President Obama vowed closer cooperation Tuesday with the Central American nations where U.S. policies on crime, immigration and other issues have outsize influence on populations that depend heavily on their giant neighbor to the north and, in turn, affect U.S. society.
Speaking in this capital city, Obama promised work on increasing trade and economic growth, fighting drug trafficking and creating opportunities so people can prosper in their home countries and "don't feel like they have to head north to provide for their families."
"The United States will do our part" in combating the increasing scourge of drug trafficking, the president said, standing next to El Salvador's president, Mauricio Funes, who welcomed Obama's attention to the oft-overlooked region.
Obama announced a $200 million partnership with El Salvador to combat drug-related violence that has led to a spike in murders here and in nearby countries.
El Salvador was final stop on Obama's three-country Latin American tour and the only one in Central America.
His five-day visit to Latin America has been overshadowed from the start by the war he's running in faraway Libya, and just before the news conference started, the White House said Obama would be cutting his visit short to return to the United States today.
Among the issues he and Funes addressed was the rising crime south of the U.S. border. El Salvador has seen murder rates rise amid an influx of drugs and displaced traffickers from crackdowns in Colombia and Mexico. Obama said a new partnership to combat narcotics trafficking could focus on strengthening courts and civil society groups in order to keep young people from turning to drugs and crime.
After the meeting and appearance with Funes, Obama traveled alone to visit the tomb of slain Catholic Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero at San Salvador's Metropolitan Cathedral. Romero spoke out against repression by the U.S.-backed Salvadoran army during El Salvador's 12-year civil war and was gunned down March 24, 1980, as he celebrated Mass in a hospital chapel. Rights activists and others were welcoming Obama's decision to visit the tomb as a gesture of recognition of Romero's cause.
Obama toured the national cathedral with Monsignor Jose Luis Escobar Alas, the current archbishop, and paid respects to a man ordered killed 31 years ago by an official in El Salvador's U.S.-backed army.
Romero, now on a path to potential sainthood in the Vatican, spoke out against repression by the Salvadoran army during the 12-year civil war that killed at least 75,000 people.
He was fatally shot in the heart March 24, 1980, as he offered Mass in a hospital chapel.