El Salvador: Obama visit dispels fears over ties

AP News
Posted: Mar 19, 2011 6:43 PM
El Salvador: Obama visit dispels fears over ties

President Mauricio Funes said Saturday he is gratified that Barack Obama is including his small country in a tour of Latin America, saying the visit dispels fears relations would suffer under El Salvador's first leftist government.

Funes was elected in 2009 with the support of a party of former Marxist guerrillas that fought to overthrow U.S.-backed governments in the 1980s. His rise to power unseated two decades of conservative governments that made El Salvador among the staunchest U.S. allies in Latin America.

Opponents had warned those ties would decline, but Funes said Obama's planned visit Tuesday proves them wrong.

"We have won the battle against disinformation," Funes said at a news conference with foreign reporters. "We have dispelled the fear that relations would deteriorate."

Funes has charted a moderate course in El Salvador, restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba but also making ties with Washington a priority. His policies have at times caused friction with hard-liners in his party, known as the FMLN.

Funes expressed pride that his small Central American country is one of three stops on Obama's tour. The other two are Brazil, a rising economic power, and Chile, long a beacon of stability and relative prosperity in the region.

"He chose El Salvador and put us on the same level (of importance)," Funes said.

El Salvador's economy is highly dependent on the United States, which is home to 2.8 million Salvadoran immigrants who sent home $3.5 billion last year.

Funes said he would discuss immigration with Obama, but security was likely to be the main topic.

U.S.-supported crackdowns in Mexico and Colombia have pushed drug traffickers into Central America, fueling violence in a region that already had some of the world's highest murder rates. Central American governments have repeatedly asked for more U.S. help.

With other Central American countries expressing disappointment that Obama is only visiting El Salvador, Funes promised he would raise the security issue in regional terms.

"Security cannot be seen as exclusively an issue in El Salvador, or Guatemala or Nicaragua," he said. "Central American countries all suffer from the same problems."