World / Social Issues

Drowned father and daughter mourned at El Salvador cemetery


A man and his young daughter who drowned trying to cross into Texas were brought to their final rest Monday, a week after a heartbreaking image of their bodies floating in the Rio Grande circled the globe.

About 200 relatives and friends followed a hearse bearing the bodies of Oscar Martinez and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria to La Bermeja municipal cemetery in southern San Salvador. The ceremony was private, and journalists were not allowed access.

Many wore black and wept, carrying flowers and green palms. Some carried signs bearing the logo of the Alianza soccer team — Oscar Martinez’s favorite.

“I knew them. They are good people, and I can’t believe they died this way,” said Berta Padilla, who arrived earlier along with about 30 others on a bus from Altavista, the working-class city the Martinezes called home before they left in early April, headed for the United States.

“We came from Altavista to be with Oscar’s family,” Padilla added. “We are with them in their pain.”

A municipal police officer said their graves were in a section of the cemetery named after Saint Oscar Romero, the San Salvador archbishop who defended the poor and was assassinated in 1980. Romero, who was canonized last year, is buried in the crypt of the city’s cathedral.

Salvadoran Interior Minister Mario Duran was among those attending.

The photographs of Martinez, 25, and Valeria, lying face-down along the riverbank, the tiny girl tucked inside his black shirt and her arm draped over his neck, prompted a global outpouring of emotion. They underscored the perils faced by migrants and asylum-seekers trying to reach the United States.

Tania Vanessa Avalos, their wife and mother, returned to El Salvador on Friday ahead of their remains.

Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele said late Sunday that the drownings were “a great tragedy” and that there’s blame to be shared among governments.

U.S. policies designed to deter Central Americans and others from coming have stalled thousands on the Mexico side of the border as they wait to request asylum in the United States. Meanwhile, Mexico is stepping up immigration enforcement under intense pressure from the Trump administration.

And Bukele said his own country shares responsibility.

“We can speak blame to any other country, but what about our blame?” Bukele said in lengthy remarks, much of them delivered in English. “I mean, what country did they flee? Did they (flee) the United States? They fled El Salvador. They fled our country. It is our fault.”

“We haven’t been able to provide anything, not a decent job, not a decent school,” he continued. “What if there’s a little girl who had a decent school here, a decent health care system for her and her family, a decent house with water supply, a job for his parents, for his mother and his dad, a decent job, living in a zone where a gang member would not come to rape her and kill her family?”

Many of those trying to reach the U.S. border in recent months have said they were fleeing grinding poverty, a lack of opportunity and violence in the gang-dominated Northern Triangle region of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, or a combination of these factors.

Martinez’s mother said last week that the family had hoped to live and work in the United States for a few years, saving enough money to return and build a home of their own.