Leftist California Governor Gavin Newsom traveled to El Salvador this week to promote his progressive politics, but could only find common ground on Tuesday with El Salvador’s right-wing President-elect Nayib Bukele over surfing.
The two agreed on the promotion of the Central American country’s nascent surfing industry as a means to alleviate the poverty that fuels migration to the United States and ultimately foster economic opportunities.
Many Salvadorans who migrate to the United States illegally cite financial instability and gang-related violence as the reason for leaving.
Newsom, who stressed the problematic conditions in Central America as the primary driver of immigrants seeking asylum in the United States during his three-day visit to El Salvador, urged Americans to try surfing in the country despite warnings by the U.S. Department of State (DOS) against traveling there.
After meeting with Bukele on Tuesday, Newsom endorsed the president-elect’s “Surf City” initiative, which seeks to boost tourism to the Salvadoran coasts to improve the country’s economy and prevent people from leaving.
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The California governor told the Salvadoran leader he wants help make his surfing proposal a reality through a partnership focused on promoting tourism between the U.S. state and the Central American country.
“Clearly tourism is such a dominant industry in California. We probably do it better than any other state,” Newsom said, according to the Sacramento Bee. “It seems natural for us to engage in mutual support in terms of what’s going on down here.”
“He says boosting the economy in El Salvador, a country where most people who leave cite financial instability, could help stem the flow of those coming to the U.S,” the Sacramento Bee added.
After discussing the economic potential of the Central American country’s surfing industry with local business owners, investors, and U.S. Ambassador Jean Manes, the governor declared, “There’s no doubt there’s a lot we can do together in this space.”
Bukele, who promoted his Surf City plan during a trip to the United States last month, welcomed Newsom’s support while briefing reporters about their meeting on Wednesday.
“We have the best surfing beaches in the world and they have the other ones,” he said. “We want to work together.”
It appears that the two leaders do not agree on everything. Unlike Newsom, Bukele indicated he is willing to work with U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration.
“We don’t want to meddle into U.S. politics,” the president-elect, who is expected to take office in June, said when asked about his views on President Trump, the Associated Press (AP) reported. “We will work with any administration.”
Echoing the Trump administration, the Salvadoran-elect has also denounced the left-wing dictatorships in Venezuela and Nicaragua.
The U.S. government already invests some money in Salvadoran infrastructure, including roads and water and sewage treatment near El Salvador’s coasts through the Millennium Challenge Corporation [MCC], created in 2004 under then-President George W. Bush. Last year it contributed about $3 million for a $10.8 million project to develop the coastal area called El Zonte to build hotels and a water treatment plant. MCC has pledged $277 million for coastal development and other projects over a number of years.
California is home to the largest concentration of Salvadorans in the United States, one of the largest migrant groups in the country.
Newsom billed his three-day trip to the Latin American country, which started on Sunday, as an alternative to what he described as Trump’s “demoralizing” rhetoric.
The governor blasted President Trump for cutting aid to El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala — together known as the Northern Triangle.
Trump argued that the Northern Triangle is not doing enough to stem the flow of migrants flooding the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Right now you have a president that talks down to people, talks past them, demoralizing folks living here and their relatives in the United States,” Newsom proclaimed. “I think it’s important to let folks know that’s not our country — that’s an individual in our country who happens at this moment to be president.”
Newsom claimed that his decision to make El Salvador the destination of his first international trip as governor is rooted in a desire to explore the roots of migration that are driving thousands of people to the U.S.-Mexico border.
El Salvador’s homicide rate of an estimated 50 deaths per 100,000 residents is similar and sometimes lower than some major American cities like Baltimore and St. Louis.