In El Salvador, Obama lauds Funes as a model Central American leader
During his two-day visit to El Salvador, President Obama hailed center-left President Mauricio Funes as a leader who has strengthened democracy in a region beset by instability.
During his two-day visit to El Salvador – his first and only stop in Central America after visiting Brazil and Chile – Mr. Obama discussed the importance of strengthening regional efforts to combat drug trafficking, increase trade and investment, and improve the region’s economic prospects to offer young people job opportunities that don’t require emigrating to the United States.
Obama also pledged $200 million to fund a regional security response to transnational crime and drug-trafficking, focusing on preventive measures and the strengthening of judicial and public-security institutions.
But in a Tuesday afternoon press conference, the two presidents stressed the importance of building a new model of US-Latin American relations based on partnerships among equals.
While the thrust of that message appeared to get a bit lost on the media scrum – the US press corps asked questions only about Libya, while their Salvadoran counterparts limited their queries to concerns about how much money Washington was going to give El Salvador – the presidents stressed the importance of creating a new vision for north-south relations.
And in many ways, El Salvador – a country ruled by the left-wing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), a former guerrilla group whose uprising was brutally repressed by a US-backed regime in the 1980s – was an appropriate place to share such a vision.
Many, no doubt, were reminded of the US’s dark historic role in Central America when Obama visited the crypt of martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero on Tuesday afternoon. A Liberation Theologian who repeatedly denounced the atrocities of the US-backed Salvadoran government in the 1970s, Monseñor Romero was gunned down exactly 31 years ago by right-wing death squad assassins trained and funded by the US.
Analysts say Obama’s choice to visit El Salvador also represents an interesting passing of the torch to a new Central American ally, after years of maintaining a preferential relationship with Costa Rica.
“I think Funes has become Obama’s go-to guy and interlocutor in Central America,” says Kevin Casas-Zamora, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington and a former vice president of Costa Rica.
Who is Funes?
A former TV journalist and party outsider, Funes took office in 2009 with high levels of popularity but a career that was untested politically and undefined ideologically.
Despite initial concerns that Marxist ideologues within the FMLN planned to use Funes as Trojan Horse to infiltrate the nation’s highest office, as president he has maintained a steady balancing act between the hard-line leftists in his party and hard-line reactionaries in the opposition.