Before the 1992 peace accord, Rene Cajura was a member of a guerrilla army in El Salvador that the United States was spending millions of dollars to help defeat.
Yesterday, Mr. Cajura, a member of the political party that evolved from the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, was in Baltimore with a delegation of 22 mayors visiting this country to study the nuts and bolts of democracy and bureaucracy.
After a day and a half in the United States, Mr. Cajura, who is mayor of Nejapa near San Salvador, said he was taken with the wealth here as compared with El Salvador, which is trying slowly to rebuild after the ravages of more than a decade of civil war. Looking out the window of his hotel near Baltimore-Washington International Airport, for example, he was impressed by the landscaping and the sea of green he saw stretching to the horizon.
"We don't have the resources that you have here," he said.
The mayors will be in the United States as the guests of the U.S. Agency for International Development for the next two weeks, observing government in action at the municipal, county, state and federal levels, looking for ideas to take back to El Salvador.
Their concerns mirrored those of any official of local government. "I'm interested in what help the local government gets from the state and the federal level," said Pedro Reyes, the mayor of Uluazapa in San Miguel.
The mayors spent Sunday afternoon touring the Inner Harbor. "My biggest impression is the way you preserve your cultural heritage," said Jose Victor Orellana Menjivar of Sensuntepeque, Cabanas.
Yesterday they gathered at a church on South Broadway in Fells Point, the heart of Baltimore's Latino community, for a briefing put together by the Governor's Commission on Hispanic Affairs on how government and private agencies help Salvadorans living in Baltimore with services such as housing, legal aid and drug and alcohol counseling.
But the first question, which was posed by Mr. Cajura, concerned a more political topic. He expressed concern about the effects of Proposition 187, an initiative approved by California voters last year -- but blocked by the courts -- that would bar illegal immigrants and their children from receiving state-financed services. Salvadorans are worried, he said, because an inhospitable climate in the United States could cause a stream of Salvadorans to return to their country.
"A good part of our economy depends on the money Salvadorans in the United States send there," he said. "For a country that just finished a war, it's very difficult to take all these people back."