Sunday, June 29, 2008

Murder, kids in underwear, and clowns

El Salvador has a great tradition of theater, and clowns are integral to this. They are seen everywhere, from directing traffic, performing on the street, and even drawn into gang tattoos as representative of "La Vida Loca". If you see someone with a clown tattoo in Central America, they are almost certainly in a gang. Anyway, this clown on stilts grabbed a baby and walked around with it, so I wouldn't exactly call this a "safety clown".

The clown in the second picture, balancing on his crutch (his legs don't work), is famous in San Salvador as "El Hombre Arana" (spiderman), and performs on the buses for money.

This is another group of local clowns, Oscar, Giovanni, Oscar, and "El Negro" Nilton, all photographers for local papers waiting for the vendors (again, all fucking day, in the blazing sun) to riot.

While we were conducting an interview with a police commander about how things were improving in Apopa, a particularly violent district, a murder was called in. At the same moment, these two old boozers accidentally staggered into the police station. Dentistry is very cheap and excellent in El Salvador, however, apparently not in Apopa.

Here is the murder that occurred, a gang member shot in front of a church. One of my favorite things is to see kids in their goddamn underwear at murder scenes.

WORLD CUP MADNESS: El Salvador Spanks Panama

El Salvador won the 2010 World Cup qualifying match against Panama in the Cuscatlan Stadium in San Salvador. Two weeks previous, El Salvador had lost to Panama, in Panama, and a loss in this game, or, in fact, a win by less than two goals, would have disqualified them from the 2010 World Cup. Many (read: "all") times, athletes here don't make much money. When they win, local politicians and business leaders give them money and prizes for winning significant events, so this week, the players met with local business leaders, the president of the country, etc, to get the cash. It pays to be a winner. My favortite part of the game was how, after a bad penalty or whatnot, the Salvadoran fans would pelt the Panamanians with bags of water, food, or garbage. When a Panamanian had to inbound the ball from the sidelines, the riot police had to stand behind them with plexi shields and block the hurled garbage. It was all in the spirit of fun, although the Panamanians, after their ass-whooping, complained to FIFA about it.

The next pictures are of the vendedores, who were threatening to riot again. This time, they were being forced to move out from in front of the National Theater, which was newly renovated. Every day last week, they met with representatives of the mayor to work out a solution.
The man in the foreground, Julio, is a photographer for La Prensa Grafica. The woman vendor in the background is wearing a t-shirt that perfectly sums up the attitude of the vendors towards the authorities: "Fuck You Pendejo".

These two photographers, Saloman and Borman, were clowing with some of the handy equiptment for covering the vendors, gas masks (against tear gas) and helments (against rocks and bullets).

Pictured next are two particularly militant leaders of the vendors from El Centro (Vincente, on the right), and from Soyapango (left, yello shirt).

In the last photo, the vendors are packing up for the final time from in front of the national theater.
The downtown of San Salvador, known as El Centro, is a fairly crazy and disfunctional place. One of the reasons is that there are few actual storefronts facing the streets, and informal street vendors have erected stalls made of wood, crates, and tin in front of every 'brick and mortar' store, frequently extending well into the street. The situation is complex, and a good example of Central American problems.
The only the reason the street vendors are there, selling low cost junk from China, for the most part, is to make a living, as they have no jobs. Most of the goods are of a pirate nature, from knock-off Lacoste shirts, pirate DVD's and CD's (big sellers), to fake Nike shoes and Levis jeans. I have been told some of the vendors have received loans, and now have to sell this crap to pay back the loans. You can pretty much find just about anything you want there if you look hard enough, and one person I know said he knew where to buy a real jaguar there. Ouch.
So on one side, you have people with nothing to lose, trying to make a living, a byproduct of a lopsided economy and no social safety net. On the other hand, they are completely blocking commercial development in the city, they steal electricity and basic services, pay no taxes (except extorsion to gangs), and block traffic. Many vendors are parents, and pull their kids out of school to work in the stalls. The downtown of El Salvador has not changed in a long time, and there is no incentive for development of anything. Many buildings are abandoned, relics from the last big earthquake, and no new business, apartments, or……..anything……has come into the city center. About the only booming businesses are brothels and bars, which aren't exactly part of the good neighbor program.
The person responsible for dealing with the vendors is the mayor, who is currently Violetta Menjivar, of the FMLN party. The mayor enforces her actions using the municipal police force, the CAM, which is under her power. The vendors, though, are apolitical in the sense that they have been fighting with every mayor and authority figure forever: they are out for themselves. There are rumors that the vendors have ties to the Maras, or gangs, and this is entirely plausible. They certainly have to deal with gangs, and when you are an 18 year old here from a poor neighbor who works on the street for 12 hours a day, you're going to have to associate with gangs on some level. I, as well, have photographed tattoo'd gang members associating with vendors during rallys.