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Perspectives

March 13, 2009
U.S. dependency grows as El Salvador heads to the polls

A rally ahead of El Salvador’s presidential elections.

The people of El Salvador will head to the polls on Sunday for the country’s presidential election, and debate has swirled over whether the country will make a left turn and elect Mauricio Funes of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). The ruling conservative Arena party has governed the country for two decades.

Sebastián Chaskel is a research associate for Latin America Studies at a foreign policy think tank in New York City, and is originally from Bogotá, Colombia. He writes at “Latin American Thought” about U.S. influence on the election.

El Salvador and U.S. dependence

It has become a cliché to say that Latin America is no longer the United States’ backyard. An Inter-American Dialogue report that came out yesterday mentions “[t]he growing assertiveness and independence of Latin America and the Caribbean,” as well as the “declining ability of the United States to exert authority and shape outcomes in the region.” A Brookings Institution report a few months ago discussed the “enhanced confidence and autonomy” of the region’s countries, and a CFR report flatly called the Monroe doctrine obsolete. Even President Obama as a candidate echoed these sentiments. “The situation has changed in the Americas, but we’ve failed to change with it. Instead of engaging the people of the region, we’ve acted as if we can still dictate terms unilaterally,” he said in Miami last May. But a look at El Salvador this month would have you thinking otherwise.

As the country approaches presidential elections this weekend, the United States has been front and center in both mayor candidates’ campaigns. Mauricio Funes, running for the left-wing FMLN released ads in December that directly compare him to U.S. President Obama. One of them congratulates President Obama on his victory and states that Funes looks forward to working with him on immigration reform. He even uses Obama’s slogans, in Spanish and English.

On the opposing side, Rodrigo Avila from the right-wing ARENA has been running ads in which selective quotes from a statement by Obama adviser Dan Restrepo imply that El Salvasor’s relationship with the U.S. would be hurt if Funes were elected. Curiously, those ads were taken off of YouTube “due to terms of use violation.” The press has featured statements by U.S.-Nicaraguan evangelical minister Antonio Bolainez, who represents himself as a religious adviser to President Obama, claiming that Obama will not “make the same mistake” that former President Bush made by allowing leftist movements to prosper. Meanwhile, some have interpreted current President Saca’s decision to return the last Salvadoran troops from Iraq as a tactic to gain support for ARENA.

U.S.-El Salvador relations trump bread and butter issues in El Salvador because bread and butter depend on this bilateral relationship. The number of Salvadorans abroad (2.5 million) is comparable to El Salvador’s work force (2.8 million). Remittances, which account for about 18% of the country’s GDP, have been El Salvador’s most important foreign exchange earner for years. They drive consumption, which in turn drives economic growth, accounting for 96% of it in 2008.

This helps explain why for the past four years El Salvador had been the only Latin American country to maintain troops in Iraq. In exchange for the contribution the U.S. government extended Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to El Salvador, which allows about 230,000 Salvadoran immigrants to remain legally in the United States. When President Saca agreed to keep 200 Salvadoran troops in Iraq in August 2008 he was thanked by an 18-month extension of the TPS program.

But a country the size of Massachusetts, El Salvador’s dependence on the U.S. does not end with remittances. In 2001 the country adopted the U.S. dollar as legal tender and the United States is El Salvador’s number one trading partner, accounting for 50% of its exports and 35% of its imports.

In a country where virtually everyone has family members in the U.S. and where rice and beans are paid with bills featuring George Washington, people understand that their prosperity depends on one special relationship, and they have reasons to suspect the U.S. cares about who they elect.

To read more, see the original post.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user MJParadaC under a Creative Commons license.

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Comments

3 comments

#3

[…] guerrilla organization, FMLN, though he has assumed moderate positions on many issues, must still respond to a base that perhaps expects significant overtures to the left and a possible l… in a country where the dollar is the official currency since 2001 and where most issues are […]

#2

First, let me congratulate you for your fantastic and well done news broadcast every night.With the present world economic crisis deepening day by day, it will be very difficult for the United States to continue to implement the obsolete Monroe Doctrine in Latin America. Former President Bush did his best to already discredit American influence in the region, which is looking for new inroads to solve its social, economic and political problems independent from the orders from Washington. The new Obama Administration needs to understand that the new 21st Century is the century of a new and more pragmatic left in Latin America based on the ideals of Simón Bolívar, Eloy Alfaro and Che Guevara besides Tupac Amaru, Eugenio Espejo and Fernando Daquilema. There is, therefore, a need for a new approach to U.S.- Latin American relations by first accepting the new and long lasting leftist governments, including a 360 degrees change in its political stance vis-a vis Cuba. This way a new and stronger relationship in the Americans could emerge in this new century of brave and great opportunities.

#1

First, let me congratulate you for your fantastic and well done news broadcast every night.
With the present world economic crisis deepening day by day, it will be very difficult for the United States to continue to implement the obsolete Monroe Doctrine in Latin America. Former President Bush did his best to already discredit American influence in the region, which is looking for new inroads to solve its social, economic and political problems independent from the orders from Washington. The new Obama Administration needs to understand that the new 21st Century is the century of a new and more pragmatic left in Latin America based on the ideals of Simón Bolívar, Eloy Alfaro and Che Guevara besides Tupac Amaru, Eugenio Espejo and Fernando Daquilema. There is, therefore, a need for a new approach to U.S.- Latin American relations by first accepting the new and long lasting leftist governments, including a 360 degrees change in its political stance vis-a vis Cuba. This way a new and stronger relationship in the Americans could emerge in this new century of brave and great opportunities.

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