Last week, the Salvadoran defense minister, David Munguía Payés, told the press that there were somewhere between five and six hundred thousand people involved with gangs. Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 are the two most powerful organizations, but there are many others. If that figure is to be believed, that’s about ten per cent of the country’s population dedicated to drug dealing, extortion, and mayhem—so what do you do?
Again and again, I heard the same solution being offered, sometimes blithely, sometimes through jaws clenched in rage: kill them all. Kill their girlfriends and their families. Kill their children. One man apologized as he proposed this solution—he found it unseemly to be advocating genocide—but most did not.
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.”I'd add what looks like security force executions of young boys down by the river to recent atrocities. The sentiments expressed by Salvadorans in Alarcon's piece are similar to what I wrote about in Where to be young is a crime and I can't tell who's killing whom.
I sure hope that the El Faro staff is not targeted in response to their investigation into police killings. While there has been pressure against journalists in El Salvador, I hope that the country doesn't go the way of Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.