Tuesday 20 August 2019

Migrant father and daughter who died in bid to reach Texas laid to rest

About 200 relatives and friends followed a hearse bearing the bodies of Oscar Martínez and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria.

(AP Photo/Salvador Melendez)
(AP Photo/Salvador Melendez)

By Marcos Aleman, Associated Press

A man and his young daughter who drowned trying to cross into Texas have been laid to rest, 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 at La Bermeja municipal cemetery in southern San Salvador.

The ceremony was private and journalists were not allowed access.

Many mourners wore black and wept. They carried flowers and green palms, and some held signs bearing the logo of the Alianza football team followed by Mr Martinez.

“For those who cheer you on from heaven,” one read.

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Crowds follow the hearses in La Bermeja cemetery (Salvador Melendez/AP)

“I knew them. They are good people, and I can’t believe they died this way,” said Berta Padilla, who arrived 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 US.

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

Mr Martinez’s wife, Tania Vanessa Avalos, returned to El Salvador on Friday ahead of their remains.

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

After the burial, relatives stayed behind at the grave to say a last goodbye, said family friend Reyna Moran.

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The grave of Oscar Martinez and his daughter Valeria (Salvador Melendez/AP)

A collection of floral arrangements adorned the grave, including one from El Salvador’s president and first lady. Interior minister Mario Duran was among those who attended.

The photographs of Mr 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 US.

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

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Nayib Bukele (Marco Ugarte/AP)

US 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 US. Meanwhile, Mexico is stepping up immigration enforcement under intense pressure from the Trump administration.

Mr Bukele, who took office a month ago, said his own country shares responsibility.

“We can speak blame to any other country, but what about our blame?” he said. “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. 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?”

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