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Winning the battle

Article - October 17, 2011
El Salvador knows it must sustain its successful efforts to increase security in order to attract further investment
Having adopted the US dollar as its official currency in 2001, El Salvador is now entering a period of growth and financial readjustment following its own recession, and its recovery rates and statistics continue to attract investors and foreign businesses, with some 19,000 American citizens already living and working full-time in the country. It comes as little surprise that the U.S. is El Salvador's most important trade and investment partner given that it is home to over 2.3 million Salvadorans, a huge number when you consider that the current population of El Salvador is just over 6 million.

But Foreign Minister Hugo Martinez was quick to point to new initiatives regarding emigration, when he gave a press conference just a few weeks before President Obama’s visit to El Salvador. As Chancellor of the Republic of El Salvador, Minister Martinez spoke of reduced emigration from the north of the country thanks to scholarships given to young people to study rural tourism and administration. The Minister also spoke of proposals to boost investment by second generation Salvadorans in the U.S. in projects in their communities of origin in El Salvador, and made his point clear that none of this economic or political growth would have been possible without international co-operation. “We feel that other countries and regions are now becoming interested in El Salvador. Places such as the European Union, and emerging powers like Brazil, Russia, India, with whom we have boosted diplomatic relations. This is due to our new approach to foreign relations, which has gone from making very close relationships determined by our sympathy or antipathy towards the parties and governments of other countries, to foreign relations as they should always be: relations between states,  open to the world, without putting any further restrictions on the interests and universal values we all share.”

Since stepping into office in June of 2009, Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes's foreign policy has prioritised maintaining continued close relations with the U.S.  El Salvador has proved to be a committed member of the coalition of nations fighting against terrorism, having sent eleven rotations of troops to Iraq to support 'Operation Iraqi Freedom' from 2003 to 2008.

At the same time, El Salvador is developing political and economic ties with other centre-left and centre-right governments throughout Latin America, further distancing themselves from radical leftist regimes throughout the sub-continent, some of whom have taken an anti-U.S. stance. President Obama was quick to praise both the country and President Funes himself on a recent visit, saying “I think the partnership that we’re forging together is exactly what’s needed in the Americas today — neighbors joining with neighbors to realize progress that none of us can achieve alone. Every nation, I believe, no matter how large or how small, can contribute to that progress. And I believe that under the leadership of President Funes, El Salvador can be a source of great prosperity and security for this region for many years to come”.

President Obama was also quick to point out the importance of partnership and co-operation between the two countries stating that “Instead of the old donor-recipient model, we’re working as partners, with El Salvador in the lead, to confront the hurdles to growth and development. As El Salvador’s largest trading partner, we’ll help identify reforms that can mobilize private investment, increase trade and create opportunities for the Salvadoran people. And one of the most important steps is to foster collaborations between government and the private sector, because both have so much to gain when people are lifted out of poverty and contribute to their country’s prosperity”.

Having suffered political unrest and upheaval for the past twenty years or so, a new feeling of optimism exudes from this government, which is mostly made up of members of the left-wing political party Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), which prompted Medardo Gonzalez, the General Coordinator of the FMLN to comment, “The legacy we would like to leave is a country where we can live peacefully, with democracy, without violence, and without hunger. We hope to have a country where we Salvadorans can live in peace, and where there is no need for the young people to go somewhere else to find a place to work because they could not find it here.”

In May 2010, less than a year after taking office, President Funes's signed an EU-Central America Association Agreement (EU-CAAA) which is set to boost trade and investment ties with Europe when it comes into force next year. Other countries which look to benefit from the bilateral free trade agreement are Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. Collectively these six small countries form the Central American Integration System (Sistema de la Integración Centroamericana; SICA ) and shortly after the signing of the EU-CAAA, President Funes organised the most recent meeting of the political organisation in San Salvador, capital of El Salvador. At the meeting President Funes addressed five important topics affecting each of these Central American nations: security, social policy, climate change and natural disaster prevention, economic integration and regional institutionalism.

In doing so, President Funes may have initiated an important era of change in Central America's political history, paving the way for further co-operation between the Salvadoran and U.S. governments in tackling drug trafficking and organised crime.

During President Obama's visit the two leaders said that one of the key issues they discussed was one of regional security, with Funes calling their recent security co-operations “the best weapon to combat and reduce crime in the region.” Since 2005 the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA), a police organisation run by the U.S. Department of State, has been based in San Salvador where it trains local Salvadoran police forces in narcotics interdiction, counter-terrorism and prevention of organised crime. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and El Salvador's National Civilian Police have also joined forces and together operate the Transnational Anti-Gang unit which addresses the problem of street gangs in both countries. Speaking of the need to tackle these issues at ground level as well as internationally,  Secretary of Strategic Affairs for the Presidency, Franzi Hato Hasbun, said “We have to win the battle against crime with the participation of the communities, chiefly in the poor neighborhoods.”

The country’s bloody Civil War ended less than twenty years ago, in 1992, but already the current government has managed to make El Salvador the only country in Central America with diminished homicide rates in recent years, reporting a 25% drop in extortion cases and boasting a significant decrease in the amount of kidnappings. Much of this has been achieved through a radical overhaul of their National Civil Police, which at the time of President Funes inauguration in 2009 had a 28% - 30% acceptance rating, but today sees 74% of Salvadorans viewing them in a positive light.

It is with great foresight the President Funes, along with Secretary of Strategic Affairs for Presidency, Franzi Hato Hasbun, and Foreign Minister Hugo Martinez have implemented these new security policies. Bringing in these new initiatives and policies at a state level rather than at a government level ensures that these measures will be adhered to over the coming years, increasing their chances of success. It is a sign of great commitment, and also of great hope for the future.

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