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El Salvador front-runner pledges Cuba relations

El Salvador's presidency candidate Mauricio Funes from the Farabundo Marti for National Liberation party (FMLN) speaks during a rally in Acajutla June 7, 2008. REUTERS/Luis Galdamez

SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) - The leftist front-runner in the race to be El Salvador’s next president said on Sunday he would reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba if elected.

Mauricio Funes, a former correspondent for international news channel CNN, is currently leading polls ahead of the March 2009 election.

Speaking at a convention of his Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN party, Funes said, “We are going to open diplomatic relations with our Cuban brothers and their government.”

El Salvador has never had a leftist president, and the country severed ties with Cuba after the communist island’s 1959 revolution. Funes’ conservative rival is former police chief Rodrigo Avila of the Nationalist Republican Alliance, which has been in power since 1989.

The FMLN has shaken off some of its Marxist roots from its days as a rebel group that battled a series of U.S. backed governments in the country’s 1980-1992 civil war.

Funes also promised to respect private property if elected.

Reporting by Alberto Barrera; Editing by Cynthia Osterman