“You just didn’t want to believe it,” Riofrio said. “We’ve gotten used to living in a certain way. We know that there’s been 14 murders. But we rationalized that it’s them killing their own people. They are not killing the good people.” -- Yesemia Amaro, Fresno Bee, Oct. 19, 2018
There is no "truth" about the migrants streaming through Mexico from the northern triangle of Central America to the US border. There are a numerous truths and layers of truths and complex truths, probably too difficult for us to grasp, no matter the danger. And what appears to be so far away may be quite close by. But one thing is true: this migration cannot be reduced to immoral racial slogans for the purposes of electioneering.
Below are several lengthy, excellent news stories full of enough facts to make readers uncomfortable enough to begin to ask questions large enough to include them all. This does not apply to racists of course because they have no questions, only one great, wrong answer. But. more thoughtful people might ask, for starters, whether all that Trump has been warning against has not already happened. -- blj
Caravan migrants arrive in Mexico City, bed down in stadium
Sonia Perez D., Mark Stevenson, And Maria Verza --Associated Press
Thousands of Central American migrants traveling in a caravan arrived in the Mexican capital Monday and began to fill up a sports stadium, still hundreds of miles from their goal of reaching the U.S. a day before midterm elections in which President Donald Trump has made their journey a central campaign issue.
By afternoon 2,000 or more had arrived at the Jesus Martinez stadium, which has a capacity of about three times that, and eagerly began sifting through donations of clothes, gave themselves sponge baths, lunched on chicken and rice under the shade of tents and picked up thin mattresses to hunker down for the night.
The inflow of migrants continued into the night, and four large tents set up for sleeping had filled. Much in demand were blankets to ward of the chill, a big change after trudging for three weeks in tropical heat.
Many people went to medical tents to get treatment for blistered and aching feet, illness and other maladies. "Since we got here, we have not stopped," said Tania Escobar, a nurse with Mexico City's public health department.
Melvin Figueroa, a 32-year-old from Tegucigalpa, Honduras, was traveling with his pregnant wife and two children, 6 and 8. He brought the 6-year-old girl to the tent because her eyes were irritated and "she throws up everything she eats."
Several thousand more migrants were trudging along the highway between the city of Puebla and the capital, catching a lift from passing vehicles when possible.
Nashieli Ramirez, ombudsman for the city's human rights commission, said the city was preparing to accommodate as many as 5,000 migrants from the lead caravan and several smaller ones hundreds of miles behind it, for as long as necessary.
"We have the space in terms of humanitarian help," Ramirez said.
As U.S. election day neared, Trump has seized on the caravan and portrayed it as a major threat, even though such caravans have happened regularly over the years and largely passed unnoticed.
He ordered thousands of troops to the U.S.-Mexico border when the migrants were still hundreds of miles to the south, threatened to detain asylum seekers in tents cities and has insinuated without proof that there are criminals or even terrorists in the group.
In dozens of interviews since the caravan set out from Honduras more than three weeks ago, migrants have said they are fleeing rampant poverty and violence. Many are families traveling with small children. Some say they left because they were threatened by gang members or had lost relatives to gang violence; others say they hope to work, secure a good education for their children and send money to support loved ones back home.
Alba Zoleida Gonzalez, 48, from Valle, Honduras, said she had walked for five hours and hitched a ride on a tractor-trailer with about 150 people. Her calf muscles were aching, but that was a small price to pay for the chance at a life better than the one back home.
"I looked for work, and nothing," Gonzalez said, adding that her husband had been robbed and had to hand over everything he made selling crabs so his assailants wouldn't do worse. "And when one does find a little job they kill you for the money," she said.
Arriving in Mexico City, some migrants stopped at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a major pilgrimage site, to thank the Virgin Mary for watching over them during the journey.
Many had struck out ahead of the larger caravan but intended to regroup in the capital. Oscar Ulloa, 20, an accountant from Honduras, said he arrived by bus from Puebla thanks to handouts from Mexicans. He expected the group would assemble and vote in the coming days on their next moves.
Swollen and blistered feet are big challenge for migrants
The 178-mile trek (286 kilometers) Monday from the Gulf state of Veracruz to Mexico City was the longest single-day journey for the group of about 4,000 migrants.
But there were obstacles on this latest stretch.
Truck after truck denied the migrants rides as they trudged along the highway into the relatively colder November temperatures of central highland Mexico.
