Americas, New in Lobbying

El Salvador’s Bukele hires former top US diplomat on $1.2 million contract amid IMF push

El Salvador has tapped a former top US diplomat on a $1.2 million contract as the country looks to negotiate a $1.3 billion deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) following an electoral sweep by President Nayib Bukele‘s party.

Bukele’s office hired white shoe law firm Arnold & Porter for one year effective March 25 to “provide strategic advice” and “outreach in support of relations with the United States and multilateral institutions.” The effort is being led by former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Tom Shannon, who is registered as a foreign agent on the contract along with Raul Herrera, a former general counsel to the private sector arm of the Inter-American Development Bank group.

The contract comes as the 39-year-old president has been racking up influence firms to counter criticism of his populist governing style and encourage US and international investment in the central American country, with lobbying spending now totaling $240,000 a month ($2.9 million a year). This is the country’s first new hire since Bukele’s upstart Nuevas Ideas party won an absolute majority of seats with the support of two-thirds of voters in Feb. 28 legislative elections.

With the party holding the largest political majority in El Salvador’s history, the country is looking to the IMF to help turn around its economy. Finance Minister Alejandro Zelaya told Reuters in an interview last month that the country hopes to get a 36-month extended fund facility approved by the IMF.

“It will help us leverage the budgetary gaps for 2021, 2022 and 2023” and help lower the highs costs associated with El Salvador’s debt,” Zelaya told Reuters. “What the New Ideas party and President Bukele achieved on Sunday is truly a golden opportunity for El Salvador’s economy to take off.”

Arnold & Porter did not respond to a request for comment. Over the past 12 months Shannon and Herrera have signed on as lobbyists for both Argentina and Ecuador.

Shannon is a 35-year veteran of the State Department who was the highest ranking member of the professional diplomatic corps when he stepped down in 2018. A former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, he visited El Salvador in 2015 to discuss the Alliance for Prosperity, a plan developed with El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to address migration to the United States. He also waged a losing bureaucratic fight inside the State Department against the Donald Trump administration’s effort to cancel temporary protection status for Salvadorans and other immigrants living in the United States, Foreign Policy reported.

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El Salvador has been on a lobbying shopping spree since last August, starting with the hiring of Trump-connected lobbyist Robert Stryk and his Sonoran Policy Group (now Stryk Global Diplomacy) for $75,000 per month by national intelligence chief Peter Dumas. Bukele’s office told the Associated Press at the time that the president did not approve the contract and would have it rescinded, but Sonoran’s lobbying disclosures indicate that the contract remained active and the firm received $214,000 from the Salvadoran government in the second half of 2020 (According to Sonoran the contract finallly expired on Feb. 14).

Bukele’s office also hired Washington strategic communications firm Rational 360 in October for $65,000 a month for six months. The firm is led by veteran democrats Joe Lockhart and Patrick Dorton, a former aide to President Bill Clinton.

And Washington-based Invest El Salvador signed a yearlong, $65,000-per-month contract with the Salvadoran government in the fall of 2020 to promote foreign direct investment into the country and help with communications. The firm in turn hired Foreign Advisory Services of Washington for $7,500 per month to “work to improve bilateral United States-El Salvador communications, promote foreign direct investment into El Salvador, and work with the Salvadoran diaspora.”