Doug Sovern, KCBS Radio

Newsom Leaves El Salvador Ready To Sell Californians On Investing There

Governor Says Economic Development Key To Ending Migrant Surge

Doug Sovern
April 10, 2019 - 4:15 am

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador—California Governor Gavin Newsom’s three-day trip to this Central American country was billed as an exploration of the root causes of migration, an unprecedented and controversial departure from the trade junkets of governors past. But by journey’s end, it was sounding more like the overseas missions Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown led, bringing home lucrative business opportunities to the Golden State.

“El Salvador is open for investment,” Newsom told KCBS Radio at the close of his trip. “And I want to play an active role, individually and my administration, in seeking that investment.”

On his last day in El Salvador, Newsom met with president-elect Nayib Bukele, who embraced Newsom and complimented him in front of reporters. “He’s a very smart, cool, interesting person,” Bukele said, noting that he hopes to work with the Californian to develop the country’s coastline and stimulate its surfing and tourism industry.

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Newsom, who told KCBS Radio with a smile, “I have surfed, but I’m not a surfer,” sees a region that is ripe for investment by California’s entrepreneurs. “You want opportunities for business investment? Come to the coast of El Salvador.” The governor said he will also carry a message back to the technology-rich San Francisco Bay Area. “I know my friends in Silicon Valley have no idea what’s going on down here. They would be shocked, but also be enlivened…by the talent down here.”

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Newsom spent part of Tuesday meeting teenagers and young adults who are learning to code, at a program supported by the United States Agency for International Development. Many of them see the classes as a means to escape the gang violence that wracks their towns. Newsom also met with a former gang member, a prison literacy expert and religious leaders who are intervening to turn members of the country’s notorious MS-13 and 18th Street gangs towards peace and non-violence. And at yet another roundtable meeting, he talked about economic opportunity and entrepreneurship with business executives and leaders from the non-profit sector. One of them, Diego DeSola, president of Glasswing International, made a deep impression on the visiting governor.

“You can talk about a metaphorical wall,” said DeSola. “If you build opportunity, you don’t need a wall on your border. Instead of exporting people and importing goods and services, we should be doing the opposite. And that’s our dream.”

A dream that Newsom clearly shares, and embraced. “You’re never going to address the issue of migration by building a wall on your border,” he said. “Build investment in El Salvador instead. Economic development is the wall within the Northern Triangle that will address this issue.”

Newsom also told KCBS Radio that he’d like to see the University of California start a program in El Salvador, and he intends to adjust his budget proposal when he revises it in May to target funds to help migrants who are already in California, especially with legal and mental health services and programs for youth.

And, one last time, he defended his decision to come to El Salvador, which some have criticized as overstepping his bounds as a governor.

“My term’s roughly thirty-five thousand hours. I spen forty-eight down here.”

KCBS Political Reporter Doug Sovern is on special assignment in El Salvador, one of a limited number of journalists traveling with the governor during his visit.