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
On Monday night, September 6, 2010, a series of events began that was later revealed as a gang-imposed halt (“paro”) of bus routes and businesses throughout El Salvador. A microbus on route 29-F in Ilopango (colonia Felipe) was burned. Threatening notes were left for business owners and buses to shut down or else pay the consequences, until further notice. Six gang members who distributed threatening pamphlets were arrested. See the text of one threatening note at the end of this article in Spanish, and translated to English.
The entire city of San Salvador has been turned upside down, and the country in large part paralyzed. Pedestrians who normally ride buses are walking where they need to go. Dozens of bus lines have stopped running, and businesses where shuttered for the day – news footage showed rows of shops closed. Links below from ElSalvador.com and translated into English on Google translate describe widespread suspension of bus service:
Buses Suspended (Paro por Maras) – in Spanish
Bus Suspension (b/c of Gangs) – English
A representative from the police interviewed on the news told citizens “not to pay attention” to the threats and to go about their business. What about people who got a note? Jails in the country were in a state of emergency. A priest came out on television news as a spokesman/mediator for jailed gangmembers, voicing their demands. Apparently, the two major gangs, “18” and “MS,” normally in conflict with each other, actually met to work together to create chaos and make demands. They communicated to the media they would like to meet with authorities to negotiate. Police and military chiefs said “no way,” we don’t negotiate with criminals who kill people every day.
At least once or twice a week, a bus is torched in El Salvador (that’s normal, can you believe it?). But today on route 12, in Chalchuapa, in the department of Santa Ana, a bus was burned; according to authorities this bus line had received threats related to this gang “paro.”
A list of halted bus routes was announced on the news. Here is what they displayed on the TV, which was a partial list of suspended routes, for those interested:
41a,b,c and 19 – Soyapango….
29 – Ilopango….
20-24 – Cuscatancinco…
11-21 – San Marcos….
38 – Apopa…
17 – Panchimalco (which passes through my town)
I asked a friend who has lived in El Salvador all of her life ‘when was the last time this happened?’. She said this is the very first time.
Text from a Threatening Note -“PARO” (HALT) imposed by Salvadoran gangs:
“Se hace un llamado a los miembros de este negocio que para el dia mañana sierran [cierran] sus puertas. Si alguien se encuentra trabajando se tomaran reprisalias de parte de la XV3. Hasta Nuevo aviso. Y de lo contrario atenganse a las consecuencias. Atentamente; 18”
Translation to English:
“The members of this business are being called upon to close their doors tomorrow. If someone is found working, retaliation will take place from XV3 [roman numerals for 18]. Until further notice. Otherwise live with the consequences. Sincerely, 18”
Multi-part series blog. See other entries:
Gangs Paralyze El Salvador – Day Two – 8 Septiembre 2010
Her name has been changed to protect her identity. Marina is a friend of ours, and related to my husband as a 2nd cousin. Her boyfriend, we’ll call him “Juan,” was relatively new to the neighborhood, having lived there only about 6 months. He and Marina lived in a small house, without electricity or water. They brought their dishes and clothes to the river for washing. Juan was once a gang member, so it is said, and used to steal cars. No one in our neighborhood understood why this was so, since his father is a lawyer, and had the money and desire to help his son continue schooling and become a professional. It was probably his way of rebelling, not the best choice considering the outcome. Looking at him, one didn’t know he was once in a gang; he dressed fairly clean-cut, had no visible tattoos, and no apparent scarring or weathering on his face from a “rough lifestyle” attributed to gang members. But at this point he had quit the gang, met Marina, and started a quiet life in Jicaron. They talked of plans to marry within the next year or so.
Until today, a sunny day far into the country, when three shots were heard by the neighbors, who wondered if they were hunting shots, goofing by a drunk, or the worst case scenario, as was today’s result. As we came back from our trip to the hospital, our car packed full, my husband and 3 others raced by on bikes, and said “Marina’s boyfriend was just killed by the river!” Carmen and I walked over after parking the car to investigate. We must have gotten to the river not long after the shooting, as the police still hadn’t taped off the scene. We were within several feet of Juan’s body, limp and folded over like a mannequin, with marks and blood streaming from one side of his neck and his face. A hat was discarded part-way through the river; we didn’t know if it was Juan’s or the shooter’s. A pair of sneakers sat at the river’s edge, he never go to wash them. When we walked up the hillside to where Marina was sitting, a group of women around her, all crying, she was beside herself. Later, we walked her up to the house, where for the first time she saw his belongings after learning of his death just two hours before. I’ll never forget the feeling I had seeing a pair of his sneakers near the front door as we walked in. How many days or hours before had he worn them? And now he was dead, gone.
Some people thought Juan was killed for defecting from the gang. But another theory regarding Juan’s death circulated around the neighborhood afterward; some people thought a jealous ex love interest in Marina was behind the killing, because this “dissed” interest is the brother of a particularly malicious entity from the nearby town, who wouldn’t think twice about shooting someone or sending someone over to do it. But rumors and previous gang membership are all we will know; this death will likely go uninvestigated unless someone in the police force is given special treatment (private compensation). With 11 murders a day in El Salvador, it’s just a number added to the body count.