On Day two of the gang-enforced “Paro” my friend Chata and I braved a trip from Los Planes de Renderos, where we live, into the city to check out the market and major bus stops. We saw NO buses while driving down the mountain. We did see, however, numerous pick-ups and commercial size trucks hauling people up and out of the city in droves. It was an amazing sight. People were often packed so tight onto the back of pick-up trucks, that the tail end was near dragging on the ground.
Once in the city, we drove through part of the market, as police were everywhere, so we felt safe from danger.
The market located near the Parque Libertad (Liberty Park) was deserted except for a few courageous vendors on the main drag on Calle Poniente 4a (4th West Street).
Near the market on Avenida España, we saw a bus with a police officer on it for security. This street near the market has several bus stops for different routes in and out of the city. Today people were catching all sorts of “impromptu” collective transport: pickups and trucks as we had seen, along with vans, and taxis braving the gang “suspension” of transport and businesses. We even saw small commercial trucks usually intended for shipping goods opening their rear doors to pack people in.
One particularly happy and touching site were two very large commercial trucks (camionetas) with signs on them advertising a Free ride to the town of Panchimalco. They both had signs with “Pancho, Gratis” and one had banners on it identifying it as a truck sponsored by the Panchimalco town government.
We got to see the Best of El Salvador that day; an entire country banding together and pooling all of their resources to keep driving on, despite the nefarious efforts of the two major gangs throwing their weight around. It’s hard to respect a gang which talks out of both sides of their mouth, on the on hand complaining about the poverty and even making some strong points about minimum wage, and asking the powers that be to find more ways to help people climb out of poverty. Yet on the other hand these are empty wishes, because they come too late;these same gang members extort the poor every day in the markets, streets, and buses, and kill those who don’t pay ‘rent’ to make them an example.
|Free ride to Pancho! It’s on the mayor’s tab.|
We stopped at a gas station on the way out of town near San Jacinto. There we saw one final bus filling up for gas, the 4th in 2 hours. I asked if I could take their picture, and if they had had any police protection today; “nope” on the security, but they were happy to let me take their shot. I wished them luck on their way back home, as it was growing dark. On my way back to the car, four military hummers passed by the gas station, intervowen with cars and the new “impromptu bus” traffic. I have to say they were a welcome sight.
News reports earlier in the day on September 8 reported the following:
- Lists of bus routes and regions where bus service was suspended, much like the lists of school closings are posted during a snowstorm in the U.S.
- Vehicle owners were transporting people by truck, van, etc. and charging as much as $6 a trip, but most were charging a fair price between 25 and 40 cents a trip
- Army vehicles were transporting people to and from specific locations
- Video footage of Bulevar de Ejercito (Army Boulevard) showed only cars and “makeshift” mass transport, and absolutely no buses.
Seeing the streets of El Salvador free of buses was a very weird sight, as bus is “the” mode of transport here; cars are out of reach for the 80% UN-well off in this country.
6:00pm was a supposed “curfew” set by the gangs, according to unfounded rumors, but scared most people into staying indoors. The gang members themselves must were keeping a low profile and out of sight. The country was crawling with both civil and military police. Ironically there was little violence and nearly no homicides during the three-day “Paro”.
Multi-part series blog. See other entries:
Gangs Paralyze El Salvador – Day One – 7 Septiembre, 2010