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Friday, September 28, 2012

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



Clare Ribando Seelke
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

The United States has maintained a strong interest in developments in El Salvador, a small Central American country with a population of 6 million. During the 1980s, El Salvador was the largest recipient of U.S. aid in Latin America as its government struggled against the leftist 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 successive Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) governments rebuild democracy and implement market-friendly economic reforms.

In March 2009, Mauricio Funes, a former television journalist and the first FMLN presidential candidate without a guerilla past, defeated Rodrigo Ávila of the conservative ARENA party for a five-year presidential term. His inauguration marked the end of more than 20 years of ARENA rule and the first transfer of 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 legislative elections. During the first half of his term, President Funes generally pursued moderate policies that enabled him to form cross-party coalitions in the National Assembly, but which caused periodic friction between him and more radical members of his party.

Now in his fourth year in office, President Funes still has high approval ratings (72% in July 2012), but faces a number of serious political, economic and security challenges. Since Funes is constitutionally barred from seeking reelection, his political influence has weakened since ARENA replaced the FMLN as the largest party in the legislature as a result of March 2012 elections and both parties have started focusing on the 2014 presidential contest. Nevertheless, Funes recently gained popular support after successfully mediating a resolution to a months-long standoff between the Salvadoran judiciary and legislature over the composition and power of the Supreme Court. In the economic realm, the Funes Administration is seeking to boost investment and growth. Although El Salvador received significant support from international donors to support its recovery from the 2009 economic crisis, growth has been inhibited by low productivity, natural disasters that have damaged agricultural crops, and insecurity that has deterred investment. Finally, in an attempt to address the country’s high rate of violent crime, the Funes government endorsed a historic—and risky—truce involving the country’s largest gangs. The truce seems to have resulted in a dramatic reduction in homicides since March 2012.

Maintaining close ties with the United States has been a primary foreign policy goal of successive Salvadoran governments, including the Funes Administration. During a March 2011 visit to El Salvador, President Barack Obama praised Funes’ “courageous work to overcome old divisions in Salvadoran society and to show that progress comes through pragmatism.” Both leaders pledged to work together to boost economic growth in El Salvador through the new Partnership for Growth (PFG) initiative and to more effectively ensure citizen security. The PFG commits both governments to work closely together to boost competitiveness in El Salvador and reduce insecurity in the country. U.S. bilateral assistance, which totaled $28.2 million in FY2012, as well as aid provided through the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) is supporting PFG priorities. El Salvador is the only country in Latin America for which the Administration requested a substantial increase in funding—to $41.8 million—for FY2013. In addition, the MCC has determined that El Salvador is eligible to submit a proposal for a second compact to develop its southern coastal region.



Date of Report: August 31, 2012
Number of Pages: 21
Order Number: RS21655
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Latin America and the Caribbean: Fact Sheet on Leaders and Elections



Mark P. Sullivan
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

This fact sheet tracks the current heads of government in Central and South America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. It provides the dates of the last and next elections for the head of government and the national independence date for each country.


Date of Report: September 17, 2012
Number of Pages: 3
Order Number: 98-684
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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mexico’s 2012 Elections



Clare Ribando Seelke
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

U.S. policy makers have closely followed the 2012 elections in Mexico, a key ally with whom the United States shares a nearly 2,000-mile border and some $460 billion in annual bilateral trade. On July 1, 2012, Mexico held federal (presidential and legislative) elections. Turnout reached record levels as 63% of eligible voters cast their ballots. Mexico’s Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) conducted the elections with the oversight of the Federal Electoral Tribunal (TEPFJ). Some election observers asserted that vote-buying and other irregularities marred the electoral process, while observers from the Organization of American States generally praised IFE’s handling of the elections. After considering legal challenges to the results, the TEPFJ found insufficient evidence of vote-buying to warrant an annulment of the vote. The Tribunal declared Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, a former governor of the state of Mexico, president-elect on August 31, 2012. Peña Nieto will take office on December 1, 2012.

