Gangs Paralyze El Salvador – Day 2   3 comments

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.



Trucks were hauling people everywhere, and no buses in sight.


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).

This usually bustling market near empty at 5:30pm



Getting Home via 'TruckBus' during the 'Paro' - 9/2010

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.



This brave driver chose to ignore the gang enforced suspension. I worried for him.


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

3 responses to “Gangs Paralyze El Salvador – Day 2

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. El Salvador Response Against Gangs

    My quick curriculum viate: over 22 years in law enforcement and military contracting in USA, Mexico, Central & South America. Worked 20 of those years with a major Los Angeles law enforcement agency and SWAT.

    The good things in ES outweigh most of the negatives but I must admit, I was sorely disappointed when i drove through pueblos and towns where the gangs took over commerce and were the defact alcaldes. Instead of my tropical paradise retirement, I was facing the same garbage I fought back at home.

    US law enforcement has about 20 years over El Salvador in terms of dealing with gangs from a social and enforcement level. I think El Salvador is fighting the gang war incorrectly. I am not naive since I do know there are “informal” death squads who are affiliated in some way with the police and military who work “off-duty” and hired by merchants or residents to assassinate gang members. I think this response only hardens the resolve of the maras rather than intimidating them. Creating martyrs only fuels the cause.

    Poor training by the police, ineffective patrols, lack of intelligence cultivation, no social/support services, lax government failing to push education/employment, epidemic Remesa culture; all these add up to a poisonous brew that will continue to fan the blaze of gang fiefdom.

    Under normal circumstances, I would charges thousands of dollars to give the following advice if I were contracted privately by a government entity. But for social consciousness, this will be a total freebie.

    I will break my solution into three parts: 1) Law Enforcement Solution; 2) Social Welfare solution; 3) Societal soution……

    Don Enrique’s Law Enforcement Solution:

    1. Place community police station(s) in proportion to the size of each pueblo.
    2. Have a dedicated gang officer in each station that collects and files local intelligence.
    3. Create an anonymous “We-tip” method to collect and review data on gang activity.
    4. Live by the “Broken Window Effect”. Keep the community clean and orderly with proper lighting, code enforcement, limiting alcohol establishments and vice oriented activities.
    5. Contract out to private security to save money and channel funds to more integral law enforcement activities. Hence, private security can be placed in areas like street market locations, pueblo open air markets; this will thwart maras from loitering and extorting the locals.
    6. Create an effective anti-gang team that is not all about flash and macho flare…ie. officers running around in military uniforms and ski masks. That’s keystone cop buffoonery. Effective team requires decorum, brain power and stealth. Set up stings, undercover operations, wiretaps, surveillance. Utilize armed assets and force when necessary but don’t make a three ring circus out of it….remember, don’t create martyrs or glamorize the outlaws. Also, maras know how to avoid a marked police pickup truck but they will be in a perpetual state of uncertainty and fear if there is a “fuerza especial encubierto” working in their zone.
    7. Work directly with the prisons to remove control from the maras back to the state. The prison is a joke; maras have access to drugs, sex, cell phones and alcohol. Complete segregation and dispersal of gang members breaks down the group siege mentality. Incorporate hard labor camps with a military structure to breakdown the gang autonomy.
    8. Meet force with overwhelming force. If the gang sets up “Paros”; create negative reinforcement by hitting all known gang members with search warrants, arrest warrants, intelligence detentions.
    9. Hold family members accountable in civil or family court for aiding/abetting family members who are gang members.
    10. Enforce conspiracy laws to arrest and prosecute those who may not be gang members but are complicit in furthering their enterprise.
    11. Create abatement teams. These teams of officials and government attorneys will target homes, apartments, businesses and any commerce that facilitates the loitering of gang members or criminal activities. The end result is if the owner does not take care of the graffiti or gang presence, the government will seize the property.
    12. Create municipal injunction laws that target gangs in its jurisdiction. This would make it a crime to be seen with known gang members, make it illegal to loiter in certain areas or to be seen “flying colors” with gang paraphernalia or exhibiting gang tattoos to intimidate. For these offenses alone, the suspect can be arrested.
    13. Create a streamlined oversight committee to debrief actions and meet quarterly go share intelligence and progress reports.
    14. If the efforts are effective, continue with operations as planned. If it’s failed or providing substandard results; the plan must be modified and executed swiftly.
    15. Watch the watchers or as Ronald Reagan said, “Trust but verify”. Keep an eye on city managers, alcalde, licensing agencies, etc to make sure corruption is kept in check and to deny access by mara infiltrators who can be “unmarked” gang members, girlfriends, wives or family members.

  2. Don, this is a thorough and impressive solution. It could work if the U.S. and El Salvador were willing to $pend the money and devote resources to it.

    A police officer’s wage is better than most, but isn’t worth risking their life here daily – a much greater risk than the states. I spoke with a security guard in an office building this week who said they make something like 400 bucks a month. A better salary than most working class people, but leaves much room for temptation.

    Most everyone ‘lays down’ when the mara’s tell them because they are justifiably afraid. One of the highest acts of cowardliness is their latest recruitment approach – they are now killing teens who don’t want to join their gangs, which I half-believed until I saw a front-page news headline this July reporting a student killed for just that reason. Seriously? I’d like to make a public announcement to the gangs here if I may: “Your gang must be a pathetic LOSER club if you have to KILL someone for not joining. Capital L.”

    What if you became a consultant to the PNC and military police on reducing gang presence and control in El Salvador?

    I’d like to hear more about 2) Social Welfare solution; 3) Societal solution

  3. Don, the only suggestion I have to add to your comprehensive list is to arrest the chismosas whose dangerous mouths contribute to the murder of many people simply trying to hide out and leave gang life behind. In Santa Lucia, there are more chismosas in the mercado talking about other people’s lives and risking their safety than anywhere in the world. They go to church Saturday night and pray, and spend the rest of the week destroying people’s lives with their mouths in motion.

    I have a story about our experience with a local gossip in Santa Lucia, who not only risked our lives when we were simply trying to live a decent life; but who hid MS13 gang members from the police. She was not only a gossip with a dangerous mouth, she was a gang collaborator who ran a garage sale clothing business while her husband laid tiles in houses in Colonia Escalon. Because of her venom, our lives were put in danger and we were forced to flee Santa Lucia and my husband was nearly murdered. And that saddest thing about this was that my husband hadn’t been involved with a gang for over 14 years, and she did this to us.

    Read our story at:

    Go after the collaborators as hard as the gang members! And go after the gossips.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: