El Salvador: True Friend or Frenemy?

By Dan Cadman on January 8, 2016

Dictionary.com defines "frenemy" as "a person or group that is friendly toward another because the relationship brings benefits, but harbors feelings of resentment or rivalry". The Urban Dictionary goes a step further and defines frenemy as "an enemy disguised as a friend".

This word has been on my mind lately in regard to the United States' erstwhile ally in Central America, El Salvador. The country has been the recipient of massive amounts of American economic, military, and security aid in the past several decades — $3.5 billion just between 1980 and 1990, according to the Government Accountability Office, and tens of millions per year since ($57.2 million in 2012 alone) — not all of it wisely spent, nor well accounted for by a series of governments in which corruption is endemic. Yet the money keeps on flowing.

There are other ways in which El Salvador has profited from U.S. largesse. In 2001 the country experienced an earthquake. The American response was to grant all Salvadorans in the country who were not permanent residents — that is to say, whether they were here legally or illegally — temporary protected status (TPS). That amounted to more than 200,000 individuals. It is now 2016 and those same aliens continue to be happy beneficiaries of TPS, even though the emergency situation was long since resolved. What's more, under Obama administration policies, the many tens of thousands of other Salvadorans who have since come here illegally, and thus did not benefit from TPS, face a nearly zero risk of being arrested and removed.

All of these Salvadorans residing and working in the United States, whether under color of law because of the so-called "temporary" program, or simply illegally, has been a huge boon to El Salvador, whose economy is a shambles, and whose people are often poverty-stricken and illiterate. That is because of the phenomenon of remittances — U.S. dollars flowing unimpeded and untaxed out of our economy and into El Salvador's as aliens working here send money home.

If one thinks this would not amount to much, one would be sadly mistaken. A quick look at figures put together by the Pew Research Center shows that remittances to El Salvador, almost all from the United States, are huge and growing; from under $2.5 billion in 2000 to $4.2 billion in 2013.

So how does our Central American ally respond to this all of this kind and gentle treatment? Not in a particularly endearing manner.

  • El Salvador consular officials are notorious among immigration authorities for slow walking the process of procuring the travel documents needed to deport the few aliens who are in fact repatriated — often aliens who have committed felonies in the United States.
  • Reacting to the news leak that the U.S. government would be conducting "raids" to round up certain Central Americans (including Salvadorans) with outstanding orders of removal who arrived as a part of the 2014 summer surge, El Salvador's Foreign Ministry commented that "El Salvador respects the laws and internal procedures of each country, however it believes that these unfortunate measures do not contribute to a thorough solution that has been delayed for years and has comprehensive immigration reform at its base." (One wonders how the Salvadoran government would react to U.S. meddling in matters of their domestic policy.)
  • What's more, El Salvador is the country that volunteered to accept flights of Cubans "stranded" in Costa Rica after other regional states refused to accept them as they migrate northward with the intent to enter the United States illegally (see here, here, and here).

So why exactly are we still mollycoddling this nation? As the saying goes, "with friends like these..."