Calls for citizen participation mark 29th anniversary of Monsignor Romero's assassination

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March 24 marked the 29th anniversary of the assassination of Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero. A 1993 UN report named Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party founder Roberto D'Aubisson as the intellectual author of the crime.

On Saturday, March 21, a massive march was followed by a vigil in the National Cathedral to celebrate the life and teachings of the liberation theologist who spoke out against the Salvadoran government's brutal repression of the population in the 1970s, making a plea that soldiers refuse to follow orders to murder civilians.

The march and vigil were also marked by celebration of and excitement for Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) candidate Mauricio Funes victory in the presidential elections on March 15.  "This past March 15, through the will of the Salvadoran people, a true opportunity to advance towards levels of a dignified life was presented above all for the poor who have not been taken seriously into account in the plans of the governments that we have had," said Jose Mario Gonzalez, a participant in the march.

In a commemorative mass in Monsignor Romero's crypt at the National Cathedral, Father Antonio Rodriguez of the San Francisco of Assisi Church of Mejicanos called on the population to organize and participate in order to bring about change in the country." We should work to end the marginalization of children, youth, and the elderly, to put our efforts towards change as Jesus proposed when offering a more united and just society.� [This was the] road that Monsignor Romero decided to follow and if we don�t do it we will have failed,� he said.

�It was the people's resistance that triumphed on Sunday [March 15],� Rodr�guez said.� The role of an active social movement to guide the new government was also highlighted in a press conference held by the National Coalition for a Safe Country without Hunger (CONPHAS), a coalition of unions, popular movement organizations, and faith-based groups who said they �will accompany and watch over [the new government] to ensure they complete the promises they made.�� Union leader Wilfredo Berrios of CONPHAS highlighted the importance of the popular movement in Funes� victory, saying, �Finally, the population responded in a massive way and chose the change we wanted so much.� CONPHAS leaders also dedicated the electoral victory to Monsignor Romero.�

FMLN commemorates victory at Schafik�s burial place

On Saturday, March 21, FMLN leaders and activists commemorated their presidential election victory in front of the tomb of their historic leader, Schafik Handal.� Handal�s son, Schafik Handal Jr., and wife, Tania de Handal, were both present at the commemoration.� His son dedicated the victory to his father and all the others who fought in the struggle for a more just El Salvador.� �We completed the dream of my father Schafik, but also that of many compa�eros that have always struggled for this country,� he said.

Handal ran as the FMLN presidential candidate in 2004, losing the election to the ARENA candidate, Tony Saca.� Handal died in 2006 of a heart attack suffered at El Salvador's Comalapa International Airport after returning from the inauguration of Bolivian President Evo Morales.

International observers and members of the FMLN denounced interventionist statements made by U.S. State Department officials intended at derailing Handal's 2004 campaign.� Threats to put an end to remittances sent home from Salvadorans living in the U.S. and to begin massive deportations of Salvadorans from the U.S. if the FMLN won that election are believed to have played a decisive role in ARENA�s 2004 presidential victory.

A handful of Republicans in the House of Representatives made identical statements days before this year�s presidential election.� After an overnight response organized by grassroots solidarity groups flooded State Department and Congressional phone lines with citizen demands for a repudiation of the threats, the State Department and Embassy in San Salvador publicly declared that the Republican threats did not reflect the actual position of the Obama administration, which was eager to build a positive relationship with whichever candidate was elected.

In the graveside ceremony, both Handa's widow and and son acknowledged the difficulties that the new FMLN administration will face.� �We must not become intoxicated with the victory. There still remains much ahead of us. The difficult part begins on June 1st [inauguration day] because we will have to construct a future,� said Schafik Handal Jr.� Tania de Handal called upon the Salvadoran people to pay homage to her late husband by continuing to work for change.� �If we are faithful to Schafik, we have the obligation to look even further in the search to complete our ideals,� she said.

President-elect Funes receives international support and congratulations

In the week following his victory, President-elect Mauricio Funes of the FMLN party received statements of congratulation and cooperation from heads-of-state and government officials from around the world.� On Wednesday, March 18, U.S. President Barack Obama called Funes to congratulate him and wish the president-elect success in his upcoming five-year administration, Funes said. U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton also personally telephoned Funes on Friday, March 20, to congratulate him and express her desire to work with his administration in the areas of security, poverty, energy, and trade.� Funes expressed his desire to meet with President Obama as soon as possible to �begin a bilateral work agenda.�� He will meet Obama for the first time at April�s Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.�

President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela also released a statement of congratulations and support for Funes on the evening he was elected.� �The undeniable and powerful victory of the brave journalist Mauricio Funes [�] consolidates the historical current that has been raised in this first decade of the 21st century in Latin America and the Carribean,� read the official statement. �Chavez congratulates President-elect Mauricio Funes, reiterating that the union of our people is the only road to overcome the crisis that has been unleashed from the heart of capitalism in the North.�

Funes was received in Sao Paolo, Brasil, by President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva on Friday, March 20. Lula expressed his commitment to Funes to increase the cooperation between the two countries and to finance social programs and infrastructure projects in El Salvador.� �To seal our alliance, President Lula invited me to be with him all day on Monday [March 23] in a tour of the Northeast of Brasil to learn, on-the-ground, one of his successful social projects,� Funes said.

International attention on the Salvadoran presidential election has been extremely high. Over 4,000 international observers were present in the country for the election, including missions from the Organization of American States (OAS) and the European Union (EU).� The FMLN victory marked the end to twenty years of rule by the far-right ARENA party and is the first time in El Salvador�s history that a leftist government will come to power.�

Salvadorans have received the international support and congratulations as positive signs for diplomatic relationships in the region, and hope that the statements given by the new U.S. administration immediately before and after Funes' election will signal the start of a new relationship based on respect for the will of the Salvadoran people.

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