Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Stay away from El Salvador?

Last week, the U.S. Department of State issued a travel warning for El Salvador. There's really no good explanation for the warning. Perhaps had it not been issued as a warning, just some sort of up date on the conditions in the country, it wouldn't be so controversial. I don't know.

I didn't understand how the U.S. made its decision surrounding the pullout and freezing of the Peace Corps in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador in December 2011 either. Honduras, yes. El Salvador, maybe but not so much. Guatemala? After two years of decreasing murder rates and a rate nearly half of the other two countries - no, I didn't understand that one. To think that Peace Corps managed to operate in Guatemala throughout the country's civil war.

As Tim writes, the warning is nothing new and it contains pretty common sense advice. While it did make the front page of Salvadoran papers, it's not on the front page of the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador's webpage. I guess it can't be that important (which makes it all the more frustrating).

The issuance of a travel warning did get a response from the Salvadoran gangs involved in the truce. Basically, they said that they understand why the U.S. has maintained an arms length from the truce. However, the U.S. should not try to "obstruct" it which they believe that the travel warning does. They are also open to the U.S. becoming inovolved if it so desires. From my perspective, that's not really how the Obama administration works in El Salvador and the region. Right or wrong, it has more often than not let the region sorts its problems out. 

Linda Garrett at the Center for Democracy in the Americas asks why the US is giving the truce the cold shoulder. I asked the same thing on Twitter last week. Isn't it about time the US provides a little more assistance to those trying to make the truce work? Linda questions both the travel warning and the designation of the MS-13 as a transnational criminal organization in October. That seemed to have surprised the Salvadoran government as well. I'm guessing that the U.S. might see its involvement as setting bad precedent, as making things worse, or see previous paragraph (that's not its approach to LA).

[Anybody else find it ironic that the U.S. was blamed for forcing the Salvadoran government to replace FMLN loyalist Manuel Melgar with former general David Munguía Payés. Munguía Payés is then single-handedly responsible (sort of) for coming up with negotiating a gang truce (there's also Mijango and then their decision to involve Colindres). And now the U.S. is being criticized for undermining its man, Munguía Payés, and his main accomplishment. Since the U.S. forced Funes to replace Melgar with Munguía Payés then it stands to reason that the U.S. was behind the truce all along, no?]

There are real concerns that the travel warning will scare tourists and investment away. With two Millennium Challenge Compacts, the Partnership for Growth, and several other smaller programs, the US is investing upwards of $1 billion to help Sanchez Ceren and the FMLN win in 2014 in El Salvador. Scaring away tourists and investors is not something that should be at the top of the U.S.' priority list.

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