The centrist PRI that governed Mexico from 1929 to 2000 not only retook the presidency after 12 years of rule by the conservative National Action Party (PAN), but also won a plurality in the Senate and Chamber of Deputies. In the presidential contest, Enrique Peña Nieto captured 38.2% of the vote, followed by Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) with 31.6%, Josefina Vázquez Mota of the PAN with 25.4%, and Gabriel Quadri of the National Alliance Party (PANAL) with 2.3%. The narrow margin of Peña Nieto’s victory, coupled with the fact that López Obrador has refused to recognize the election results, could complicate the transition period. And, while PAN President Felipe Calderón has pledged to work with the incoming administration, his party has joined the PRD in calling on authorities to investigate whether the PRI used any illicit finances to fund Peña Nieto’s campaign.

Polls predicted that the PRI might also capture a simple majority in one or both chambers of the Mexican Congress, a feat not accomplished since 1994. The PRI and the allied Green Ecological Party (PVEM) party failed to capture a majority in either house, but could achieve a simple majority in the Chamber by aligning with the PANAL. For legislation to pass the Senate, and for any measures to amend the constitution (which require a two-thirds majority), the PRI will have to form cross-party coalitions. The PRI will most likely find support from the PAN, which lost seats in the Chamber but retained a powerful bargaining position. The PRD-led coalition, which will now have more seats in the Chamber than the PAN and remains the third-largest force in the Senate, could complicate some reform efforts, including those aimed at increasing private participation in the energy sector, a key priority for Peña Nieto.

Some Members of Congress may be concerned that the leadership changes resulting from the July 1, 2012, Mexican elections will significantly impact U.S.-Mexican relations, particularly now that the party controlling the presidency has changed. However, few analysts are predicting that the transition from PAN to PRI rule will result in seismic shifts in bilateral relations. Enrique Peña Nieto has sought to reassure U.S. policy makers that his Administration will continue to combat organized crime, while also striving to reduce violence in Mexico. He also aims to increase bilateral and trilateral (with Canada) economic and energy cooperation.

This report provides an overview of the parties and candidates who competed in the Mexican federal elections with a focus on the presidential contest, recaps the election results, and discusses some potential implications of the elections for U.S.-Mexican security cooperation, North American economic integration, and U.S. energy security.



Date of Report: September 12, 2012
Number of Pages: 19
Order Number: R42548
Price: $29.95

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Mexico’s 2012 Elections



Clare Ribando Seelke
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

U.S. policy makers have closely followed the 2012 elections in Mexico, a key ally with whom the United States shares a nearly 2,000-mile border and some $450 billion in annual bilateral trade. On July 1, 2012, Mexico held federal (presidential and legislative) elections. Turnout reached record levels as 63% of eligible voters cast their ballots. Mexico’s Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) conducted the elections with the oversight of the Federal Electoral Tribunal (TEPFJ). Some election observers asserted that vote-buying and other irregularities marred the electoral process, while observers from the Organization of American States generally praised IFE’s handling of the elections. After considering all legal challenges to the results, the TEPFJ found insufficient evidence of vote-buying to warrant an annulment of the vote. The Tribunal declared Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, a former governor of the state of Mexico, president-elect on August 31, 2012. Peña Nieto will take office on December 1, 2012.

The centrist PRI that governed Mexico from 1929 to 2000 not only retook the presidency after 12 years of rule by the conservative National Action Party (PAN), but also won a plurality in the Senate and Chamber of Deputies. In the presidential contest, Enrique Peña Nieto captured 38.2% of the vote, followed by Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) with 31.6%, Josefina Vázquez Mota of the PAN with 25.4%, and Gabriel Quadri of the National Alliance Party (PANAL) with 2.3%. The narrow margin of Peña Nieto’s victory, coupled with the fact that López Obrador has refused to recognize the election results, could complicate the transition period. And, while PAN President Felipe Calderón has pledged to work with the incoming administration, his party has joined the PRD in calling on authorities to investigate whether the PRI used any illicit finances to fund Peña Nieto’s campaign.

