Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes inaugurated the largest public works project of his administration, a long-awaited highway construction, which he has christened the Monsignor Romero Boulevard (“Bulevar Monseñor Romero,” in Spanish), at a cost of $100M and seven years of labor—most of it, marred by delays, lawsuits, and corruption allegations. Funes boasted that his government did what previous, rightwing governments could not do—which was to institute transparency and accountability to bring the massive project to a close. On Sun. Nov. 25, 2012, Pres. Funes was joined by Gaspar Romero, the Archbishop’s younger brother, in a classic red convertible, as they cruised down the open road to inaugurate the main artery connecting the Salvadoran capital city to points northwest, along the outskirts of the San Salvador volcano.The name was leaked by El Salvador’s Ministry of Public Works earlier in the week—perhaps, as a way to gauge public reaction to the choice. Opposition has been largely muted, and seems to center on process rather than the actual name. Grumblings by the ARENA mayor of San Salvador (ARENA is the rightist party founded by the man accused of ordering the Romero assassination) that Funes should have let the mayors of the towns linked by the highway make the decision, were typical of the criticism. Funes apparently picked the name by executive decision, drawing upon—but not relying strictly on—input drawn from suggestion boxes in supermarkets, an Internet poll, and a formal survey conducted by a university polling outfit. In the final phase, the top ten contenders were presented to the public who had an option to write-in a suggestion, and Romero’s name apparently led the write-in nominations. Funes selected Romero’s name because it embodies the highest values of the country, including service and transparency, said Public Works Minister Gerson Martínez.
Palace intrigue aside, the naming of the new highway after Archbishop Romero marks a stunning reversal in official recognition for Romero in El Salvador. Before this tribute, there was a “Calle Monseñor Romero,” but it was in the crowded, gritty urban area abutting the Cathedral downtown. The new Boulevard is a six-lane expressway that was originally envisioned as a part of a ring road or loop highway encircling San Salvador. It is the first freeway in El Salvador and in Central America, and links San Salvador to Santa Tecla and Antiguo Cuscatlán. Although short in span (just about 9 km or six miles), it is expected to generate thousands jobs, provide a boost to economic development, and ease traffic congestion in Greater San Salvador.
Photos, top: Oscar Romero driving (stock footage). Below: Gaspar Romero takes a maiden voyage down Romero highway with Pres. Funes, courtesy El Diario de Hoy. The late archbishop is literally on the map—Google maps screenshot, courtesy Diario El Mundo. Bottom, Bulevar Monseñor Romero, before the official opening, when it was known as the RN-21 or Bulevar Diego de Holguín.