Since becoming head of the federal Small Business Administration in April, Maria Contreras-Sweet will be leading the U.S. delegation at the presidential inauguration of Salvador Sanchez Ceren of El Salvador on June 1, in her first international trip.
Other members of the delegation on behalf of President Obama include U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of El Salvador Mari Carmen Aponte, Counselor of the Department of State Thomas A. Shannon, Jr., Special Assistant to the President Ricardo Zuniga, and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere John D. Feeley.
Sanchez Ceren, of the ruling Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), narrowly won the presidential election over the right-wing candidate, Norman Quijano. Sanchez Ceren won by just over 6,000 votes in the March election, a razor-thin margin that created a controversial divide in the already-unstable country.
After Sanchez Ceren was announced the winner of the runoff election, he tweeted: Twenty-two years after peace accords [that ended the war], democracy has come to El Salvador to stay.
Sanchez Ceren will become the first guerilla fighter to govern this Central American country.
He built his campaign on a promise of improving social programs and forming an inclusive government, despite the fact that his opponents view him as an extreme leftist.
Sanchez Ceren was one of the top rebel commanders in El Salvadors civil war, and he is credited with helping negotiate the peace accords to end the war. During the conflict, the United States supported the government in opposition to the FMLN in order to prevent the spread of communism in Latin America.
An estimated 76,000 people were killed during El Salvadors civil conflict.
With Sanchez Ceren at the helm of the government for the next five years, the FMLN continue to govern the country.
Sanchez Ceren will inherit a country riddled with poverty and violence from street gangs. According to Reuters, the number of homicides this May have more than doubled from May of last year, making its homicide rates one of the highest in the world.
About 40 percent of El Salvadors population lives in poverty, and the drug trade continues to threaten the country with extreme violence and instability, problems that will undoubtedly occupy Sanchez Cerens plate when he takes office.
Jose Miguel Cruz, a Salvadoran political science professor at Florida International University, explained the significance of the United States relationship with El Salvador to NPR:
I think the United States is investing a lot in El Salvador in terms of saying, ‘OK, we need to keep this small country from falling into the hands of complete ungovernability, complete instability, as in the [case] of Guatemala or Honduras.
While the future relationship between the two countries is uncertain at the moment, the White House did announce the presidential delegation that will attend Sanchez Cerens inauguration on June 1.