El Salvador's 1st leftist president
by Marcos Aleman
http://news.yahoo.com/, June 1,
A journalist from a party of former Marxist
guerrillas became El Salvador's first leftist president Monday,
immediately restoring ties with Cuba while promising to remain
friendly with the United States.
Mauricio Funes brought to power the Farabundo
Marti National Liberation Front that fought for 12 years to overthrow
U.S.-backed governments until laying down their arms in 1992.
But he sought to ease fears of radicalism
by comparing himself to U.S. President Barack Obama as well as
Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a leftist who has maintained
warm ties with leaders across the political spectrum.
"We turned to the strong examples
of Obama and Lula as proof that progressive leaders - instead
of being a threat - can be a new, safe alternative for their people,"
Funes said in his inaugural address.
Members of his party applauded wildly
and shouted the traditional chant of the left in Latin America:
"The people united will never be defeated!"
Plucked from outside the party ranks,
the bespectacled television journalist won the March 15 elections
by helping the movement shed a radical image that alienated many
Salvadorans scarred by civil war.
During a bitter electoral campaign, critics
branded Funes a communist and compared him to Venezuela's Hugo
Chavez and Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, leaders who delight in denouncing
the United States.
Funes avoided meeting Chavez during the
campaign, though he said he would maintain respectful relations
with him. Both Chavez and Ortega canceled plans to attend the
inauguration at the last minute and did not state why.
Obama sent Secretary of State Hillary
Rodham Clinton to represent the United States at the inauguration,
which she called a testament to the strength of democracy in the
Funes singled her out in his inaugural
speech as a "woman who honors America and radiates the brilliance
of the feminine gender throughout the world."
After the inauguration, Clinton said the
United States wants to improve relations in Latin America.
Funes, 49, replaced President Tony Saca,
whose staunchly conservative government was one of the most steadfast
U.S. allies in the region - the last to pull its troops from Iraq
earlier this year.
But El Salvador will no longer routinely
endorse U.S. policies unpopular in the region.
Funes' first act as president was to restore
diplomatic relations with Cuba, leaving the United States as the
last country in the Western Hemisphere with no formal relations
with the communist-governed island. The foreign ministers of both
countries signed the agreement at the Salvadoran presidential
On Tuesday, the 34 countries in the Organization
of American States meet in Honduras to consider ending Cuba's
50-year-old suspension from the group.
Obama has signaled willingness to ease
U.S. hostility toward Cuba, but his administration says it will
not support efforts to get Cuba back into the OAS until it makes
Funes consolidates a leftward shift across
Latin America, especially in Central America, where Sandinista
leader Ortega returned to Nicaragua's presidency in 2006, two
decades after his Sandinista government fought U.S.-backed Contra
Left-of-center presidents also govern
Guatemala and Honduras.
Funes rose to prominence as a TV host
outspoken about corruption and he has no governing experience.
He inherits an economic recession, widespread gang violence, and
a population bitterly polarized over his party's rise to power.
Funes has promised fiscal austerity while
raising funds for education and health care by cracking down on
He will have to compromise both with more
radical members of his party and with the outgoing Arena party,
which will have enough seats in the single-house Congress to block
key measures such as the budget and foreign debt approvals.
Funes said he will not "have the
luxury of making mistakes" like his predecessors by "governing
for few, being complacent about corruption, accomplices of organized
Before his inauguration, Funes visited
the grave of Archbishop Oscar Romero, whose 1980 assassination
was one of the more shocking events in a civil war between a U.S.-backed
government and leftist guerrilla fighters backed by Cuba and the
Soviet Union. More than 75,000 people were killed before fighting
ended in 1992.