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Thursday, March 25, 2010

El Salvador: Political, Economic, and Social Conditions and U.S. Relations

Clare Ribando Seelke
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

Throughout the last few decades, the United States has maintained a strong interest in El Salvador, a small Central American country with a population of 7.2 million. During the 1980s, El Salvador was the largest recipient of U.S. aid in Latin America as its government struggled against the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) insurgency during a 12-year civil war. A peace accord negotiated in 1992 brought the war to an end and formally assimilated the FMLN into the political process as a political party. After the peace accords were signed, U.S. involvement shifted toward helping the government rebuild democracy and implement marketfriendly economic reforms.

Mauricio Funes of the FMLN was inaugurated to a five-year presidential term in June 2009. Funes won a close election in March 2009, marking the first FMLN presidential victory and the first transfer in political power between parties since the end of El Salvador's civil war. Funes' victory followed strong showings by the FMLN in the January 2009 municipal and legislative elections, in which the party won a plurality of the seats in the National Assembly and the largest share of the municipal vote.

Nine months into his term, President Funes has high approval ratings, but faces a number of political, economic, and social challenges. The National Assembly is fragmented, which means that Funes has to form coalitions with other parties in order to advance his legislative agenda. The U.S. recession has negatively impacted El Salvador's economy, increasing the country's already widespread poverty. The country's economic situation worsened considerably after Tropical Storm Ida hit in early November 2009. The storm caused 190 deaths, left 14,000 people homeless, and wrought millions of dollars in damage. In addition to these political and economic challenges, El Salvador's violent crime rates remain among the highest in the world and will need to be addressed.

Maintaining close ties with the United States has been a primary foreign policy goal of successive National Republican Alliance (ARENA) governments, and will likely be a key focus for the Funes government as well. Although some Members of Congress expressed reservations about working with an FMLN administration, relations between El Salvador and the United States have remained friendly. After a March 8, 2010, meeting with President Funes at the White House, President Obama said that he was "very favorably impressed by the steps that [Funes is taking] to try to break down political divisions within the country ... focusing on prosperity at every level of Salvadorian society." Both leaders pledged to work together to expand trade, foster development, and combat organized crime.

For more information, see CRS Report R40135, Mérida Initiative for Mexico and Central America: Funding and Policy Issues, ( by Clare Ribando Seelke and CRS Report RL34112, Gangs in Central America, ( .) by Clare Ribando Seelke.

Date of Report: March 17, 2010
Number of Pages: 12
Order Number: RS21655
Price: $29.95

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