This morning (Tuesday) as I sit an write this blog, much of the country is preparing for the arrival of US President Obama. It is very big news in this very tiny country in Central America. There are serious and important issues for President Obama and Salvadorian President Maurico Funes to talk about. For example, El Salvador has a population of about 7 million people, and additional 2 million Salvadorians live in the US. I have not been able to find a figure about how many Salvadorians there are in Canada. The largest component of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in El Salvador, and estimated to total about 3.65 billion dollars annually, is the money sent to family members from family members in other countries. Considering that 35% of Salvadorians live below the poverty line set in this country, it is fair to say that this money keeps people alive here! However, it is estimated that at least 10% of the Salvadorians in the US are illegal immigrants. From 1991-2012 the Temporary Protected Status agreement allows Salvadorians in the US illegally to stay. The current agreement expires in March, 2012 and it is important to the Salvadorian economy that these people stay in the US and continue to work and send back money. Obama is expected asked President Fuenes to do more to stem the flow of illegal immigrants to the US and President Funes is expected to reiterate his position that the most effective way to do this is to create a thriving economy in El Salvador.
Also, likely on the list of conversation topics between the Presidents is the flow of illegal drugs into the United States from Central American countries including El Salvador. Much of this business is organized by cartels and gangs in El Salvador, called "maras". It is interesting to note that the "maras" weren't an issue here until the brutal civil war from 1980-1992. At this time, almost the entire Salvadorian economy was owned and controlled by 14 families. Peasant farmers tired to working land and having nothing to show for it, challenged the government and formed a armed resistance. The United States backed the right-wing government that used Death Squads and perpetrated horrific Human Rights abuses. In the late 1970's and 1980's the Americans were so concerned about the development of another communist state (like Cuba) in their backyard that supporting a government like this in El Salvador seemed like the better option. At the height of the war, 1987, America spent over $1.5 million dollars per day on this war. During the war, many Salvadorians fled to the United States and in particular Los Angeles, where many were recruited by the gangs. After the war, they returned to El Salvador and reorganized the drug trade with the United States. Another interesting facet of all of this, is that the US deports about 21 000 Salvadorians annually, many because they have committed criminal offenses. Of course, it is likely that many of these people, once repatriated to El Salvador continue working in the "maras" but from the other side!
Also on the agenda is expected to be the Central American Security Initiative that will enhance law enforcement agencies ability track money and drugs through various countries. It is hoped that this will be largely funded by the United States. There are some interesting initiatives happening in this area. For example the Government of El Salvador has been working with Columbia to implement a technology that blocks electronic signals around prisons. This has led to a 9% decrease in the murder rate here. Apparently a lot of organized crime was happening from jail!
During his visit here, President Obama will visit the grave of Archbishop Oscar Romero. This Thursday marks the 31st anniversary of his assignation . His death on March 24, 1980 plunged the country into Civil War. Some people view this visit as an atrocity, since it has been documented that the Archbishop was assignated by Salvadorian soldiers who trained at the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia. Archbishop Romero, seen as one of the leaders in Liberation Theology, spoke about the importance of solidarity with the poor. His work and legacy are worthy of several blogs on their own, so I won't write a lot about him at the moment, but if you are not familiar with his writings it is well worth your time to spend some time on the internet reading his work. In the late 1970's Romero wrote a letter to then President Jimmy Carter asking him to stop the US aid to the Government of El Salvador. Obviously, that didn't happen.
Many expectations and much anticipation...we'll have to see what if anything comes from this visit!
On a lighter note, a few of you have asked me to post a picture with me it...so here you go. This was taken in Santa Marta two weeks ago. Also, one of my colleagues, here, a young man named Alonzo really wanted to be in my blog. So here is Alonzo with Helen, one of the 23 children of the woman who runs the restaurant we all go to for lunch! Finally, one day we came back from lunch and found a goat tied to a tree beside the staircase we use to the get the 2nd floor of the building in which I work. Turns out the goat was more afraid of us than we were of it!