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Obama to visit grave of slain Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero

March 21, 2011 |  8:41 am

Romero

President Obama is visiting Latin America this week, and on Wednesday he will make what may be the most dramatic gesture of the trip.

Obama is scheduled to pay homage to Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was assassinated by a sniper as he said Mass on March 24, 1980, in the early days of El Salvador's civil war. Obama's planned stop at Romero's tomb in the National Cathedral will mark the first time a U.S. president has done so, a "truly extraordinary" gesture, the Salvadoran news website El Faro said in an editorial. 

Romero's killer was a member of the death squads that worked on behalf of the side in the civil war that the U.S. government came to support against leftist guerrillas. Today, those guerrillas, recast as a political party capable of winning elections, are in power.

Obama's action demonstrates just how far the process of democracy and reconciliation has come in post-war El Salvador, the country's ambassador to the United States, Francisco Altschul, said in a telephone interview from Washington.

"Monsignor Romero is a universal symbol of justice, peace, human rights and reconciliation," Altschul said. "We are incredibly satisfied and appreciative" of Obama's visit to the grave.

But reconciliation goes only so far. One person Obama will not meet with is the country's top security official, even though public security is a major topic on the agenda. Justice and Security Minister Manuel Melgar is considered by Washington to have blood on his hands, having been implicated in a guerrilla attack on a Zona Rosa sidewalk cafe in San Salvador in 1985 in which four U.S. Marines were killed along with nine civilians. Melgar's exact role is in dispute, but U.S. officials as a matter of course steer clear of him.  

-- Tracy WIlkinson in Mexico City 

Photo: Salvadoran children march with photographs of Archbishop Oscar Romero. Credit: Mauro Arias / El Faro

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