By K. Mennem for MennemFoto.com March 25, 2015
El Salvador has experienced high homicide rates for many years, due to a large number of reasons. Currently street gangs take the majority of the blame, despite high numbers of domestic homicides and political disputes that end in bloodshed. Last year El Salvador became the 2nd most dangerous nation in the world, with 66 out of every 100,000 citizens murdered.
A few years back in 2012, there seemed to be a break in homicide numbers. A 40% drop was seen largely due to a gang truce between the Barrio 18 gang and the Mara Salvatrucha 13 (MS-13). By 2014, the truce had disintegrated and the number of homicides in the nation rose from 2,490 to 3,875 over a year’s time.
The capital city, San Salvador, rose on the Citizen Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice’s list of most dangerous cities in the world from 27 in 2013 to 13 in 2014.
Gangs typically take the blame, as their outlandish homicide tactics and domestic terrorism acts grab headlines daily. Street gangs in the nation are fueled by international cocaine traffickers, who use the nation as a transit point from South America towards the United States. Gangs may be in charge of being transporters (known as transportistas), in charge of guarding loads, or simply given the right to deal a portion of the goods around the capital.
Poverty levels and a large number of deported criminals from the United States fuel gang membership across the nation. The average Salvadorian makes only $3,720 a year and a large numbers of criminals have been deported back to the nation for decades. When returning home, deported criminals typically join a local set when they are unable to find work. Scores of youth that have lived their whole lives in the nation decide to join gangs instead of struggling to find work.
During my visit to San Salvador in December, it was clear the city was not a comfortable place to travel. The first thing I saw turning into the city from the airport was a group of police putting on face-masks and loading their automatic weapons as their trucks sped off. The police looked to be more on a kill mission than a rescue mission.
Traveling into the city almost everything is a god damned graffiti wall. Every building is covered in writing, most of it hard to decipher. Taxi drivers huff glue as they drive you around, mumbling meaningless shit to themselves. Homeless citizens wonder the town squares aimlessly. It is hard to tell if they are looking to score a buck or planning a rape.
At night the majority of the city becomes a ghost town. All businesses shut down by dark. The ones that do stay open have caged doors which customers ring a bell and hope to get service.
Gunshots and sirens ripping through the air at night made me quickly forget about the lack of hot water and sporadic electricity that was often off.
I decided to have eight or nine Pilsener’s (the national beer) and took off to the safe zone mall to get dinner because none of the local restaurants would open for a stranger. The hotel staff called me a private car because they said the taxis were not safe. I guess I should have taken that hint the first time my taxi driver earlier that day shoved a glue stick up his fucking nose.
My driver sped down dark streets of the city center in which my hotel was located, as all the street lights were off because of a lack of electricity. As I exited the car he pulled a business card from below his pistol holster and made me assure him that I would not take a normal taxi back to my hotel.
San Salvador has nice neighborhoods, nice malls, and even a TGI Friday’s in which I watched Oklahoma State beat OU. Not the entire city is destitute, but a large percentage of the population is struggling with life on a daily basis. The people in general are amazing, as well as the beauty of the land. But the daily threat of death is constant.
In February, the country was witnessing 14 homicides a day, a massive number for a nation of 6.1 million. In 2014 the average was 11 homicides per day.
According to Insight Crime, some of the recent horrific murders included:
-Four young men, between the ages of 17 to 27, found tied up and covered in machete wounds in the Cuscatlan department.
-An attack against a family that left one person dead and two injured, including a 3-year-old girl, in San Salvador.
-A 28-year-old shot while working at a carwash.
-The killing of a former gang member turned evangelical pastor.
No real tactic is in order to immediately reduce the violence. The government rotates plans that aim to drop violence, but nothing has shown long term progress. During my stay the residents I spoke with seemed hopeless for results. They had as much trust for the government as they did in the gang bangers down the street. Some just hoped to save some money up to give their families if they were killed. Others merely spoke of finding a way to the United States to avoid this plague all together.