At a toll booth near Fortin, Veracruz, Rafael Leyva, an unemployed cobbler from Honduras, stood with a few hundred others for more than 45 minutes without finding a ride.
"People help more in Chiapas and Oaxaca," Leyva said, referring to the southern Mexican states the group had already traversed and where pickup trucks frequently stopped to offer rides.
Migrants converged on tractor trailers, forcing the big rigs to stop so they could climb aboard. Such impromptu hitchhiking is precarious with dozens scrambling onto vehicles at a time.
Cesar Rodas, 24, had pushed a friend's wheelchair for 24 days across three countries. But he couldn't lift his friend and the chair onto a truck bed crammed with 150 people. Rodas was trying to get Sergio Cazares, a 40-year-old paraplegic from Honduras, to the U.S. for an operation that Cazares hopes will allow him to walk again.
Mexico City is more than 600 miles from the nearest U.S. border crossing at McAllen, Texas, and a previous caravan in the spring opted for a much longer route to Tijuana in the far northwest, across from San Diego. That caravan steadily dwindled to only about 200 people by the time it reached the border.
Many said they remain convinced that traveling together is their best hope for reaching the U.S.
Yuri Juarez, 42, said he thinks there's a "very low" chance he will get asylum in the United States. But he said he had no way to work back home in Villanueva, Guatemala, where he closed his internet cafe after gang members extorted him, robbed his customers and finally stole his computers.
Mexico faces the unprecedented situation of having at least three migrant caravans stretched over 300 miles (500 kilometers) of highway in the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca and Veracruz. The largest group has been followed by about 1,000 who crossed over from Guatemala last week and a second group of about the same size that waded over the Suchiate River on Friday.
Mexico's Interior Ministry estimated over the weekend that there are more than 5,000 migrants in total currently moving through Mexico. The ministry said 2,793 migrants have applied for refugee status in Mexico in recent weeks and around 500 have asked for assistance to return to their home countries.
The presidents of Guatemala and Honduras, which have been under intense pressure from the Trump administration, called Monday for an investigation to identify the organizers of the caravan.
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez said that "thousands" of his countrymen have returned to Honduras. Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales went further, calling for an investigation of people who "promote or participate" in the caravan, saying they "should be judged based on international laws."
Most of the migrants interviewed say they joined the caravan spontaneously to stay safe, and many were already on the road when it caught up to them. Activist groups that have been trying to help organize things appear to have emerged only after it formed and began moving north.
How brutal murders and fear kept a town silent. MS-13 is like no other gang
Despite its international reputation for hacking up victims with machetes – sometimes brazenly leaving the bloodied, mangled corpses in the open – the street gang MS-13 slipped into Mendota relatively unnoticed.
Few people outside the rural town in California’s Central Valley knew MS-13 had infiltrated the area at least a decade ago.
MS-13 carved out a reign of terror resulting in at least 14 brutal murders in and around Mendota from 2015 to 2017. There was little or no media coverage on some of the murders, some of which had been initially labeled as suspicious deaths.
Arrests in the string of murders were absent, except in two killings.
The gang is also known for extortion, kidnapping and drug trafficking, among a deluge of crimes.
That’s kept nearly everyone quiet, including city leaders, who failed to sound the alarm, say residents, victims’ relatives and former city elected officials.
Since an August operation led by federal and local agents that netted 25 alleged MS-13 members, more details about the gang’s local operations have come to light, through court records and dozens of interviews with cops and affected residents.
It paints a clearer picture of how ruthless MS-13 can be, and why Mendota residents still live in fear.
Mendota, roughly 30 miles west of Fresno, has historically been an impoverished agricultural town, with a population that fluctuates depending on the seasons. It’s had a steady 2015-17 population of 11,561.
The August operation came following 14 unsolved murders in and around Mendota, crimes law enforcement believe are connected to MS-13.
By comparison, Clovis, with a considerably more affluent population nearly 10 times larger at 107,903, had just three murders during 2015-17.
Living on edge
Law enforcement in August said its operation “completely dismantled” MS-13 in Mendota. Residents don’t believe that.
“There is a lot of fear. A lot of people are afraid to acknowledge the element” says Joseph Riofrio, a former Mendota City Council member.
“We have a community that’s reluctant to be a witness. We had a body count and nobody was talking about it. Maybe the city itself didn’t ring the bell loud enough.”
Case in point, Mendota Mayor Rolando Castro declined to comment for this story, citing fears for himself and his family. Other residents spoke on condition of anonymity, citing fear of gang reprisals.
