El Salvador: Background and US Relations

Type Report
Title El Salvador: Background and US Relations
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2014
URL https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/b63b/570487d309291734def992395998ebc8affc.pdf
Congress has maintained interest in El Salvador, a small Central American country that has a
large percentage of its population living in the United States, since the country’s civil conflict
(1980-1992). Whereas in the 1980s the U.S. government spent billions of dollars supporting the
Salvadoran government’s efforts against the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN)
insurgency, the United States is now working with the country’s second consecutive
democratically-elected FMLN Administration. Despite the potential challenges involved for both
sides, analysts predict that U.S.-Salvadoran relations will remain constructive during Salvador
Sánchez Cerén’s presidency, as they did during Mauricio Funes’ term (2009-2014).
El Salvador is facing significant economic and security challenges that the country is unlikely to
be able to address without substantial external support. El Salvador posted an economic growth
rate of just 1.4% in 2013, the lowest of any country in Central America. The government is
running high deficits and attracting little foreign investment. Economists have cited security
concerns as a barrier to investment. Although a truce between the country’s gangs helped lower
homicide rates in 2012 and 2013, it has unraveled and violent crime is increasing.
Inaugurated to a five-year term on June 1, 2014, President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, a former
FMLN guerrilla commander, took office pledging to lead a government based on the principles of
“honor, austerity, efficiency and transparency." After defeating the conservative Nationalist
Republican Alliance (ARENA) candidate, Norman Quijano, by just over 6,000 votes in a runoff
election held in March, President Sánchez Cerén has adopted a conciliatory attitude. Cooperation
with the opposition and the private sector will likely be necessary in order for President Sánchez
Cerén to address the serious challenges he inherited. Since the FMLN lacks a majority in the
National Assembly, it will have to form coalitions in order to pass legislation. This could change,
however, after the March 2015 legislative elections.
The direction that bilateral relations take will likely depend upon the degree to which the Sánchez
Cerén government maintains security and economic cooperation with the United States under the
Partnership for Growth (PFG) initiative. El Salvador is the only Latin American country that has
been selected to participate in the PFG, an initiative launched in 2011 that commits both
governments to work closely together in a variety of areas. Congress has provided bilateral
assistance, which totaled an estimated $22.3 million in FY2014, as well as regional security
assistance provided through the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) to
support PFG priorities, including anti-gang and antidrug efforts. Cooperation in boosting El
Salvador’s competitiveness could be bolstered by a second $277 million Millennium Challenge
Corporation (MCC) compact. The MCC Board has approved the agreement, but it has yet to be
signed. Should President Sánchez Cerén orient his policies too much toward Venezuela or fail to
combat corruption, there could be congressional opposition to funding that second compact.
In addition to security and economic cooperation, migration issues, such has how to prevent
emigration by unaccompanied children from El Salvador and how to reintegrate deportees from
the United States into Salvadoran society, are likely to figure prominently on the bilateral agenda.
This report examines current conditions in El Salvador as well as issues in U.S.-Salvadoran
relations. For related information, see: CRS Report R41731, Central America Regional Security
Initiative: Background and Policy Issues for Congress, by Peter J. Meyer and Clare Ribando
Seelke and CRS Report RL34112, Gangs in Central America, by Clare Ribando Seelke

Related studies