My HeyDay

Sometimes I think it is my mission to bring faith to the faithless, and doubt to the faithful


Death in San Salvador

I have been quite naïve so far. Nice streets, warm people and this apparent medium-high level of development were hiding the truth. But the reality is crystal clear: El Salvador is, after Irak, the most dangerous place on Earth (Honduras ranks fourth). As it is the case of DC, in El Salvador weapons are widespread: almost 10% of the population -basically men- carry guns in the streets. No wonder why many restaurants and shops display a door sticker of "Guns forbidden here" next to the one about dogs.



Latino gangs come to the mind of many people when imagining Central American crime. The "mara Salvatrucha" or the 18th street one are internationally famous. I was watching yesterday a documentary on Salvadorian maras (gangs), which apparently became more invisible after the surge in governmental repression since 2003. But also because of that, now they are stronger and the way they operate is pretty similar to the Sicilian mafias: they impose a code of fear and trust in the neighborhoods, a parallel tax system, and a code of honor and retaliation in the areas they control. Gambetta was very good explaining the mindset behind the omertà. But the maras can't be behind the astronomical crime rates and assassinations: their business is to protect, not to assassinate.

"But it's the structural violence in the Salvadorian society the main reason for such a rampant crime", África said to me today. She is responsible for governance and gender at the Spanish Embassy and I just had a meeting with her about our development project. After arguing that usually she is anything but paranoid about crime, she begged me to double my caution, and shared her personal number just in case anything would happen. She also suggested that it would be a good idea to leave the country before election day. "Do you guys expect trouble?", and the answer was more than positive, due to the political tensions going on and how close is the race. Claims of fraud are expected for sure, and political violence can happen during or before election day. In the way back to my guesthouse, I asked my cabdriver if he had experience crime recently. "Look at these red signs in my hands: they tied me hard two months ago". Apparently, he picked up some guys in the bus station, just arriving from Guatemala, and they pointed to his head with a gun and stole his car. He was just lucky to survive, because many others don't.

In a highly cited paper, Morgan Kelly found that violent crime is strongly correlated to inequality, adding more empirical evidence to the social disorganization theories: crime is going to rise in parallel to inequality. And here I am, in one of the most unequal countries in the world, after 22 years rule of the conservative ARENA party (and a previous dictatorship) and two decades of Maquila economy. Data like the one I show below should help us to understand why Salvadorans are living in such a violent world:


Today I also started reading "Guazapa: Testimonio de un médico norteamericano" by Charles Clements. It's the account of a young Californian M.D. in 1980, who after having exposure in San Jose to victims of tortures in El Salvador, decides to get involved and find his way to help civilians suffering the violence of the civil war... in the guerrilla side. After two chapters, I was totally moved by the descriptions of the suffering, surgery with swiss knifes and dental floss, violence and human misery. And this kind of experiences, like that of Dr. Clements, engender a strong, [com]passionate character.

Character, like a photograph, develops better in darkness.

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13 Responses to “Death in San Salvador”

  1. # Anonymous Anonymous

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