Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Obama congratulates Funes, seeks to change U.S. approach to Latin America

Note: This has been compiled from my translations of a variety of Spanish language news sources.

United States President Barack Obama called Mauricio Funes, the newly-elected President of El Salvador, to offer his support. He congratulated Funes on his victory in an election that was "free, fair and democratic". He also expressed his desire to strengthen the relationship between the two countries.

Funes won the presidential election in El Salvador on Sunday, becoming the first president elected from the former guerrilla group Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN), ending 20 years of right-wing government.

The president-elect said that Obama told him he was worried about the impact that the world economic crisis, which originated in the United States, is having on Central America and El Salvador in particular, which is very dependent on the remittances sent by immigrants living in the U.S.

"He is worried about the impact that the international crisis will have and is already having, the crisis that the United States itself is suffering, on the regional economy and particularly on El Salvador," said Funes at a press conference.

The 2.3 million Salvadoran immigrants in the United States send home about $3.7 billion a year, which is the main source of income for the country.

Obama talked with Funes for 15 minutes and said he hoped to meet with him during the 5th Summit of the Americas which will take place on April 17-19 in Trinidad and Tobago. The White House has stated that Obama hopes that the Summit will be an opportunity for the United States to change the way in which it perceives the region. Spokesperson Robert Gibbs said that Obama will "travel to the Summit of the Americas to participate in that meeting and begin a renewed effort to change the way we view Latin America and do it in a way that is beneficial to Latin America as well as the United States."

Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America Thomas Shannon, asserted last week at a forum in Washington that the U.S. will come to the Summit in a "spirit of equality" and dialogue. Vice President Joseph Biden will travel to Chile and Costa Rica at the end of March to prepare for this meeting.

Shannon is in El Salvador today to meet with both the outgoing president Tony Saca and with president-elect Funes, to personally offer congratulations and address topics of mutual concern. President Obama will travel to Mexico to meet with Mexican President Felipe Calderón on April 16-17 and talk about bilateral issues such as trade and development, security, immigration, and how to deal with the economic crisis and the violence and drug trafficking that plague both sides of the border.

Obama Sings María José Quintanilla's "México Lindo y Querido" on "Piolín por la Mañana":

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