“The question is more fundamental: What does our existence say about the government and the services it fails to provide? We exist because there is nothing else.”Azam Ahmed has a report entitled ‘They Will Have to Answer to Us’ for the New York Times that provides an overview of gang politics in El Salvador. There's too much narrative and not enough evidence and analysis in the piece for my taste but it is still worth the read.
The article is told mostly through the eyes of Santiago, a 33-year-old member of the 18th Street Sureños (Southerners). Santiago has been around for awhile. He spoke with Danny Gold for Vice in 2016. He spoke with Anastasia Moloney for Reuters in 2015. Here he is with PBS in 2014.
Santiago often performed the role of human rights lawyer for his gang and had been a member of the gangs' political commission. At this point, he seems to be disenchanted with everyone in El Salvador - the government, the gangs, the police. He's now left the country.
If we think that the elections in Honduras are a mess, Santiago gives us something to look forward to in El Salvador. With municipal and legislative elections scheduled for 2018 and presidential elections for 2019, Santigato says that his gang will no longer support the FMLN.
Well before the trial, Santiago wrote a manifesto for the gangs. For the first time in decades, they would not support the F.M.L.N. at the polls. They would instead use their political might to swing the elections away from them, whether to the right-wing party or, potentially, third-party candidates. The quid pro quo had always been support — in return for money — for the F.M.L.N. But President Sánchez Cerén of the F.M.L.N. had broken its longstanding relationship with the gangs by waging war against them. So the gangs would respond by wielding their 10 percent of the vote to punish them in the Legislature. The approaches from political parties had already started: politicians seeking access, favors, votes ahead of next year’s election. “We are the pretty girl that everyone wants to dance with right now,” Santiago told me.I wanted some follow up on how the gangs had supported the FMLN for "decades." Given that gangs negotiated with both the FMLN and ARENA in 2014, it doesn't sound like their agreement had been that sincere. Why should we believe that the gangs control (only) ten percent of the vote? Since the release of video recording related to the 2014 negotiations between the major political parties and the gangs, have representatives from political parties continued to negotiate with the gangs?
Santiago left the country months ago and said that he has no plans to return to El Salvador for at least a year or so. How much should we weigh about his opinions about the upcoming elections?