Polls predicted that the PRI might also capture a simple majority in one or both chambers of the Mexican Congress, a feat not accomplished since 1994. The PRI and the allied PVEM party failed to capture a simple majority in either house. As a result, the PRI will have to form crossparty coalitions in order to pass key reforms, particularly those requiring constitutional amendments. The PRI will most likely find support from the PANAL and possibly the PAN, which lost seats in the Chamber but retained a powerful bargaining position. The PRD-led coalition, which will now have more seats in the Chamber than the PAN and remains the thirdlargest force in the Senate, could complicate some reform efforts, including those aimed at increasing private participation in the energy sector, a key priority for Peña Nieto.

Some Members of Congress may be concerned that the leadership changes resulting from the July 1, 2012, Mexican elections will significantly impact U.S.-Mexican relations, particularly now that the party controlling the presidency has changed. However, few analysts are predicting that the transition from PAN to PRI rule will result in seismic shifts in bilateral relations. Enrique Peña Nieto has sought to reassure U.S. policy makers that his Administration will continue to combat organized crime, while also striving to reduce violence in Mexico. He also aims to increase bilateral and trilateral (with Canada) economic and energy cooperation.

This report provides an overview of the parties and candidates who competed in the Mexican federal elections with a focus on the presidential contest, recaps the election results, and discusses some potential implications of the elections for U.S.-Mexican security cooperation, North American economic integration, and U.S. energy security.



Date of Report: September 4, 2012
Number of Pages: 19
Order Number: R42548
Price: $29.95

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Latin America and the Caribbean: U.S. Policy and Key Issues for Congress in 2012



Mark P. Sullivan, Coordinator
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

June S. Beittel
Analyst in Latin American Affairs

Anne Leland
Information Research Specialist

Peter J. Meyer
Analyst in Latin American Affairs

Clare Ribando Seelke
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

Maureen Taft-Morales
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

Geographic proximity has ensured strong linkages between the United States and the Latin American and Caribbean region, with diverse U.S. interests, including economic, political and security concerns. Current U.S. policy toward the region is focused on four priorities: promoting economic and social opportunity; ensuring citizen security; strengthening effective democratic institutions; and securing a clean energy future. There has been substantial continuity in U.S. policy toward the region under the Obama Administration, which has pursued some of the same basic policy approaches as the Bush Administration. Nevertheless, the Obama Administration has made several significant policy changes, including an overall emphasis on partnership and shared responsibility.

U.S. policy toward the region must also contend with a Latin America that is becoming increasingly independent from the United States. Strong economic growth has increased Latin America’s confidence in its ability to solve its own problems. The region has also diversified its economic and diplomatic ties with countries outside the region. Over the past few years, several Latin American regional organization organizations have been established that do not include the United States.

Congress plays an active role in policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean. Legislative and oversight attention to the region during the 112th Congress has focused on the continued increase in drug trafficking-related violence in Mexico and U.S. assistance to Mexico under the Mérida Initiative; efforts to help Central American and Caribbean countries contend with drug trafficking and violent crime; as well as continued counternarcotics and security support to Colombia. The January 2010 earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince, Haiti, continues to focus congressional attention on the enormous task of disaster recovery and reconstruction. As in past years, U.S. sanctions on Cuba, particularly restrictions on travel and remittances, has remained a contentious issue in the debate over how to support change in one of the world’s last remaining communist nations. Another area of congressional oversight has been concern about the deterioration of democracy in several Latin American countries, especially Nicaragua and Venezuela. Congressional concern has also increased about Iran’s growing relations in the region, especially with Venezuela, and about the activities of Hezbollah.

This report provides an overview of U.S. policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean, including the Obama Administration’s priorities for U.S. policy and a brief comparison of policies under the Obama and Bush Administrations. It then examines congressional interest in Latin America, first providing an overview, and then looking at selected countries and regional issues and identifying key policy issues facing Congress in 2012. The final section of the report analyzes several key events in the region in 2012: the Pope’s trip to Cuba in March, the sixth Summit of the Americas in April, Mexico’s elections in July, and Venezuela’s upcoming elections in October. An appendix provides a listing of hearings in the 112th Congress focused on Latin America. For additional information and access to over 30 CRS reports on the region, see the CRS Issues in Focus webpage on “Latin America and the Caribbean.”


Date of Report: August 28, 2012
Number of Pages: 28
Order Number: R42360
Price: $29.95

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