U.S. Rep. Donald S. Beyer Jr., who represents the 8th District of Virginia that includes the City of Falls Church, described his enthusiasm meeting the new, young president-elect of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, in an exclusive interview to the News-Press this week.
Beyer joined a small group of other U.S. congressmen in a brief tour of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, and said that although there are “terribly difficult conditions,” he nonetheless retained a sense of optimism. There are an estimated 195,000 El Salvadorans in the U.S. now, including thousands in his district, Beyer noted, but the rate of emigration to the U.S. has slowed to a record 40-year low. That’s because people don’t emigrate unless conditions are simply too bad and a sense of no hope where they are, Beyer said. Now there are concerted efforts to root out corruption, violence and poverty in the region.
In El Salvador, the popular young president is contrasted to two previous leaders now in prison. With the help of the U.S. FBI and CIA, the influence of the MS-13 and 18th Street gangs has been blunted, one having been fueled by emigration from L.A. in the U.S. There are over 350 gang units in El Salvador that have been targeted, and efforts include setting up community policing and expanding the education of youth. Currently, the young spend only three years in school in El Salvador, and addressing that problem is key to the country’s future, Beyer said.