Cerén participated in anti-U.S. demonstrations in San Salvador four days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, in which marchers burned American flags. He met with Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, Legis. Francis X. Becker (R-Lynbrook), Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick and other officials at ceremonies in Mineola and Freeport last week to acknowledge Salvadoran American Day.
Marchers, who held signs saying, "Shame on you Fran Becker" and "These schmoes have to go," chided officials for posing for photos with Cerén and issuing citations to him.
"It is important to express the outrage of the American people, and the impact that it has caused that this politician does not respect the memory of the people who died" on Sept. 11, said Jorge Guzman of Hempstead, who is Salvadoran.
But Hardwick said many demonstrators were his opponents in village politics, and more interested in bashing him than opposing Cerén.
"The same people that are there are the same people that are there every day," he said.
Becker said he was "unaware of any controversy surrounding the vice president" when they met and added that he welcomed Cerén to show "respect for the country and people of El Salvador and not necessarily the man." Mangano was unavailable for comment, a spokesman said.
Cerén, elected vice president in 2009 with President Mauricio Funes, is a likely candidate for president in 2014. He said last week he harbors no ill will toward America and came to New York to strengthen ties between El Salvador and the United States and Salvadoran-Americans. There are about 100,000 Salvadorans on Long Island, according to the 2010 census.
Criticism of Cerén's appearance at the flag-burning protest is misguided, as he was present but did not actively participate, said Edgar Vasquez, vice consul at the Salvadoran consulate in Brentwood.
"That's why I'm here -- first, to reaffirm our president has sent a very strong message of friendship with the United States," Cerén said, in Spanish, to Latino leaders at Círculo de la Hispanidad in Hempstead on Thursday. "It has to be stronger."
Rafael Flores, president of a Salvadoran association that brought Cerén to Long Island, chided critics and said Cerén has returned to El Salvador.
"Anything this little group is saying is not true," Flores said. "He wants to have a good relationship with the United States."
But Dewey Smalls of Freeport said Hardwick should have given more notice that Cerén was coming so residents would have had time to react. Members of the village trustee board said they had no knowledge of Cerén's visit beforehand.
"No outreach to the community or anything," Smalls said. "You have to explain to us why you are doing this."