Political Risk Latin America Blog @PolRiskLatam

What Obama’s Visit Means for El Salvador

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on March 23, 2011

by Peter Hakim for Inter-American Dialogue, March 20th, 2011.

Salvadorans should be pleased that President Obama will be visiting their country. It puts them in good company. Brazil and Chile, Latin American’s most prominent success stories, are the other stops on the US president’s trip, his first to the region since 2009. In El Salvador, Obama will reaffirm and the close bilateral relationship and acknowledge the country’s democratic solid credentials. Though not to be exaggerated, El Salvador may also reap more concrete benefits from the visit.

It is important, however, to recognize that Obama’s stopover in El Salvador was motivated mostly by Washington’s growing concern about Central America’s deteriorated security situation and democratic setbacks in recent years. Indeed, these problems severely limited the president’s choice of a destination in the region.

Nicaragua was clearly out of bound. No US leader wants to shake hands with President Ortega, who has systematically manipulated his country’s democratic institutions to hold on to power and recently provoke a needless border confrontation with Costa Rica. Nearly two years after its 2009 coup d’état, Honduras remains too unsettled to be a comfortable host for the US president. If this year’s presidential elections had not kept Guatemala off the itinerary, its state of emergency or the first lady’s constitutionally questionable run for the presidency would probably have likely produced the same result. Costa Rica would be an attractive stopover, but its comparative prosperity and the quality of its democracy, make it highly unrepresentative of Central America. Good news from the region is scarce these days—even from El Salvador, which despite its economic and political advances in the 20 years since the end of its civil war, remains a poor country in a distressed neighborhood. And like its neighbors, it very much needs and wants US assistance to deal with multiple problems it cannot address on its own.

President Obama and Salvadoran President Funes have an agenda for the visit. They will announce new US support for Central America’s most urgent problem—the escalating lawlessness and violence that is threatening public safety across the region, undercutting the credibility of army, police, and justice systems, and in some places, putting fragile democratic governments at risk. Even Costa Rica, with region’s strongest public institutions and best quality governance, is fast being overwhelmed by criminal activity. The US has provided some anti-crime aid to Central America as an offshoot of the Merida program in Mexico. Plans are now for increased attention, resources, and technical assistance to the region. (continue reading… )

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