Crime in El Salvador

LaFoca's picture

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 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.


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

your husband's father

You should learn to forgive. I am a feminist, who chose to raise my daughter on my own when her father cheated on me. You won't find anyone angrier than me about this culture in parts of the world, including among some in the U.S., that says men are macho if they father as many children as they can and just leave them, progressively impregnating younger and younger women. It's common all over the world.

I just returned from El Salvadro (mostly La Libertad and El Tunco) and met many children selling jewelery on the beach to tourists. Most of them are from poor nearby villages and have no fathers in the picture. It's so sad. They range in age from 5 to 20 and ply the beach all day in the hot sun. People warned me about them, saying they lie, are lazy and just want money. Most tourists treat them like unwelcome flies.

But I became friendly with them and found most of what they wanted was a bit of time and attention. The kids I met were wonderful and were so thankful if someone bought them a coke, some water or pizza, as I did. Many days, we just frolicked in the surf and they were so happy with that. I saw the waiters in the outdoor restaurants giving these children the plates after more wealthy local or foreign customers had eaten. One day, I saw two of the sweet children I had come to know -- 11 and 12 -- in a restaurant picking over a leftover chicken bone and a few french fries left from some customer. It broke my heart.

Yet my tour guide -- a Salvadoran who has a wife and 4 children -- told me had lived in the U.S. for three years and left because he couldn't find an American woman to have sex with. He said he'd leave again if he could find one, and spent most of the day hitting on me. The guy who ran the hotel I stayed at told me he has 7 children from three different women, the latest wife very young. "I guess I've become a typical Salvadoran," he said. It's so sad.

This is all just my way of telling you that I can't be angrier about this culture and these types of men and the people who accept what they do. Still, I think hate will just eat your husband alive. Like these children, he needs his father. Not for money or material things or not even, perhaps, for guidance at this late date, but because he has only one father. Forgiving him and forging a bond needn't imply that you or your husband accept or approve of what his father did. It simply says I know you are my father and you are important in my life. It says more about the two of you than it does about him. My mother disowned me when I was young because I had a daughter with a black man. Still, I cared for my mother in her old age when my 4 sisters wouldn't. Why? Because I wouldn't want to see any poor, fragile, helpless old woman stuck in a nursing home with no one to visit or protect her. That is the person I choose to be. Now that my mother is gone, I'm glad that I have the memory of sitting at her bedside reading to her from the bible rather than memories or hate and distance. I know who she was and learned a lot about my family and history by spending time with her. I also came to understand why she was ignorant enough to be a racist. I couldn't control the choices she made and she had to live with her choices and must answer for them. But I wouldn't let her control who I am and how I live my life -- as a loving and forgiving person. Your husband's father is who he is and neither of you have control over that, but you can choose to be loving and forgiving people. I don't think people should be suckers and let others take advantage of them again and again, but talking with his father won't mean he needs to be taken advantage of. Just forge the bond. It will be healing. Also, I think you likely don't know everything this father went through either. Sometimes, people do terrible things because the are desperate or because no one really gave them any values.


Anyone who denies the danger in El Salvador doesn´t live here

If you want the scoop on what is happening here, look at the newspapers. To live in denial is to harm yourself. This is my husband´s country and he would tell you the same thing. We own a home here and want to leave, that´s how bad it is here. The hospitals are publically funded but have run out of medication. You can´t get medical treatment in many cases for various disorders even if you pay...people die daily from respiratory illnesses, because the politicos own the buses and won´t replace them or fix the pollution they create.

The Sombra Negra is in operation and murdering people daily. There is no free speech here. You can be killed for talking about things. The post by Cathy Brown may be true for other countries, but not for El Salvador.

People will try to play up this region like it is Zen. It is if you are abundantly wealthy, but if you are an average person, this area is shit. I´ve lived in Germany, Jamaica, Argentina and Mexico and never felt the way I do here. Central America is not a place most Americans would appreciate. The cost of food is much higher than in the U.S., because it is packaged to exploit others. The mercados sell food that will rot if not used immediately. You can´t find many medications. The rains are another problem, as they destroy lives here.

Argentina and South America is a different story. Central America and South America are worlds apart in development. Anyone visiting the two would never compare them as one. Be very careful how you proceed, or you could be contacting the American Embassy for help to get home.

