The President of El Salvador, Mauricio Funes, announced that his country’s Tourism Ministry will promote an “Archbishop Romero City Tour” of San Salvador as part of a larger effort to promote tourism in El Salvador. Funes made the announcement in the Crypt of the San Salvador Metropolitan Cathedral where Romero is buried, one of the ten locations to be featured in the Romero tour, visited by U.S. President Barack Obama last year. Funes said that additional announcements would be made in Italy in October, and in London in November, regarding the initiative.The tour is a two-day excursion to ten locations associated with, or relevant to, the life or legacy of Archbishop Romero. They are: (1) the Metropolitan Cathedral, where Romero served as Archbishop between Feb. 1977 and Mar. 1980, and where he is interred today, (2) the Divine Providence Hospital, where Romero lived and in whose chapel he was murdered on March 24, 1980 ; (3) the Sacred Heart Basilica, where Romero delivered his famous last Sunday sermon on March 23, 1980 (in which he said, “Stop the Repression!”); (4) the historic El Rosario Church in downtown San Salvador, where Romero occasionally preached, also; (5) the Romero Center at Central American University, the site of the 1989 Jesuit Massacre. The remaining sites in and around San Salvador are more peripheral in their Romero relevance but they provide a good cultural context. They are: (6) the National Palace, which abuts the same plaza as the Cathedral—it was in disuse as a government building by the time Romero became archbishop; (7) the Divine Savior Monument in Western San Salvador, where a statute stands as the leading monument to Romero in El Salvador; (8) the Anthropological Museum nearby. The last two sites are further afield: (9) the Romero sanctuary run by the Chacón sisters in Santa Tecla, and (10) Paseo El Carmen, a tourist promenade in Santa Tecla with no relevance to Romero that was probably thrown in to give those taking the tour a chance to do some shopping.
In his presentation, Pres. Funes said that Archbishop Romero is “an unequivocal symbol of El Salvador—a symbol of a country that wants to overcome its conflicts and difficulties, and which is working to become a nation that lives in peace, with equity and with complete democracy.” The President said that Archbishop Romero, “[i]s recognized throughout the world because of his incorruptible spirit and for his preferential option for the poor,” and that his government, which has called Romero its “point of reference” for animating policies that promote social justice, wishes to further pay tribute to his “emblematic figure” with a tourism promotion that keeps his memory alive. The president touted El Salvador as a tourist destination, pointing out that El Salvador has fallen out of the world’s ten most dangerous countries list in the last year, due to a marked drop in gang violence (even though he made the announcement the same day that the U.S. Treasury Department announced that the Salvadoran street gang, MS-13, would be designated an international crime group subject to certain financial penalties. Nonetheless, Funes highlighted a drop in the murder rate from 69 to 26 per hundred thousand inhabitants, associated with a gang truce sponsored by private negotiators, including the Catholic Church, which Funes supports. The president also highlighted a recovery in tourism, with an increase of visitors of 19% over the last four years, and 6.5% in the last year, alone.The initiative highlights a consistent commitment to symbolic tributes (critics would say lip service) to Romero during the Funes administration. In addition to declaring him his government’s point of reference, Funes has apologized in the name of the state for the Romero assassination and accompanied Pres. Obama on a tour of Romero’s grave. Many of the Romero sites were already tourist attractions, so critics may sense some opportunism in hitching the fortunes of other tourist sites to Romero’s wagon. But, on balance, the official imprimatur should also raise the profile of the Romero sites.