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Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes goes to Washington

March 10, 2010 | 11:50 am


El Salvador's president, Mauricio Funes, has been making the rounds in Washington this week, another sign of changing times as a Democratic administration welcomes the representative of a party of former leftist guerrillas whom previous U.S. governments tried to annihilate.

Funes dropped in on President Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and other members of Congress. He lobbied for an extension of the temporary-protection program that allows nearly a quarter-million Salvadorans to live and work legally in the U.S. And he sought (and said he'd been promised) around $1.5 billion in loans from the World Bank and other institutions.

Funes praised the "new relationship" between El Salvador and the U.S. but also said Washington's focus must go beyond fighting drug trafficking and criminal gangs, the Obama administration's stated top priorities. Underlying causes behind violence, such as poverty and social inequality, must also be defeated, he said.

Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Valley Village), at his meeting with Funes, said: "We think about El Salvador 20 years ago, and the terrible conflict, and then the taking hold of democracy. But the real test of democracy taking hold comes when you could have a successful transition of power from one political party to another, and your election last year manifested that indeed in El Salvador democracy has taken hold."

Funes and his Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, a former guerrilla coalition that is now a political party, won election a year ago, marking the end of two decades of rule by a single right-wing party.

There is some Spanish-language coverage of Funes' D.C. visit on the Salvadoran website El Faro, and the newspaper La Prensa Grafica opines on the significance of what it calls a "fundamental relationship."

-- Tracy Wilkinson in Mexico City

Photo: The cover of El Diario de Hoy, a Salvadoran newspaper, shows President Mauricio Funes greeting Rep. Nancy Pelosi. Credit: El Diario de Hoy.