately” (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services).  Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano approved the 18-month extension “because the conditions that prompted the 2001 TPS designation of El Salvador following a series of severe earthquakes persist and temporarily prevent El Salvador from adequately handling the return of its nationals” (18-Month Extension of Temporary Protected Status for El Salvador).

Earlier in September at the Americas Conference held in Miami, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela said the U.S. continues to focus on four policy priorities in Latin America:  social and economic opportunity, clean energy, safety and democracy (The Miami Herald, 9/14/10).  So far the Obama administration has consistently voiced these regional goals in meetings with high-level officials and seems to have actively taken steps towards realizing them.

To read the full State Department remarks with Secretary Clinton and President Funes, click here.

International Relations, Politics

Early Start in International Relations for Funes

In the days following president-elect Mauricio Funes’ victory in El Salvador’s March 15 elections, a number of international leaders sent Funes their congratulations and invitations to discuss the future.

Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez was the first to congratulate Funes in a phone call on Monday, March 16, during which Chavez stated the he wishes to “deepen the links of brotherhood between our people and governments.”

On Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama called Funes to congratulate him. Obama also requested a meeting at the Summit of the Americas which will be held in Trinidad and Tobago in April. At the meeting, Obama stated he wished to discuss issues of mutual concern such as the economic crisis, tackling issues of increasing poverty and generating jobs, and drug trafficking. Funes has said that he will also raise the subject of immigration.

Argentinean President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner also called to congratulate the president-elect, and  requested a meeting at the Summit of the Americas to discuss Central and South American cooperation and integration.

In the afternoon on Wednesday, Funes met with the Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon. He assured that the U.S. wished to maintain its positive relationship with El Salvador and continue to work together for mutual benefit.

On Thursday, March 19, Funes traveled to Brazil, in what was his first trip abroad as president-elect. He met with a number of representatives of the Brazilian government, including Luiz Inacio ‘Lula’ de Silva, who Funes has said will serve as his model for president. Funes said “For me, President Lula and his government comprise a model of the exercise of democracy of a leftist party that can maintain signs of confidence to international investors as well as national investors.”

On Friday, March 20, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Funes to offer him congratulations and to say that she had been following his campaign closely.

The requests for meetings and acknolwedgements that Funes has received from Western Hemisphere leaders -especially those from Lula and Obama- may bolster Funes’ image as a moderate as he seeks to overcome the distrust generated by a long and very negative campaign season.