Monday, February 21, 2011

Obama's trip to El Salvador

Here are a few reasons that no one has yet mentioned as to why President Obama is traveling to El Salvador in March.

First, President Obama's trip is designed to show that we support democracy in El Salvador, not any particular political party. As part of the 1980s counterinsurgency campaign, the US built up Jose Napoleon Duarte and the Christian Democratic Party (PDC). When the PDC and Duarte failed to end the war and they were deemed too corrupt by the people of El Salvador, ARENA was voted into power.

We then supported ARENA through its fifteen years in power. After ARENA was deemed too corrupt and failed to resolve the problems such as poverty and crime, Salvadorans voted the FMLN into power. The US now has a very close with relationship with Mauricio Funes. Our government-to-government relationship goes well beyond any single political party (a nice slap in the face to all those US officials who warned what would happen if Salvadorans voted for the Frente).

Second, El Salvador is one of the US' strongest regional allies. Salvadoran troops were deployed to Iraq in 2003 and its last soldiers did not return home until 2009. In all, five Salvadorans were killed and dozens more injured while serving in Iraq. I imagine that there are dozens if not hundreds of Salvadoran Americans who have also been serving our country overseas these last ten years.

Funes and the Salvadoran government also worked closely to respond to the coup in Honduras. As the Wikileaks cables documented, the Funes and Obama administrations tried to coordinate their responses to the coup. (There's also CAFTA and the International Law Enforcement Academy in SS.)

A third reason, and one that cannot be stated publicly, is that the trip is designed to shore up Funes and other moderate forces in the country. It's in the US' interest that Funes succeeds and either a similar center-left or center-right government follows him into power as there's uncertainty both on the left and the right. In that sense, the trip is about domestic politics, just not US domestic politics.

ARENA is still the second largest political force in the country, but it has been hurt by divisions and the creation of the GANA bloc in congress. It's not clear how ARENA or GANA will do in next year's legislative elections and neither is in good shape to win the presidency in 2014. Obviously, that's three years away and a lot can happen between now and then.

The relationship between the FMLN and Funes does appear stronger than it did a year ago. However, there's no guarantee that the relationship will last through 2012 and into the 2014 campaign. If the FMLN wins the presidency in 2014 with one of its own candidates, it's like that relations with the US will worsen as one can envision an FMLN government seeking greater ties with Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba. Even if the FMLN's goal is to pursue a non-aligned foreign policy, whereby the US is just one of many relationships, and not a complete break with their northern neighbor, relations with the US will probably not be as strong as they have been recently.

Finally, I imagine that Funes and Obama get along pretty well. Funes said good things about Obama and Lula during his campaign and after his elections. The two also met in March 2010 at the White House and it's likely that the two enjoyed each other's company. Granted you don't get a visit from the president of the US just because he likes you personally, but it probably played some role.

Finally one more time, I read somewhere that Obama wrote about Archbishop Oscar Romero and the Central American civil wars in one of his books and that the events of the 1980s were influential in getting him into grassroots activism. I don't know if this is true (I didn't read his book) but, if it is, he might not have had to have been talked into the trip especially as he'll be there just around the time of the anniversary of the Archbishop's murder.

So these are some of the reasons that might explain why Obama is heading to El Salvador in addition to security, trade, energy, poverty, etc.

Do you buy any of these Greg?

(Just fixed a few typos this morning.)


  1. I think those are all reasonable, though my main point was that the administration hasn't said anything and so the media is confused. But given the gang problem, I would still bet that security is the top issue.

  2. While security has to be part of the discussion, I don't think that it's the main priority.

    If it were, a regional summit of the heads of state would work probably be more appropriate. But there's already a regional leaders (don't know at what level) summit scheduled for June in Guatemala City to discuss a security initiative for the region.