Mendota Police Chief Gregg L. Andreotti acknowledged some in the community remain intimidated. But he said the recent operation will bring comfort for “those in the community who were in fear.”
“This is a strong peace of mind for the town,” he says. “Did it clean up the city 100 percent? No. The job will be to pay attention to what’s going on, (and) look at new people, in making sure that it doesn’t get to the same level it was before.”
Legacy of brutality
Jannette Maya, 29, grapples daily with the violent death of her sister Joanna Solorio Maya. Jannette says her sister’s case is messy, but she knows there’s a connection to MS-13.
She struggles with depression as she wakes up knowing she’ll never see her sister again.
Joanna’s nickname was “Monkey” because she had a particular love for primates.
Jannette on a recent morning pressed on the stomach of a stuffed monkey, and a recorded message from her sister played: “Hey, I just want to say happy birthday, OK, bye.”
That’s all she has left from Joanna. “She was everything,” Jannette says, wiping away tears. “I just felt that when they took her, they just took me with her. Her death has been really, really hard.”
Joanna was hacked to death July 13, 2016, her body found outside the Garden Apartment Complex in Mendota. She was killed before she could take the witness stand in a murder case. “You don’t expect something like that to happen in a small community because everyone knows everybody... especially the way they are killing people out there, like they are animals,” Jannette says.
Information obtained by The Bee through a Public Records Act request confirmed Joanna’s homicide is one of the 14 murders directly connected to MS-13 and the ongoing state and federal investigation.
Fresno County Sheriff’s Detective Adam Maldonado, who has been investigating Joanna’s murder, said no arrests have been made for the killing.
However, there’s a “possible suspect” who may be connected to Joanna’s case. That person was arrested during the August operation on other charges. Maldonado wasn’t able to specify the suspect’s name or charges he was arrested on.
The Sheriff’s Office only released limited information to The Bee on each of the murders linked to MS-13.
It didn’t provide detailed reports on the killings as that could “jeopardize” ongoing investigations.
With that information, The Bee was able to identify most of the victims connected to MS-13 including Christine Echeverria, 35, and Angel Sanchez, 25.
Both died as a result of gunshots. Four MS-13 members allegedly behind their killings are Jose Santos Hernandez Otero, Armando Jose Torres Garcia, Jose Joaquin Amaya Orellana and Julio Cesar Soto Recinos, according to an affidavit filed in court by the Sheriff’s Office.
A search warrant for Recinos led detectives to a self-identified MS-13 member, Jonny Alexy Calderon Aguilar, who denied knowing Recinos. Though, “Aguilar was later brutally murdered by machete attack,” according to the affidavit.
Aguilar’s body was found Feb. 4 last year at the Mendota Wildlife Refuge.
“MS-13 has zero tolerance for members and associates who cooperate with law enforcement,” court documents show. If the gang finds a member to “allegedly or actually” have cooperated with police, “that person is to be killed on sight.”
Otero, Garcia, Orellana and Recinos all fled Mendota and haven’t been found.
Four of the 14 victims linked to MS-13 were women, ten were men. All were Hispanic except for one victim who was white, a woman named Marty Sepe, 46, killed Dec. 1, 2016.
Sepe was found with several gunshot wounds on a sidewalk between Stamoules and 6th streets in Mendota.
Three MS-13 members in 2017 were sentenced for her killing.
Earlier this year, arrests were made in the murder of a victim only identified as “A.R.”, kidnapped and murdered Dec. 18, 2017, according to a recently unsealed federal indictment for MS-13 members Israel Rivas Gomez and an unidentified suspect. Gomez and the unidentified suspect allegedly killed the victim for the purpose of gaining “entrance” to and “increasing position in MS-13.”
Locals identified a victim as Abel Rodriguez, but the Department of Justice wasn’t able to provide information beyond what’s on the public document. Some of the other victims include Jose Delcid Escalante, 19, of Mendota, Yonnathan Ishmael Orellana Guardado, 19, of Southern California, and Hector Steve Lemus, 37, also of Southern California.
Fresno County Sheriff’s spokesman Tony Botti said officials are still piecing together information from August’s operation and the Mendota-area killings. Aside from 25 alleged MS-13 members arrested in that operation, another 19 arrests were carried out previously, Botti said. The Sheriff’s Office estimates that about 95 percent of those 19 remain in custody in various places.
