1 year, 8 months ago
Earlier this year, the International Business Times ran this bewildering headline: “El Salvador to Become Deadliest Peace-Time Country in the World.” It’s an odd turn of phrase; something about it doesn’t quite scan. Perhaps, given the context of life in El Salvador, it’s best to reëxamine what we mean when we say “peacetime.” Consider this: since the collapse, early last year, of the truce between local gangs and the government, the murder rate has risen by a staggering fifty-two per cent. Or this: El Salvador, with a population of a little over 6.3 million, registered more than six hundred murders in May, the most since the end of the civil war. (For comparison: despite its reputation for violence, Chicago, with a little under half the population of El Salvador, had forty-eight murders that same month.) Or this: more than thirty-five police officers have been killed so far in 2015. Everyone has been touched, directly or indirectly, by the chaos, and Salvadorans of every social class have learned to cope with the constant sense of insecurity. One friend likened returning home from abroad to being splashed with boiling water—and he wasn’t referring to the heat. If this is peacetime, one shudders to think what a war would look like.
I was in San Salvador two weeks ago, when El Faro, a local online newspaper, published an explosive investigation into a killing at a farm just a few hours from the capital. The article was entitled “Police Massacre in San Blas,” and it re-creates, through eyewitness testimony, the examination of forensic and ballistic reports, and private social-media postings by police who were present, the events of March 26th of this year, when eight alleged members of the gang Mara Salvatrucha were killed at a coffee plantation.
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I met with one of the authors of the story, Óscar Martínez, the night before it went live on the Web site. Óscar is best known in the United States for “The Beast,” his 2013 chronicle of life on the harrowing migrant trail through Mexico. He’s always a bit manic, but that night, Óscar seemed unusually jittery, even anxious. He and his co-authors were all preparing to leave the country the following morning, for their own safety. This extraordinary measure says a lot about the kind of backlash that El Faro was expecting. As the violence has increased, the debate about what exactly should be done about it has become even more poisonous. Thus far, President Salvador Sánchez Cerén’s populist response has been to disown the truce that held for the better part of two years, and instead confront the gangs directly. No politician wants to be seen as soft on the gangs, which are rightly seen as a scourge. The public, for the most part, supports this strategy. For El Faro to criticize the police is to risk being seen as defenders of the gangs that everyone despises. Óscar had already received death threats for an earlier story about police misconduct.
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One young woman, soft-spoken, exceedingly polite, detailed her life in a gang-ridden neighborhood on the outskirts of the capital. It was one terrifying encounter after another, each delivering the same dispiriting lesson: she was helpless in the face of the gangs and their malevolent power. She had done everything she could to avoid them, and still they found ways to control her life. Her father was forced to pay extortion money to one of the gangs—she wouldn’t say which one. By the end of our conversation, she was almost weeping with fury. “I’m a Christian,” she told me, “but those people aren’t my brothers. I would burn them all.”
Fill in the blanks and read the rest at The New Yorker. Caught between brutal gangs and just as brutal police. And coming to a neighborhood near you, through open borders courtesy of the Democrats and the GOP. But hey. All of that cheap labor is the bomb.
I wouldn’t worry about purchasing guns and ammunition. The police will serve and protect you.