SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador – Carlos Abarca, 17, is aware of the importance of his country’s relations with the United States.
He has relied on the money he’s received for the past seven years from his father, who works as a janitor in Los Angeles.
“[Good relations with the U.S.] are important because over there, our people are given jobs,” Abarca said.
Abarca used the remittances to enroll in law school at San Salvador’s José Simeón Cañas Central American University.
With more than a million of their fellow citizens now living in the United States, many Salvadorans recognize that the United States is a very important partner.
U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to travel to El Salvador to meet with President Mauricio Funes from March 22-23 as part of a trip that includes stops in Chile and Brazil.
Obama is expected to discuss migration, climate change, and the economic relations between Central America and the United States, according to the Salvadoran government. The United States and Salvadoran governments are preparing to launch a proposal that would address poverty and inequality, as well as an initiative to keep minors away from a life of crime.
“[Our government] aspires to work out strategies for … regional security… growth and economic development,” Hugo Martínez, El Salvador’s foreign relations minister, said at a media conference.
Funes said he will speak with Obama about the need to find a solution for the 217,000 residing in the United States under Temporary Protection Status (TPS).
Funes, who represents the leftist party Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), took office in June 2009, ending the 30-year rule of the National Republican Alliance, a coalition of right-wing parties.
Funes has the support of the private sector in his effort to strengthen ties with the United States, said Carmen Aída Muñoz, the executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in El Salvador (Ancham).
“[The U.S. is] our biggest commercial partner and home to a million Salvadorans, so we think that maintaining good relations with that country is of vital importance,” she said. “[Obama’s visit] has enormous significance since he wants to be in close communication, and that is the base on which you build a profitable relationship. President Funes recognizes the importance of maintaining good relations with [the United States]. There’s been an undeniable wish to stay close, to communicate and cooperate.”
Pressure on strengthening democratic institutions
Ever Pérez, who drives a cab in the capital, said it’s important El Salvador has a strong relationship with the United States since many Salvadorans rely on remittances they receive from the U.S.
Pérez said he hopes Obama’s visit results in increased production nationwide, leading to a decrease in El Salvador’s dependence on exports, which will help the economy improve.
“[Obama] and President Mauricio Funes will reach agreements in many areas, including deportations,” Pérez, 31, said.
Remittances from the U.S. comprise at least 18% of El Salvador’s gross domestic product. Last year, Salvadorans received more than US$3.5 billion in remittances sent from the United States.
“[The visit] reaffirms the ties of friendship and cooperation that have traditionally existed between the two countries,” said Salvadoran political analyst Luis Membreño, stressing the importance of Obama’s visit and the need for El Salvador to strengthen its democratic institutions.
The security problem
Obama and Funes are also expected to unveil a partnership in which the countries will work together to make the region safer, the Salvadoran foreign ministry said in a statement.
The partnership, which will be discussed during Obama’s visit, will focus on ending inequality and promoting social inclusion as a means to improve security throughout the region, the ministry said.
The National Civilian Police of El Salvador said the Central American nation is home to 20,901 gang members, who are to blame for the escalation of violence across the country.
Of the 20,901 gang members, or mareros, 8,648 are incarcerated and 531 are minors. The rest – 11,722 – are roaming the streets, with many having ties to the Mara Salvatrucha and Mara 18 gangs.
“[El Salvador] needs many good ideas to improve its security, since my country has harbored drug traffickers and money launderers and has provided ideal conditions for juvenile gangs,” Abarca said.