Death, guns, and extortion, from Mendota to Los Angeles
Officials are trying to determine how those 44 arrested individuals are tied to each case plus murders in other parts of the state and nation.
Some of the MS-13 members are allegedly tied to a murder in Los Angeles carried out just a month before the Mendota crackdown.
At the orders of an MS-13 member who’s in custody, six alleged MS-13 members from Mendota traveled to Los Angeles this summer to “re-establish MS-13 control over MacArthur Park through violence,” a wiretap investigation revealed.
“The taking back of MacArthur Park for the MS-13 gang would allow MS-13 to once again collect extortion money and narcotics proceeds.”
On a separate trip to Los Angeles on July 18, five Mendota MS-13 members allegedly “confronted a suspected rival gang member in MacArthur Park,” and lured the male to join them at the beach where they would enjoy drugs and girls. Though, they intended to kill the victim “as that is what MS-13 members are required to do to rivals.”
After failed attempts to kill the victim, identified as Brian Marroquin, by stabbing because he was resisting, one of the MS-13 members allegedly pulled a gun and shot the victim in the head before throwing his body in a rural area of Los Angeles, according to court documents.
One of the alleged MS-13 members, Jefferson Oswaldo Guevarra, then used Facebook to reach MS-13 leader Denis Barrera-Palma in Mendota to inform him of the murder, as the gun used for the killing had been purchased from Barrera-Palma for $100.
MS-13 was also involved in a violet assault this summer at MacArthur Park. Lemus, one of the 14 victims in and around Mendota, was last seen at MacArthur Park in 2015.
It’s unknown how much money MS-13 had extorted from business owners near the MacArthur Park in the past.
But extortion letters alleged to be from MS-13 were also sent to business owners in Mendota in 2016, although Andreotti said his police department was never able to determine who was really behind the letters and their legitimacy.
MS-13 will rise again in Mendota, residents say
MS-13 first emerged in the 1980s in Los Angeles and its members are from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and other parts of Central and South America.
Mendota was primarily a Mexican community, but in recent years it became heavily populated by Salvadorans.
A 73-year-old longtime Mendota resident, who asked not to be identified out of fear, said the rural city’s even earned the nickname “La Colonia Salvadorena,” which translates to “the Salvadorian town.”
“They have family here,” he said of MS-13, in Spanish. “Some of them came here from Los Angeles. It’s a very big cell and the government can’t get rid of it. They can make more trips (to Mendota) and they won’t get rid of them.”
Robert Silva, a Mendota City Councilman, said Mendota has always had people coming and going, given its agricultural history.
That changed recently with the current immigration climate.
“A lot of people are not going back like they used to. A lot of people are staying in Mendota,” he said. “There’s a lot of good people who are coming from various parts. (But) there’s always some people that mess things up for everybody.”
Riofrio recalls seeing an MS-13 tag on the back of a stop sign on the corner of 7th and Stamoules streets at least 10 years ago. Some of the murders linked to MS-13 have taken place on Stamoules Street.
That’s when problems began to happen, though violence escalated and murders became more frequent beginning in 2015. Botti said the Sheriff’s Office had its first record of MS-13 in Mendota in late 2008 – “a little before 2009.”
“You just didn’t want to believe it,” Riofrio said. “We’ve gotten used to living in a certain way. We know that there’s been 14 murders. But we rationalized that it’s them killing their own people. They are not killing the good people.”
Sergio Valdez, a former Mendota City Councilman, said since the 2016 extortion letters were sent out to businesses, agencies were brought in to investigate.
“I knew (MS-13) was here, but at that time I don’t think it was that big,” he said.
About four years ago, the city was getting around $160,000 from a refund, and few council members wanted to use the money to hire two gang officers, but the City Council shut down the idea.
“At the end, it’s all about money,” he said. “It wasn’t worth it. You can’t start the ball rolling and stop it.”
The recent operation will hopefully put notice out to MS-13 “that they are being watched now,” Valdez said.
Local gangs are subsets of larger MS-13 organization
According to the Sheriff’s Office affidavit, street gangs known as Vatos Locos Salatruchos (VLS) as well as Park View Locos (PVLS) are primarily located in Mendota, and they are subsets of the larger MS-13 transnational criminal organization.
“VLS and PVLS align and associate with one another and, in view of that, these two cliques can be observed together as the MS-13 gang members in Mendota,” the document says. “The MS-13 in Mendota identify with the color blue and claim the number 13.”
