In 2009, both Mauricio Funes and Barack Obama assumed power following presidential campaigns featuring themes of hope and change. Now the two presidents face similar challenges, challenges which make it difficult to meet the high expectations their campaigns created.
Both Funes and Obama are waging wars which they inherited from previous administrations. Obama has the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where he is currently deciding how many thousands of additional US troops to send into the area. Funes has the war against criminal violence and murders, where he has recently made the decision to send thousands more troops into the streets in high crime areas.
Both Funes and Obama lead countries strongly hit by the world financial crisis. Poverty and unemployment have increased in both their countries, and they have electorates who want their presidents to do something to correct the situation. Yet both presidents face economic forces which are greater than their governments' ability to correct.
Both Funes and Obama took over the presidency from prior conservative administrations. Both presidents have constituencies in their parties which are farther to the left on the political spectrum than their president. The left wing of the Democratic Party and the hard liners of the FMLN may feel disappointment that their candidate has been more moderate than their dreams.
Both Funes and Obama enjoyed high initial approval ratings within their countries. But Obama's are slipping as he finds that promising change and accomplishing change are two different things. Funes still enjoys high approval ratings, but they will start to fall if the problems of the economy and crime do not begin to improve.
For both Funes and Obama, we will probably measure their success by the next presidential election. Can Obama earn a second term? Can Mauricio Funes (who is limited to a single term as president) promote the FMLN to successive terms in power? Despite their best efforts, events and forces outside of their control may determine the answers.