I have no problem with ex pats or moving abroad, but people need to be honest about locations and what life is like. If you are a stock broker with a vast fortune, any country is wonderful. If you are Joe Average citizen with minimal income, like disability, this place is not one you want to live in. Comparative lifestyles should include honesty about the reality for all people and their income levels.

The advice about learning the culture is good. But just learning a bit about a culture doesn´t bring you into it. Wise also to be flexible. But be REAL as well. Being poor in the U.S. is not that tough. Being poor in Central America? It´s the worst experience you´ll encounter. THINK before you bring your poor child here. And tell your husband to apply for asylum in another country if possible. I wish you the best. I understand your predicament. I feel your pain. But don´t make your life worse.

Don´t bring your child to El Salvador

The hospitals here are not set up to help you. The work your husband may find pays nothing and you willl be in a ridiculous situation. It is very dangerous in El Salvador now. Many politicos are making it that way. The death squads are back and you shouldn´t risk your son´s health. You would be destroying your son´s and your life. I live here and we are leaving soon.

Good luck!

Crime in El Salvador

It is now very dangerous even in Costa Rica, full of unemployed illegals from Nicaragua and South America, parts of SJ very dangerous day or night, as marginal areas (barrios marginales) in San Salvador, San Miguel, Apopa,Soya, Mejicanos, Zacamil, etc. Guatemala city (Guat city) and San Pedro Sula in Honduras even worse. If you are responsible, sober, don't take nor seek illegal drugs and willing to work awhile for low wages teaching English, you will be ok, in all Latin America you will need to make CONTACTS before your arrival please read this article, say it better than I do....
Not WHAT you know in Latin America, WHO you know!!!
Preparing to be an Expat
By Cathy Brown / Aug 10 • Categorized as Living Overseas • Download Print Friendly PDF
Where do you start?
You have decided to become an expat. Or, in some cases, someone else, like your employer or spouse, has decided that you should become an expat. In either case, congratulations! You are in for, at the worst, a great adventure in which you learn a lot of things about yourself and the world, and at the best, the most amazing time of your life. But once the decision has been made, now what? Where do you even begin to start with preparations for the big move abroad?
First Things First My advice from personal experience is to do nothing until you buy yourself a heavy duty pair of earplugs. Once you make the announcement about moving abroad, oh how the naysayers seem to come out of the woodwork. And funny they are always the ones who have never once traveled outside the country….But they will come like attack dogs, telling you how it is not the right time with the markets, the economy, international security, your kids, the kids you haven’t even had yet, (but whose lives you will somehow screw up by making this move abroad), blah blah blah.
Make Contacts in Your New Country Which brings us to the second thing that I would advise you to do – make some new friends. Quickly. Preferably in your new country or hometown. Get online, join chat groups, read expat blogs, search Twitter, Facebook, and Linked In, and do not be shy about introducing yourself and asking many questions. Expats, in general, stick together and love to help other expats. Plus it is a great feeling to get on a plane knowing that you at least have some contacts in your new place.
Find out the real scoop from people living there about the cost of living, things like safety, the job and housing market, schools, etc. Make sure that the people giving you the information have no vested interest other than helping another expat. I have seen too many people get told by the Realtor, who speaks English and who had an amazingly helpful website, that the prices he is quoting them are normal, going rate. But for example, the house that I rented in Patagonia for 800 pesos directly from the owner was at the same time listed with a Realtor in town for 2500 pesos a month. No one pays 2500 pesos in this particular town for anything, except naïve gringos who provide countless entertainment for the locals. So ask around to many people to try to get a feel for the real story of what you might be getting yourself into.
The Stuff, The Dreaded Stuff Then comes the reality of having to deal with your possessions at home. Do you sell, rent, give things away? The biggest factor to consider is if you are planning on returning, and if so, in how long. If you are moving abroad for work for a one year stint, then it probably makes sense to try to rent your house or line up a caretaker for that short time. If you foresee being gone for at least a few years, that’s a different story. From personal experience, I can tell you that no one in the world was as in love with their house as I was with the one I had in the US. I cried the day I found it because it was so perfect for me and it was the place I envisioned, at the time, raising my kids. It was one of the hardest things to walk away from when we moved. Now, only a year and a half later, I could care less. If I moved back to the US, I am such a different person through this expat experience, that I would never want to live in that house again. It is way too big, way too inefficient, way too expensive. Travel has changed me, and I am very happy to not have to be dealing with that house still. I can be completely here in Argentina, physically and mentally.
Cars? My opinion is to sell them at home and use the money to buy a new one abroad. You may even find that you do not even need a car, especially if you will be living in the city. The cost to ship a car is hefty, and in many cases you will have a hard time finding parts for your car if something happens to break on it abroad.
