Crime in El Salvador
I promised an honest account of El Salvador, so it would be dishonest not to include the crime. This is what I've learned...
Since I've been here, several people have been murdered around where we live...more in the commercial areas and near the schools. On the day I arrived, a boy from one of the schools was murdered by a rival school mate. Since then, there have been several students who have disappeared and the news has asked in a poll if the people of El Salvador blame it on gangs...even though the student's death was not gang affiliated. Two thirds seemed to feel gangs were involved. So there is a tendency to blame every crime on gangs, instead of addressing the actual problem. That is not good, of course, because each crime should be addressed for the problem.
Two murders have happened near where we live. One was a street vendor, extorted for money. Another was a man who was involved with one of the gangs. I also heard that recently a man who was molesting his own daughter and impregnated her has been arrested and put in prison, so El Salvador takes pedophilia very seriously...which is probably why most of them move to Nicaragua.
The gangs here are organized and have informants who are paid to report to shot callers. They can look tattooed, or they can look like the everyday man, so you never know who is in a gang. Most of them have a rough, campesino look though. You can sort of pick those out, because they stare at you with an intense look that lets you know who they are. I've passed a few and that is about all they do. Since I have nothing to do with gangs, I'm safe though. They mostly use extortion these days, or robberies for people not involved in gangs; or they murder other gang members. And they are very dangerous. I'm told there are places like Soyapango that you just don't go to, because they pretty well own the city and it is dangerous.
Mostly what you deal with here are the thieves. The smart people don't drive with windows down, because that guy that washes your windows may reach in quickly and put a knife to your neck and demand money. Recently, an old woman in a Ford Escape who had her window slightly down was grabbed this way, but she had pepper spray and sprayed him and drove off. He was arrested, taken to the hospital and put in jail.
The usual rule here applies...don't walk out after 9 p.m. If you go anywhere, drive straight to your destination after dark.
There is talk about bringing back the death squads but Funes is against it. I'm told that when the death squads were rampant, there were no gang extortions, because they rounded them all up and imprisoned them. You just didn't see them in the streets. President Funes has brought the FBI here to deal with this problem. What he is not doing, that was done under Saca is to round up the people who force young kids into gangs and give them ten years. Also, a bill that increased the term for youth under a certain age that commits violent crimes like murder from 7 years to 10 years was not passed.
I've been told that it is safer sometimes inside the city of San Salvador than in the outlying areas, because of the huge police presence. You do see armed guards everywhere, with what looks like AK47s. At the mall, they are all around the perimeter. On every block you see armed guards protecting properties. I'm told these guys make an average of $200 a month. When you pass them they are friendly. I walk my dog every day past many of them along with my husband and they are polite, laughing at the dog, and always greet us, which seems odd in some sense, because most guards in the states are distant and removed.
The news is filled with nightly accounts of gang violence here, so as lovely as El Salvador is, it is also a place where death waits around many corners. I have yet to see a tattooed face in the streets, like you see in the states. The images of tattooed gang members we all see in relation to this place appears not to exist where I've been so far. But I've been in a protected area, so that may be the case.
There is a strong movement to bring the murderers of Monsignor Romero http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%93scar_Romero to justice, but it is said that it will probably never happen, because so many upstanding members of the ARENA party, justices, top politicians and such would be implicated and it could create a civil war. Salvadorans have enjoyed some form of peace since the last civil wars, so as much as many want this, some do not as well, because of the violence it would generate. I'm fascinated by the attitude wealthy Salvadorans have over gang members when they admire the same type of mentality in those who murdered this man.
There is a paradox here, in my opinion. A man can be decent and cheat on his wife with all types of women, create bastard children with women under 18, and still walk with respect. But if the bastard son of this man becomes a common thug and gang member because he has lacked the mentorship of a decent father, he is a pariah. It seems hypocritical to me, as the father of this child should also be brought to justice for creating he bastard child and not supporting his offspring enough so that the child has guidance. It seems to me if these men were held to the same standard, there would be less crime.
So far, this is all I've learned. I will add more as I learn about it.