Latin America & Caribbean

Óscar Martínez drowning: El Salvador takes blame

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Media captionEl Salvador's President Bukele: "It is our fault"

El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele has said his country is to blame for the death of a father and daughter who drowned while trying to reach the US.

Mr Bukele told the BBC his government had to fix the issues that forced people to migrate in the first place.

Mr Bukele, who took office a month ago, promised he would work to make El Salvador a safer and better place.

The bodies of Óscar Martínez and his daughter Valeria, who drowned in June, were buried in El Salvador on Monday.

About 200 relatives and friends attended the private funeral in the capital, San Salvador.

A photograph of them lying face down in the water of the Rio Grande shocked the world and reignited the debate about illegal immigration and US President Donald Trump's hardline policies.

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Media captionRio Grande drowning: "I knew it was the last time I would see my son"

President Bukele said the father and his 23-month-old daughter had been fleeing El Salvador, not the United States.

"People don't flee their homes because they want to, people flee their homes because they feel they have to," he told the BBC in the capital, San Salvador.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A vigil for the drowned father and daughter was held in Brownsville, Texas

"Why? Because they don't have a job, because they are being threatened by gangs, because they don't have basic things like water, education, health.

"We can blame any other country but what about our blame? What country did they flee? Did they flee the United States? They fled El Salvador, they fled our country. It is our fault."

Key facts on migration from El Salvador:

  • In 2016, 1 in 10 Salvadoreans had no access to drinking water or sanitation service, according to the UN
  • Almost one-third of the country lives below the national poverty line
  • In 2015, El Salvador had the highest murder rate in the world but the latest official data indicates that the rate has been falling since then
  • The number of Salvadoreans apprehended at the US border has increased significantly in recent months. In the fiscal year to October 2018 the figure was 31,369. Since then, it has nearly doubled.

Salvadoreans apprehended at the Southwest US border

Source: US customs and border patrol

He went on to say that he did condemn the treatment of migrants in the US and in Mexico, but reiterated that El Salvador had to "focus on making our country better, making our country a place where nobody has to migrate."

"I think migration is a right, but it should be an option, not an obligation. And right now it's an obligation for a lot of people."

Many of the migrants trying to enter the US say they are fleeing violence and poverty in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, and plan to seek asylum in the US.

Critics of Mr Trump's tougher stance on immigration say his approach is driving migrants to take more dangerous routes.

At least 283 migrants died on the US-Mexico border in 2018, according to US Border Patrol, but human rights activists say the number is likely to be higher.

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