As for household stuff. Yuck. That huge house I had? Full of things. I was lucky enough to have parents who had some space in their pole barn, and we constructed a small area inside to hold just the super important basics in case of dire emergency that we needed to move back and set up house. All of which could totally catch on fire now and I wouldn’t even care, in fact I would probably smile and feel liberated. It’s laughable to me now the things that were so important to me just less than two years ago. The rest of our stuff I dealt with by having an estate sale, and set the money aside to buy things once I got to South America. It was a heck of a lot easier than shipping stuff, and I found that the things that I had in the US just wouldn’t fit my new lifestyle here anyways. Kids items got donated to a women’s shelter. Tools and house supplies got donated to Habitat for Humanity. Girlfriends got clothing. And I think I singlehandedly supported Goodwill’s inventory for the next year for them. What you will find in more cases than not living abroad is that your new home will probably be much smaller than what you may be used to, and your new place will fill up quickly.
One of the biggest changes for me moving abroad with packing things is that none of my clothes I brought ever seemed to be appropriate. I first lived in the middle of nowhere in Patagonia, in which case I lived in one old, baggy, torn pair of jeans, a wool sweater, and my hiking boots almost every day. For over a year I never touched anything else I brought. From there I moved to Mendoza province, where the ladies sport high heels and super tight (I’m talking SUPERTIGHT) jeans to go grocery shopping. So again, I still had a bunch of stuff that didn’t quite work with the vibe of the place. You are much better off packing some basics, and planning on picking up a few things in your new town that you will feel comfortable in.
Paperwork and Records The one thing that you cannot move without is all of your paperwork and records in order. It is also a good idea to leave copies of everything with a trusted friend or family member. Another tip is to make sure everything comes with as many stamps and official looking things on it as possible. So many times just showing a piece of paper to someone has been enough to get whatever I needed done, even though it was not applicable or had anything to do with what the person actually needed. If it looks fancy, even if they can’t read a word of it, it gets you far in certain circumstances.
Birth, marriage, and divorce certificates, originals and copies.
Passports and copies of photo page
School records and any transcripts or university degrees. Many elementary and secondary schools will require records from the kid’s old school.
Vaccination records. Check to make sure which new vaccinations you may need to enter your new country.
Medical and Pharmacy records (may be helpful to get them translated ahead of time, if your new country speaks a different language). I just got woken up one day last week with a phone call from the hospital, as my expat friend was having difficulties with some prescriptions and they were asking me to translate and fill in the gaps of his medical records. No thanks! I did not want to be responsible for translating something that important half asleep!
Insurance paperwork
Copies of wills
Police records. You may not think about this, but some countries ask for a police clearance before you can rent something.
You will also want to keep a notebook or list of all of your important phone numbers and addresses, such as for your bank, old neighbors, embassy, credit cards companies, etc. It will be so much easier to have these on hand then to try to dig them up when you really need them.
You will also want to make sure to have your mail forwarded or stopped. It is also a good idea to set up your bills so that you can pay everything online, or have things direct debited. Make sure if you plan to continue using your same bank, that you notify them that you will be abroad so they do not think that it is suspicious activity that your card is being used in a different country. Try to get as many copies of debit and credit cards that you can. ATM’s abroad are notorious for easting them up.
Getting the Kids Ready If you have kids, you should give them a chance to have some sort of going-away party. Share with the parents of their friends how to use skype, and help them fill up an address book with all of their friend’s information of how they can stay in touch. Set up some sort of pen pal program with their old school. Do a presentation at their old school about the culture in the new country. Make it so that others take a positive interest in your child’s move, and that your child feels proud of their new country.
You should also let your kids, no matter how young they may be, have a say in what they want to bring. Trust me, it can’t be worse than what I had to deal with. When we moved from Patagonia to 15 hours more north, I gave each of my kids one suitcase and one backpack. I explained that everything they wanted to bring had to fit in there, and everything else would be donated to neighbors or charities. My eight year old daughter informed me a short time later that she was ready. I looked at what she packed. The entire backpack and half of the suitcase was full with special rocks, sticks, and feathers from the area. The other half of the suitcase held three books, some markers, and her stuffed animal. No clothes whatsoever. She explained that she wanted to bring a little piece of this home with her to her new home. We compromised and I ended up personally carrying a 40 kilogram backpack full to the brim with rocks. But you know what? She is so proud of how she has decorated our new patio, and for each birthday party she goes to, the special person gets a Patagonian rock. These stupid rocks have made her more happy than any extra outfit ever would have. It was a small price to pay, and she knew that her needs were being considered.
Mental Preparation Try to learn as much about your new culture, and as much of the local language that you can before you go. And after you do that, drop any and all preconceptions that you may have about what the move will be like. It may be better than what you thought, it may be disastrous, but chances are you will never be able to visualize or plan out every detail flawlessly. That is part of the why moving abroad is such a great opportunity. It demands that stay open and flexible, as you will be encountering and maneuvering your way through new issues every day, things that you could never have foreseen or planned for. If you can remember that these moments are opportunities and all part of the grand adventure, you will be just fine! Good luck and enjoy!!
About the author: Cathy Brown is a mother, writer, artist, teacher, traveller and explorer originally from Michigan. She has a serious case of wanderlust and currently lives in Argentina with her three amazing children, ages nine, seven, and five. She writes for and maintains Expat Daily News – South America and Expat Daily News – Central America

