El Salvador leader says nation to blame for duo's death

A girl lighting candles in front of a poster of Mr Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his daughter, Valeria, who both drowned.
A girl lighting candles in front of a poster of Mr Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his daughter, Valeria, who both drowned.PHOTO; AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SAN SALVADOR • El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele said his country bears responsibility for the drowning death of a father and his toddler daughter who had been attempting to cross into the United States, saying economic hardships he inherited are driving people to make the perilous journey.

The shocking photograph of Mr Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his two-year-old daughter, Valeria, lying face down on a shallow bank of the Rio Grande provoked a renewed backlash against stringent Trump administration policies last week. President Donald Trump, in turn, blamed Democrats.

Mr Bukele told the BBC on Monday his country was to blame for the conditions that led Mr Martinez Ramirez and Valeria - along with thousands of others - to flee El Salvador in the first place.

Poverty, violence and a lack of access to education and health services have made life in the small Central American country so unbearable for some of its citizens, Mr Bukele said, that they feel they have no choice but to leave.

"What country did they flee? Did they flee the United States? They fled El Salvador, they fled our country. It is our fault," he said.

Mr Martinez Ramirez and his wife, Ms Tania Vanessa Avalos, had hoped for better economic opportunities in the US that would allow them to buy a home to raise their daughter in, his mother said.

The family travelled to Matamoros, Mexico, where they were told an international bridge was closed. Mr Martinez Ramirez decided to attempt a river crossing with Valeria, but the swift waters of the Rio Grande ended their dream of a new life in the US.

 
 
 

Their bodies were discovered on the river bank on June 24, and the photo of their tragic death was quickly circulated worldwide.

The photo has sparked condemnations of Mr Trump's migration policies, which limit the number of asylum seekers who can apply for refuge in the US each day.

Mr Bukele, who took office on June 1, has promised to fix the problems that trigger migration, pledging to promote education and social programmes, create jobs in rural areas and tackle corruption.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 03, 2019, with the headline 'El Salvador leader says nation to blame for duo's death'. Print Edition | Subscribe