Tuesday, January 25, 2011

U.S. President Barack Obama announced in his State of the Union speech that he will go to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador in March. The Salvadoran press is reporting that Mr. Obama will wind up in the land of Archbishop Romero on March 23 -- on the eve of the anniversary of the Romero assassination, which, beginning last year, is celebrated as a near national holiday in El Salvador. Will Mr. Obama visit Archbishop Romero's grave?

Obama praised Archbishop Romero in his Oval Office remarks in welcoming Salvadoran ambassador Francisco Altschul in June 2010. There is presedent for visiting dignitaries to pay tribute to Archbishop Romero at his grave. Discounting the two visits by Pope John Paul II (in 1983 and 1996), the most recent prominent visitor was Brazil's own Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who visited in 2010. Left-leaning South American presidents Rafael Correa of Ecuador and Fernando Lugo of Paraguay have also come by.

On the other hand, Mr. Obama simply may not have time to fit in such a symbolic gesture into his busy schedule. President Bush visited El Salvador on March 24, 2002, the actual date of the Romero anniversary and did not acknowledge the date in his public activities. And Mr. Obama may wish to stay away for another reason -- he may not wish to reignite 2008 campaign charges that Mr. Obama adhered to some form of "Liberation Theology" espoused by his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. If he did visit Romero's grave, however, it would undoubtedly help to create unity in El Salvador and to add energy to Archbishop Romero's canonization cause.

Footnote: Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes has said he wants to talk to Mr. Obama about ways to work together to end poverty and social exclusion. The theme of the visit certainly would be apropos to commemmorate Romero, since Obama's praise for Romero in June was over his commitment to "social inclusion."
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