If you need some advice I

If you need some advice I have a US Citizen Ex Pat in El Salvador friend who has a USA number to leave him a message on, he has magicjack and is able to return your call at no cost if you have either a US or Canadian land line or cel number. This friend of mine lives here with his novia and her daughter in a Salvadoran gated community in a very nice small town (Nejapa, Apopa) only 22 km. (13 miles) from San Salvador, direct bus service to S.S. every 15 minutes or so during the day, they reside in small house within the gated community, rent $100 Month + utilities, about $35/45 month with Internet connection. If you have regular SSDI (NOT SSI)
You will need to register at US Embassy after arrival at the US Citizen Services, see one of the Federal Benefits officer, they are bi lingual Salvadoran citizens and helpful. in order to receive your payments direct deposit deposited 3rd of month from a Salvadoran bank., remember if you change your address and country and do not report to SSA they may suspend your payments and can take months to be reinstated. If you have a Rep Payee in US, you will need a Rep Payee here, can be a responsible Salvadoran citizen, employed, no criminal record. You can try and get work as an English teacher at one of many English language academies in S.S. the pay is low $5 a class hour, long staggered hours, no benefits, if your husband speaks 80% or plus English and has good basic computer skills, as Salvadoran citizen he can apply to work in a Call Center as long as he has no criminal record in El Salvador (antecendentes penales). Entonces, then call "Russ" (408)256-8963 USA leave message, Tell him his friend in El Salvador with the same birthday referred u. he will call you back when he has time on magicjack. Good luck.
PS The ISSS Salvadoran social Security has free hospitals for Salvadorans but many people have to send their loved ones to private hospitals here for certain operations, expensive, some meds, imported are expensive, suggest if you live near Canada get a US scrip and buy some meds there before departure



Update on crime

The police have been vigilant about cleaning up the mess of the maras in El Salvador, lately, arresting groups of gang members in one sweep quite often. There have been many arrests, but what I'm seeing is that when people are murdered by maras, it appears only days later the suspects are picked up and arrested. They seem to target right in.

Still, in a country where they recruit at the schools and by force, there are always replacements and since they target very young kids because they don't get sentenced as tough, this is an uphill battle.

There is a new program asking people to report any crimes they see and retain anonymity. I think this could be effective, because already people are reporting extortion and seeing arrests. I'm thinking that with the monitoring of cell phone calls, people turning in crimes, and the combination of long sentences (from 20 to 95 years ) this could clean up the problem. But it will take a long time.