Another Mendota resident, who didn’t want to be identified also due to fear, said people are afraid to speak up, given the high number of recent killings.
Some local relatives of the victims have even left the U.S. out of fear they could be next.
“Mendota is a bomb about to explode,” she said. The woman has now even moved a garden of roses inside her house to be able to water them, and installed cameras outside her home. “You fear for your life.”
Some residents say the situation has calmed down following the recent operation, but they fear it won’t be long before MS-13 makes a comeback.
“Let the situation cool down, and once it starts to cool, it will get worse,” the woman said.
Jannette Maya and others say MS-13 and its violence is not over.
“It’s just going to get worse. They just pissed them off,” Maya said. “I don’t think the law can do anything to stop them. They can control (the gang) a little bit, but they can’t stop it.”
Some residents claim the operation did not remove all of the gang’s local leadership. Chief Andreotti acknowledged there are still MS-13 affiliates in Mendota.
“There are still people who are affiliated who were not arrested because there was not enough evidence,” he said.
Law enforcement officials haven’t disclosed a total number of people in western Fresno County who’ve been identified as MS-13.
Andreotti said keeping an eye on the situation will be a challenge and will require “being conscious of what’s around you.”
The community, he said, will need to take “ownership.”
“We have to be partners,” he said.
Riofrio, who is running for City Council, said this situation “isn’t put to bed.”
“There’s a lot of moving pieces to it,” he said. “It’s not a quick fix.”
Mendota will have to rebuild its image as a safe and hardworking town – and not a “community of thugs,” Riofrio said.
“The good has to come from the top, not the fear and evil – we can’t let that win,” he said. “We can’t be living that way.”
Yesenia Amaro covers immigration and diverse communities for The Fresno Bee. She previously worked at the Phnom Penh Post in Cambodia and the Las Vegas Review-Journal in Nevada. In 2015, she was named journalist of the year by the Nevada Press Association and also received the community service award. She has been recipient of other awards, including one from the Associated Press for beat reporting.
How El Salvador Became The World’s Most Violent Peacetime Country
The Central American nation registered more homicides in 2015 than in any year during its civil war.
Homicide statistics released late last year showed that El Salvador had passed a grim milestone: The Central American nation registered more homicides in 2015 than in any year during its civil war, which lasted from 1980 to 1992.
El Salvador’s Institute of Legal Medicine tallied 6,656 killings last year, for a homicide rate of roughly 116 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants — the highest in the world for a country not at war, and more than a 70 percent spike from the year before. It should come as no surprise that tens of thousands of Salvadorans, including children, have fled to the United States and other countries in the region seeking refuge.
The most immediate cause for the surge in killings appears to be fighting between powerful street gangs that erupted after a truce between the Mara Salvatrucha and the 18th Street gang reportedly fell apart in 2014. But the violence that plagues El Salvador today can largely be traced back to the country’s civil war.
Tens Of Thousands Die In Civil War
The roots of El Salvador’s current violence stretch back at least four decades, to a civil war between a Marxist guerrilla movement based in the countryside and the country’s conservative government.
Viewing the conflict as a proxy for its own crusade against international communism during the Cold War, the U.S. government fueled the violence in El Salvador as it did throughout Latin America and elsewhere in the world, providing more than $4 billion in military and economic aid and training to a Salvadoran government that used death squads to snuff out the rebels and their suspected sympathizers.
More than 75,000 people died in those years, according to the Center for Justice and Accountability, and hundreds of others fled to the United States.
El Salvador’s 1992 peace accords ended the conflict, but came at a high price for the country’s future. A 1993 law granted amnesty to those accused of committing crimes against humanity during the civil war, guaranteeing that a generation of victims would never see justice and a generation of perpetrators would learn they could kill without fear of punishment.
Impunity Is Institutionalized
As the civil war came to a close, El Salvador was left with a large population that had once earned a living from violence — people employed in death squads, involved in illegal activities like arms trafficking, or serving a military that suddenly saw its budget reduced in peacetime.
At the same time, the country became an increasingly important route for international drug trade between South America and the United States. Some people who made their living illegally during the civil war turned to illicit activities during peacetime, according to Steven Dudley, the co-founder of InSight Crime, a foundation dedicated to the study of organized crime in the Americas.
“There are criminal groups that follow the same paths and patterns as their forebears, and some are connected to the civil war,” Dudley told The WorldPost.
