El Salvador: Rise Of Gang Warfare And The Mexican Border Effect
The Americas have historically been faced with war. From violent regime takeovers and citizen rebellions broadcasted throughout the world, to lesser known Black Ops missions sponsored by outside interests to ensure transitions of power, the western hemisphere has become all too familiar with elevated circumstances that lead to armed conflict.
At the end of the 1970s a rising tide of enmity among the peasantry in neighboring Nicaragua, coupled with a Cold War proxy struggle for power between The Soviet Union and The United States to assume political influence in the country, led to full-scale destabilization of the region as it collapsed into The Nicaraguan Revolution. The U.S supported seated dictator Anastasio Somoza, and the Soviets backed Sandinista left-wing opposition leader Daniel Ortega, who ultimately overthrew Somoza in a bloody revolution that claimed tens of thousands of lives, only to be further contested for a decade more by U.S assisted Contra forces – an armed conflict that in totality ran from 1978-1989, leading to over 40,000 deaths.
During this time, El Salvador reflected much of the same. The nation was in the throes of civil war itself; insurrection that ignited in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of Bishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero by a government financed death squad. Bishop Romero was outspoken against the El Salvadoran government’s murderous treatment of peasants and workers for protesting substandard living conditions. Conditions that were the result of a handful of elite coffee plantation families that controlled the wealth of over ninety percent of the country’s economy, and used it to continually gain increased influence in politics and military sway for more than a century.
Coffee production was the primary industry and national export at the time, inferior wages reflected the growing disparity between rich and poor, reaching many tipping points throughout the 20th century, and finally culminating into coup d’etat.
In 1980 the El Salvadoran government promised citizens that it would begin the reconstruction process to provide better living conditions, when that promise wasn’t kept, along with the subsequent murder of Bishop Romero, the country erupted into civil war between loyal government forces and FLMN (Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front) - spurred on and sustained to large degree by revolutionary support and ideals that made its way across Honduras to El Salvador from Nicaragua, Venezuela, Panama, Cuba, and the USSR.
The war would ravage the nation from 1980 – 1992, with the U.S providing weapons, aircraft firepower, and tactical support to the El Salvadoran government, while simultaneously remaining fully engaged in counter-revolutionary efforts in Nicaragua.
The sum total of El Salvadoran deaths by UN records reports 75,000 dead, and thousands more displaced at the end of the war, with staggering numbers of civilian casualties brought on by both the government and the guerrillas.
Thousands of those that were displaced were granted asylum in The United States, most of which began new lives in Los Angeles, California - a dream come true that would soon become a nightmare.
El Salvadorans in Los Angeles barrios (neighborhoods) were immediately faced with significant levels of disdain, xenophobia, and physical attacks by established L.A gangs. In the beginning they would fight back in small isolated incidents, but lack of community support and fear of deportation would often leave them feeling helpless. Over time however, they would eventually band together and unite troubled young El Salvadorans in Los Angeles to form two of the most notorious international gangs the world would ever come to know.
MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha), and Mara 18, also known as Barrio 18.
These two formidable gangs wreaked havoc across L.A and would eventually both set their sights on international organized crime.
As a result, U.S Immigration initiated measures in 1996 to crack down on the two organizations in a sweeping campaign of mass deportations back to El Salvador, a thing of which El Salvador was not ready to endure.
With the combination of deportees forced back to the capital city of San Salvador all hailing pronounced face tattoos of gang ink that left them virtually unemployable, the official end of the civil war just a few years earlier that left a gaping power vacuum of its national and city level security personnel, and an economy in shambles, the nation was a perfect storm for gangland takeover that would usher in a new unique brand of violence against the citizens of El Salvador.
This new form of neighborhood oppression across the country has marred a renewed sense of pain and agony among a people that had previously never had time to recover from over a century of outcry, war and unrest - violence that today the El Salvadoran government does very little to counteract aside from occasional televised sweeps of suspected gang affiliates to show the world that they are utilizing the millions of dollars in humanitarian aid that pour into the country each year - aid that is ideally slated to be earmarked for response measures to repel gang activity. These monies however largely go unnoticed when repurposed to support other agendas.
Citizens fearing for their safety in neighborhoods throughout the country are then left to make the very difficult decision to risk everything and migrate thousands of kilometers with their families through extreme elements, praying to reach our southern border, free of harm from predators we can only begin to imagine, that we may take them in and help them find a way to a life of greater peace, understanding, and contribution to an accepting society of those whose forebears were once seeking the very same existence for themselves.
Freelance travel-writer, musician, photographer, philanthropist..