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.
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Equally impressive, at least according to Washington’s point of view, has been Funes’s ability to strike a balance in its foreign relations. Though his government was quick to reestablish full diplomatic ties with Cuba, the Salvadoran president has cordially declined overtures by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to enlist his country in the leftist bloc of nations known as the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), despite pressures to do so from within his party.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Obama in Latin America
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Why Obama chose El Salvador
Analysts say Funes’s pragmatic balancing act and solid leadership have lent a new stability to the country’s democratic transition, and maintained the Salvadoran president at the top of hemispheric popularity polls nearly two years into his administration. And it’s a job well done that Obama – who also identifies as center-left yet pragmatic – is recognizing by choosing to visit to El Salvador as his Central America stopover.
“Obama, by visiting El Salvador, sends a message that the US stands on the side of governments being responsive to their people – especially when they are pluralistic and have an independent foreign policy that not is not slavishly aligned to Hugo Chávez,” says Latin America analyst Richard Feinberg, former President Bill Clinton’s senior director of the National Security Council’s Office of Inter-American Affairs.
Mr. Feinberg adds that Obama’s choice of El Salvador is “an interesting one” that suggests “the US recognizes that center of the Latin American political fulcrum is now center-left.”
Obama’s visit is also a nod to the “new left” – Funes is an open admirer of former Brazilian President Lula – which he has distinguish from the old left, even if not in those terms.
In Chile, Obama spoke out against leaders of the old-guard Latin American left who “cling to bankrupt ideologies to justify their own power and who seek to silence their opponents because those opponents have the audacity to demand their universal rights.”
But according to former Salvadoran guerrilla leader and political analyst Ana Guadalupe Martínez, the biggest difference is not necessarily ideology, rather commitment to institutional democracy and rule of law. In that sense, she said, Funes and the FMLN now represent an attractive and moderate leftist option, even though historic leaders the party identify with more Marxist ideology.
“President Obama sees the institutional evolution of El Salvador’s democracy, which is much different from what is occurring in Honduras and Nicaragua, where institutions are being weakened,” Martínez told the Monitor in a phone conversation from San Salvador.
Costa Rican analyst Luis Guillermo Solís says in practical terms, Obama didn’t really have any other serious options to visit in Central America.
“El Salvador was the only country in the region that assures President Obama a quiet visit. Guatemala and Nicaragua are in the midst of very complicated elections processes. Honduras poses a challenging issue in that its government is still not recognized by many countries in the Hemisphere. Panama is ‘not Central America’ ... and Costa Rica not supportive and cooperative enough with US security concerns,” he said.
“In short,” Mr. Solís said, “El Salvador was the best – and perhaps only – option for Obama.”