The problem, I'm learning is that it is not only the maras practicing extortion. There are bands of extortionists who also try to bilk the vendors and working people out of their money. But extortion is high on the police list here of who to arrest. And unlike Mexico, it appears the police here are mostly honest and dedicated people who do their jobs as defined, instead of getting paid off by criminals. That is reassuring, because in Mexico half of the police were paid for by the drug cartels.

There are many private neighborhoods sprouting up with high security protecting the entrances now in El Salvador, because of the problem with crime. Communities like River Gardens seem to focus on the fact they offer strong security when they market their homes and this seems to be the trend. I'm told to shop at the Mercado in San Salvador, I shouldn't even wear costume jewelry or any clothing that demonstrates a lot about being from the states. Nothing that draws attention, because these are the signals the criminals look for. I'm also told that the baggy clothing and baseball caps that many Americans wear is probably not wise. I have some brass bangle bracelets that aren't worth much so I was wearing them. I was told not to do this in certain places because they might be confused for 10 karat gold and I could be robbed. I've learned that about the only place I can wear any jewelry such as my diamond pendent and gold chain is at the malls or where there is high security, otherwise they will rip it off my neck.

For the most part, El Salvador is safe as long as you use your head. I'm told to stay away from places like Soyapango and I'm told that many of the maras concentrate on beach areas where surfers hang out, because of their tendency to smoke pot. The maras sell drugs in these areas, and since police presence is minimal in many beach towns, it is ripe for potential problems unless you stay near a resort where security is high. Still, if you go to places like El Tunco, it's very unlikely you will be affected by any of this, unless you are seeking drugs or acting like you have no sense..

For was a matter of blocks

But I've learned that blocks here can make a difference. Here's an update to my crime report. The woman we are renting from is a nice elderly lady that looks about 40, but she's nearly 70. She was recently walking in downtown San Salvador and was robbed for the first time in her life. She has told us never to wear jewelry at any hour...which I already knew. Costume jewelry is your best bet there anywhere, unless you are attending a function with high security and will not be in public.

In El Salavador, they grab the children as young as 11. These are prime candidates becausse the prisoners who run the maras know that these kids can get away with much more because of their youth, even when caught. The gang members can age out of gangs, but they will always be held on call if needed. What this means is that a gang member who is aging out of the life...say at 30 or so, will not be asked to attend meetings for the most part, will not be asked to participate in crimes, and they will not be murdered for being absent from such things. On the other hand, they may be victimized because they are considered old news to the younger kids. The kids doing the killings are in their teens mostly.

The decision to choose is mostly based upon your economic situation. Many of the maras are kids from fatherless families, the kids whose fathers may even be considered "decent" even when they bounce from woman to woman, cheating on all of them. That is the hypocrisy to my husband and I. We wonder how such men function as "decent" men when in this day and age, they run from their responsibilities of raising their seed. So you may see an upstanding in a place like San Miguel, or in Santa Elena, or even Colonia Escalon with a good family, but he has fathered offspring in one of the colonias, left them to fend for themselves, and done so with a woman too young to make rationale judgements. She is left with child and raises the child in abject poverty. The sons may join gangs because they realize they are shunned by their father, and knowing their step brothers are living a life of private schools and soccer practice. To me, that must be a tough thing to deal with in the mind of a child. So you create the monsters that later murder people without any guilt. They simply no longer care about society, because their community hasn't cared about them when they were good kids. That's how you nurture gang membership, and I find that both disgusting, wasteful and sad, because it is directly related to the laziness and selfishness of the sperm donor.

My husband's father was a man such as this. He now tries to demand respect from us and we have no respect for him. He was a miserable soul who flitted from woman to woman and is now lonely. He is angry that his son wants no part of him, because his son seeks decency in his life. We have nothing to do with this man, and yes...he is very wealthy. He was shocked to learn we were doing very well without him and beyond him, unlike his other children. And the hilarious thing is that of all the kids, my husband is the spitting image of him. But his is a cancer that runs through Central America.

how far?

How far away were the recent murders?  You say near, but that can be relative.

I'm wondering, at what age do people in El Salvador have to choose between a life of crime and an honest life, and what is that decision like?

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.