El Salvador to remain U.S. ally, president-elect says

But Saca is noncommittal on Iraq troop deployment

March 25, 2004|By Hugh Dellios | Hugh Dellios,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador - President-elect Tony Saca has vowed to continue his predecessor's brotherly relationship with the United States, but that might not assure that El Salvador remains in the Bush administration's military coalition in Iraq.

The token unit of 370 Salvadoran troops serving in the Middle East has become all the more important symbolically after Spain and Honduras said they probably would not renew their troop deployments in June. Nicaraguan troops pulled out last month.

Saca, candidate of the right-wing ruling party, was noncommittal in his first remarks about the Iraq troop issue after his victory Sunday, when he defeated a leftist who had promised to withdraw the troops immediately.

Analysts say Saca's stance reflects not only the intense public opposition to the deployments across the region but also logistical problems that have cropped up and frustrations that the payoff for committing troops has not been greater.

"We will have to review the situation," Saca told Reuters news agency Monday. "No one has asked us to continue with the troops."

El Salvador's one-year commitment of troops expires in June, the month Saca will begin his five-year term in office.

The deployments have been as unpopular here as elsewhere in Central America, which has long grappled with its own history of U.S. military interventions. Opposition leaders condemned the deployments by the right-wing governments, even filing constitutional challenges.

Analysts say Central American leaders are frustrated that they have not received as much as expected in return for joining the coalition under diplomatic pressure from the United States and Spain.

Among the desired benefits were a quick approval of a Central American free trade accord and improvements in working conditions for their immigrants in the United States, including amnesty. Both of those issues are bogged down in election-year politics in the United States.

"It's a very delicate matter, and [Saca] is going to go step by step," said Napoleon Campos, a Salvadoran political analyst, who called the deployments "excessive and perverse" given how the small nations are still struggling to overcome their own problems from civil wars in the 1980s.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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