Today, El Salvador’s police lack the resources to carry out thorough investigations, and the courts are often ineffective and subject to political influence, leading to the high impunity rates that are common in the region. Between 2011 and 2013 — a period in which 9,464 people were murdered — Salvadoran courts issued only 490 sentences for homicides, an impunity rate of over 94 percent.
And the political polarization that has marked the country since the 1970s continues today, Dudley says.
“[Politicians] can hardly even stand thinking about implementing the plan of the opposition,” Dudley said. “It makes it hard to gather up any force for long-term solutions.”
A Traumatized Generation Begets Violent Gangs
Angeles Police Department gang unit officers question an alleged Mara Salvatrucha street gang member on Sept. 13, 2007. Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, was founded in Los Angeles by Salvadoran refugees.
The gangs that are wreaking havoc across El Salvador today originated in the United States, where child refugees initially sought to defend themselves in a hostile environment.
Bottom of Form
“An individual gang member is not just poor,” Salvadoran-American journalist Roberto Lovato told The WorldPost. “He’s also a walking, talking trauma that’s unresolved. And there’s nothing to treat that in the country. That’s not the priority.”
Alex Sanchez, a co-founder of Homies Unidos, a group that works with former gang members to build a culture of peace, described in 2014 how his parents sent him to the United States as a child in 1979 to escape the violence. Unable to speak English at first, he was treated as an outsider at school and bullied routinely. By middle school, he’d met other classmates with similar experiences who banded together to defend themselves.
“Eventually it became a gang, but initially it was just to protect each other from the other groups that were harassing us,” Sanchez said.
An individual gang member is not just poor. He’s also a walking, talking trauma that’s unresolved. And there’s nothing to treat that in the country. That’s not the priority.Salvadoran-American journalist Roberto Lovato
Like thousands of other Salvadorans who fled prior to or during the civil war, U.S. authorities deported Sanchez back to El Salvador in the 1990s during a Bill Clinton-era crackdown on crime. Many deportees who had been exposed to gang culture in the United States recreated it in the country of their birth, often recruiting impoverished youths whose marginalization mirrored that of the child refugees in Los Angeles.
“These kids were being treated like trash,” Sanchez said. “Now all they had to do was to put a letter or a number on their faces and go ask for money, and people were so afraid of them. Before, nobody gave a damn about them. Police used to beat them up and tell them to ‘Get out of here, you huelepega, you glue-sniffer.’ Now, people were like ‘Please, don’t hurt me.’”
‘Iron Fist’ Policies Don’t Solve The Problem
Faced with rising violence, the Salvadoran government has responded in kind. A series of administrations from both the right and the left have implemented so-called “mano dura,” or “iron fist,” crackdowns on gangs.
President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, a former guerrilla leader who took office in 2014, planned to confront crime using a multi-pronged plan developed with civil society groups. The proposal involved not only putting more cops and soldiers on the streets, but also investing in social programs and more effective government institutions.
Instead, however, the government continues to rely on brute force to suppress crime, disappointing civil society groups that helped develop the plan, said Angelika Albaladejo of the Washington-based Latin America Working Group, who recently traveled to El Salvador to research the security situation.
“Only the hard side has been implemented,” Albaladejo told The WorldPost. “The current security policy put in place by Sánchez Céren is nearly identical to the ‘mano dura’ policies of the past.”
“These kids were being treated like trash. Now all they had to do was to put a letter or a number on their faces and go ask for money, and people were so afraid of them.Alex Sanchez, co-founder of Homies Unidos
Many observers say Salvadoran security forces are also responsible for the uptick in violence. The military and police are widely suspected of committing extrajudicial killings. Last year, 74 percent of alleged human rights violations submitted to the attorney general’s office involved cops or soldiers, according to Mexican news agency Animal Político.
By taking a one-dimensional view of the crime problem, experts say Salvadoran officials are losing the opportunity to address the poverty, inequality and weak government institutions that helped institutionalize El Salvador’s violence in the first place.
“Instead of dealing with these problems of poverty, the Salvadoran and U.S. governments are combating the problem with violence,” Lovato said. “Any expert down there I trust says that’s going to lead to failure … You don’t get these murderous kinds of gangs in middle-class neighborhoods.”
Council of Foreign Relations
Central America’s Violent Northern Triangle
Violence and rampant crime have driven asylum seekers from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to the United States, which is seeking to help address the root causes.
Backgrounder by Rocio Cara Labrador andDanielle Renwick