San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Clinton invites Funes to Costa Rica summit; Ortega not attending

SAO PAULO and MANAGUA – El Salvador President-elect Mauricio Funes has been invited by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to participate in a summit of Central America leaders and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to be held March 30 in San José, Costa Rica.

Costa Rica President Oscar Arias had previously extended him an invitation, but Funes said Clinton also called to invite him while he was in San Paolo meeting with Brazilian President Luiz Inácio da Silva.

In San José, Funes will meet privately with Biden, and hopes to meet U.S. President Barack Obama at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago next month.

Funes said he received a call from Obama March 16, the day after his electoral victory, who said Lula had spoken highly of the soon-to-be Salvadoran head.

Funes said stronger relations with the U.S. are “fundamental,” citing remittances the 3 million Salvadorans who live and work in the U.S. – one-third of the country´s entire population – send back to family in El Salvador.

Salvadorans send an average of $3.5 billion annually back home, which amounts to 18 percent of the Central American country´s gross domestic product.

“It would be suicide for me and for Salvadorans to not want to strengthen relations with the U.S.,” he said.

Funes, of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), will assume the presidency June 1.

Meanwhile, his colleague to the south, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, has said he will not be attending the summit in San José next week, according to a communiqué on Friday from the Foreign Ministry. The statement did not list a reason. Vice Foreign Minister Manuel Coronel Kautz will be attending in Ortega´s place.

Political opposition strongly criticized that decision Sunday.

Nicaraguan Fund for Economic and Social Development (Funides) Director Mario Arana said it was a “lost opportunity” for Ortega to try and improve strained relations with the U.S.

The U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) decided on March 11 that if the government in Managua had not resolved doubts over contested November 2008 municipal elections within 90 days, it “would be very difficult” to reactivate the $62 million in frozen Millennium Challenge funds for Nicaragua.

Ortega dismissed the significance of those funds last week. “The truth is that this country, with or without the Millennium Challenge funds, will continue to advance forward.”

Ortega is the only Central American head of state who will not be attending next week´s summit.

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