On Sunday, I got to go to a place outside of San Salvador called Soyapango which is known for being one of the more violent parts of town. I went with one of my co-workers so, I felt like I would be ok. It took us three buses to get there and it was a weekend so, it didn’t take us that long. There are many people who have to commute into San Salvador on a daily basis spending hours on crammed public transportation.
Even though sometimes it seems unbelievable, El Salvador is considered one of the most violent countries in Latin America. The other day I heard someone say, “El Salvador is more violent today than it was during the war.” That might be surprising to some but, in terms of relative or general violence it is probably true.
During the war, most of the violence was found outside of the urban areas. The guerrilla had its support in rural regions and lived in the mountains and therefore, most of the conflict was outside of the city. This meant that in the city it was relatively safe. Another person told me that during the war most people from the city did not realize the extent of the conflict in the rural regions because the media was somewhat censored. “People outside of the country knew more than we did.”
During the war, thousands of Salvadorans left the country and settled all over the United States. Many of these settled in places like Los Angeles and many of the young men became a part of the gang culture there. Salvadorans are credited with starting the biggest and most violent gang or “mara” in the world called the Mara Salvatrucha.
The war in El Salvador was brought to an end with the signing of the Peace Accords in 1992, starting along process of reconstruction and transitioning into democracy. After this, thousands and thousands of Salvadorans returned to El Salvador to become part of the reconstruction of the country, or because their amnesty visas ended or they were deported. After the war there remained a culture of easy access to guns and there continues to be a flexible and abundant gun traffic here.
In 2002, the issue of safety came onto the forefront of the public debate. Around this time, fighting the Maras became one of the government’s main tasks. In 2003, during the government of Fransisco Flores the ‘Plan Mano Dura’ (the Hard Hand) was passed which used military like force to fight the gangs. It temporarily removed the maras from the streets but, caused them to become more organized and more dangerous afterwords.
When Antonio Saca became the president the following year, he passed the “Plan Super Mano Dura” with the idea of using a zero-tolerance rule against anyone suspected of being in a mara. Most experts agree that the plans weren’t successful. On Tuesday, October 14 the US pledged to give El Salvador $2.6 million to help fight the Maras. It is strange how much money the US has invested in El Salvador involving the issue of armed violence dating back from the war until now with the issue of the Maras.
Some people attribute most of the violence in the country to Maras and there is a lot of organized crime committed by the Maras but, even so there is still a huge amount of violence that is hidden in the home and behind traditional family structures and should not be ignored in light of the obviously huge problem of Maras in El Salvador.
Posted By Hannah McKeeth
Posted Oct 21st, 2008