12.11.09

Statement On El Salvador

Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, I want to briefly discuss a subject that should interest all Senators concerning the country of El Salvador, which recently elected a new President and last month suffered extensive loss of life and devastating property damage as a result of torrential rains caused by Hurricane Ida.

First, I congratulate the people of El Salvador on the election, which was historic in that President Funes is the country's first President since the end of the civil war who is a member of the FMLN, which after the 1992 Peace Accords evolved from an armed insurgency into a political party. I am encouraged by what I have heard about President Funes' policies and wish him the best.

Second, the destruction caused by Hurricane Ida was extensive. Exceptionally heavy and constant rain fell on November 7 and 8, resulting in flooding and landslides that killed 192 people. Another 80 were reported missing, and more than 14,295 others were displaced from their homes. Thousands of homes, as well as roads, bridges, and other public buildings, were damaged or destroyed.

On November 10, U.S. Chargé d'Affaires Robert Blau declared a disaster in response to the damage, and the U.S. Agency for International Development has so far allocated some $280,851 in humanitarian aid. An assessment of the total damage is underway, but it is expected to be in the hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars.

Congressman JIM MCGOVERN and I have urged the administration to provide additional aid. We remember how the U.S. Government all but forgot about El Salvador after the war ended, and this is a time to help the Salvadoran people recover from this tragedy.

Third, an issue that has deeply concerned me for many years is the problem of corruption and impunity in El Salvador. The police and the courts lack the training and resources they need, crimes are rarely solved and perpetrators are rarely punished. Violent crime and corruption have become endemic. El Salvador's democratic and economic development will continue to be impeded by a justice system that is incapable of enforcing the rule of law, and in which the Salvadoran people and foreign investors have little confidence.

One of the courageous Salvadorans who is trying to change this is Ms. Zaira Navas, inspector general of the National Police. She has a woefully inadequate budget and too few staff. But despite that, from everything I have heard she is doing an outstanding job for justice and the people of El Salvador.

I mention Ms. Navas because of the critical importance of the job she is doing, and because she has recently received death threats and I am concerned for her safety. I urge officials at the U.S. Embassy to discuss with President Funes what steps can be taken immediately to provide her the security she needs, and to increase the budget of her office.

El Salvador is a small country but one with which the U.S. has a long history. We both have newly elected presidents, and I am hopeful that we will see a renewed effort to work together to broaden our relations. Nothing, in my view, is more important than strengthening the rule of law and supporting people like Ms. Navas, but we should also expand our collaboration in health, education and exchanges, the environment, trade and investment, science and technology, the arts and culture.

# # # # #

Press Contact

David Carle: 202-224-3693