Obama visits Central America

Obama visits Central America

US President Barack Obama visited Central America on Mar. 21 and promised US$200 million in funding for the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI)-part of the Merida Initiative-for fighting criminal organizations and drug trafficking in the region. Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes, of the FMLN Party, said that the money would be used to confront drug trafficking and gangs in the region, including addressing the economic and social causes that push young people toward delinquency, as well as strengthening the legal systems, civil society, and the rule of law. Obama said that he had confidence that Funes and the other presidents of the region would decide together the best ways to use the funding. There is currently concern about increased presence of drug cartels in the "triangle of the north" formed by Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

A White House communiqué said that the aid should be supported with further funding from other sources, including the European Union, Canada, and multilateral funding agencies.

The two presidents also discussed the subject of the migration of many Central Americans to the United States, including the importance of providing job opportunities at home and also reform to immigration laws in the United States. Obama said that US immigration reform "will not be easy... but I have confidence that in the end we will achieve it." Before leaving El Salvador, Obama visited the tomb of Archbishop Oscar Romero, assassinated by former students at the United States School of the Americas on March 24, 1980, during a period when the US funded a war against the guerrilla fighters of the party of current President Funes. 

Meanwhile, in a Mar. 26 editorial, the Washington Post lamented that, on his trip, Obama did not denounce as threats to democracy the governments of the countries that are members of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA). The Post said, "Most curious was Mr. Obama's decision to simply ignore the fact that in large parts of Latin America, the 'shared values' that he said bind the hemisphere are being trampled. In a speech directed to the region that he delivered in Santiago, the president declared that 'today, Latin America is democratic' -even though rulers in a number of countries are shutting down media, eliminating judicial independence and rigging elections." The Post went on to say, "Not once during his tour did he mention Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador or Bolivia or their increasingly autocratic rulers." The editorial received coverage in La Prensa and El Nuevo Diario. (La Prensa, Mar. 22, 25; El Nuevo Diario, Mar. 24, 26; The Washington Post, Mar. 23)

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