Archbishop Romero’s grave has become a reference point in the geography of protest against the social inequities of Latin America. His image has been used and, according to some bishops, misused by left-wing political groups, including FMLN, the party that put Mauricio Funes, El Salvador’s president, in power. In El Salvador it is not uncommon for the FMLN offices to be decorated with images of Che Guevara and the archbishop. Considering that Archbishop Romero had written an open letter to then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter asking him to cut off military aid to the government, which was repressing leftist groups, it is quite historic that President Obama will visit the tomb.
But much more is expected of President Obama when he comes to El Salvador. He is very popular here, and President Funes explicitly compared himself to Obama in his 2009 presidential campaign. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was present at Funes’ inauguration in May 2009. Some analysts say her coming made Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez absent himself, although he had given generously to the electoral campaign of the FMLN, the party formed by the ex-guerrilla groups from the civil war era.
Although the present Salvadoran administration has exchanged ambassadors and made agreements with Cuba, El Salvador is a much friendlier place for the U.S. than its neighbors. Honduras has yet to recuperate status after its "constitutional” coup. Guatemala has great problems of corruption and international drug trafficking. And in Nicaragua, the Sandinistas hang on to power under the Chavez disciple Daniel Ortega.
By contrast, a recent poll said that 74 percent of Salvadorans think President Obama’s visit will have positive results.
What they expect mostly has to do with the Salvadoran economy, which has been languishing since the crash of 2008. Some are expecting Obama to unveil an aid package of perhaps at least $200 million. This would be in addition to the “Millennium Challenge” projects awarded in 2006 that total $460 million.
Security, a great issue in a country with 6 million people and a homicide rate of 14 victims per day, is also on the agenda. Central American countries have asked for $800 million to combat crime. Gang warfare, which has taken a greater toll in lives than the civil war in Salvador, has now been connected to drug traffic and organized crime. The infamous Zeta mafia from Mexico is alleged to have started working in Central America.