A single U.S. senator can change history in Central America. I’ve seen it several times in past decades. It certainly happened with the late Jesse Helms, the Republican from North Carolina who grew deeply involved in efforts to halt communism in the isthmus.
Now, it’s happening with Patrick Leahy, a liberal Democrat from Vermont who has been in the headlines everyday this week in El Salvador. That's Leahy above, left, standing next to Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican.
Leahy has had a long interest in Central America, and he has committee heft to make his voice heard. In addition to chairing the Judiciary Committee, he chairs a foreign operations subcommittee.
That means he keeps his hands on purse strings for foreign aid. He’s been in the news here since his office issued a statement last Friday regarding a $277 million pending investment in El Salvador under the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a U.S.-government designed aid program.
Leahy noted that the program was designed “to reward countries whose governments are taking effective steps to address key issues of governance, particularly combating corruption, strengthening the rule of law, and supporting equitable economic growth.”
In many ways, he said, El Salvador is coming up short. Corruption and money laundering are rampant, and organized crime is on the upswing, he wrote. El Salvador must fortify the attorney general’s office and keep the judiciary independent.
He also fired a shot across the bow of President Mauricio Funes, noting concerns “about some public officials in positions of authority who have promoted individuals within the police and security forces who have no business being in public office because of their involvement in illegal activities.”
Whew! And who might those be? Leahy didn’t say but scratch just about any Salvadoran with his ear to the ground and several names emerge.
Funes, notoriously prickly, lambasted Leahy over the weekend, calling him “misinformed.”
Leahy issued a new statement Wednesday, citing “disappointing that Salvadoran officials reacted as they did to my remarks last week.” He noted that Congress has the power to disburse the funds, and “it should not be taken for granted.”
In case President Funes didn’t get the message, or hasn’t studied Central American history, Leahy suggested that he reconsider his response “for the good of the Salvadoran people and if they want a second (Millennium Challenge) compact to be funded.”