Obama meets with El Salvador's president
By Scott Wilson
President Obama and President Mauricio Funes of El Salvador met in the Oval Office Monday to discuss the central elements of the administration's agenda for Latin America -- trade, security, and the environment.
Funes, a former television journalist, was elected president last year from the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front. The group led the Marxist insurgency against the U.S-supported government during the country's long civil war, which ended in 1992. The leftist coalition now identifies itself as socialist, and Funes himself did not fight in the conflict.
After their meeting, Obama applauded "the steps he's taking to try to break down political divisions within the country and move it forward with a spirit of progress and focusing on prosperity at every level of Salvadorian society."
Obama noted that 2 million Salvadorans live in the United States, sending home money that is the lifeblood of El Salvador's economy. Funes acknowledged that "traditionally, Central America has been seen as a migratory problem for the United States."
"But Central America, and in particular El Salvador, needs to generate the opportunities of work in order to be able to keep people back in El Salvador," Funes said, adding that he is seeking a "strategic alliance" with Obama "to combat poverty."
Regarding the shared threat that international gangs pose to El Salvador and the United States, Obama said there has been "progress within Central America, but we still have concerns, obviously, about drug trafficking, about gangs."
"The security challenges obviously are connected to the economic challenges within the region," he said.
Obama called for expanded trade between the countries, and said the United States, Brazil, and El Salvador are interested in pursuing biofuel projects that could benefit each of them.
Funes noted that many of El Salvador's problems cannot be solved from the outside, saying "I'm not here to ask President Obama to do for us what we haven't been able to do for such a long time."
Among the "big challenges" he listed was improving the national tax collection system, which would bring the treasury more money to promote bottom-up economic development.
"We definitely cannot blame the United States for the situation that we are in," Funes said. "Instead, we are looking for the United States to become a strategic partner, as President Obama so well said. Not a bigger partner or a lesser partner, but an equal partner and an efficient partner."
March 8, 2010; 6:15 PM ET
Categories: 44 The Obama Presidency
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