Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Barely Legal System

There are a lot of really crazy things happening in El Salvador right now. One fairly majorish item is that there appear to be sweeping disagreements between the FMLN leadership, and the FMLN presidential candidate Mauricio Funes. A number of times, Funes has appeared to be in conflict with the ideology of his own party; while Funes squarely disagrees with both of these plans, the FMLN has reiterated their support for war crimes trials, and changing from the dollar back to the Colon, the old Salvadoran currency. I leave the analysis of these utterly disasterous ideas to the pundits. This news is out in the open, for all to see and comment on. I like to focus on everyday life here, things that are not entirely obvious or available to the casual reader. Like the legal system.

Pic1: This group of youngsters, all MS18 gang members, murdered some people and did some other not really nice things. Here, one of the gangsters, who has misspelled "gangster" in the tattoo on his head, is getting ready to be set free because of a technicality in the trial proceedings. Something about a witness disappearing or some silly thing like that.

Pic2: This is the alleged leader of 28 gang cliques in San Salvador, captured in a night raid. He claimed to not be involved in gang life, and only a humble seller of frijoles and wheat. We all had a good laugh at that one. The scary thing is that he was very well spoken, and with his shirt on, like most gangsters here, looked exactly like everyone else, and not someone responsible for ordering scores of assassinations, mutilations, extortion, rapes, and kidnappings.

Pic3: Further along our trek today of the legal system, this is in the women's prison in Ilopango. Here we are in the maternity ward, where, right now, about 18 women with newborn babies live, like Kevin-Marjorie (that's her name) and her son Alfredo. There are a number of children living in the prison, and by "a number", I mean there are kids all over the place; in past visits, I thought they were only visiting, but I was wrong, they actually live there with their mothers. They have full access to the entire prison while with their mothers, and live there full time. This is a relatively new program for the prison system here. I'm not sure about the effects of growing up in a women's prison, or how it would compare to the children growing up in an orphanage under state care.

Pic4: this is a woman in the prison communicating down a hallway using a mirror.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sex Workers in San Salvador

When I went to the murder in a red light district (see 9-9-08 entry), I talked with some of the ladies working in the area. Some,not all, very kindly agreed to have their photo taken, as long as it didn't appear in a local newspaper. Another photographer was there, said the same thing, but did publish their photos locally and said some not very nice things about them.
I talked with the ladies again, they were impressed that I kept my word, and so allowed me to come back and photograph inside the brothel. I spent about a half a day with them; it was very illuminating, and sad. Here are a few photos from that day of one of the women at the club, Danielle, and there is another short photoessay on my website from the same session at
I hope to, one day soon, do a photo book about their lifestyle and others like them.
Pic1: This is Danielle, on the street in front of the club. It is midday, and the streets are fairly crowded with people, mostly young to middle aged men, walking around looking at the women (and men) trying to decide who to go with.

Pic2: Danielle, going in to see a client in one of the bedrooms.
And here she is, after her client has left.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Savage Realities of Murder in the Capital

Every day I think I've seen it all, I see something new and horrifying. In this case, it was a man shot 5 times in broad daylight in front of a little food stand in the city center. No, that's not the horrifying part. The horror set in when the woman (who has the food stand) had to clean the crime scene herself, and then………here comes the horror part……….had to cook for the late-lunch crowd using the same pot she used to clean the blood away, only a few minutes after.

Here, let me show you:

Pic1: 22 year old Amilcar Moreno was a taxi driver. Evidentally, he was being extorted by gang members and refused to pay. They shot him 5 times in the back at about 10:15am. I am constantly harping on the fact that the gangs are waging war against public transportation, and the police are doing not a lot to prevent it. To be fair, it's not the police, they do what they can. It's the governmental policies toward regulation of public transportation that have to be fixed. But there I go again, proselytizing.

Pic2: A little girl watches the police bag the body to haul it away. At every murder scene I've been to, there are always squads of little kids checking it out, which, to me, fits squarely in the "that's not cool" category. If any parents are reading this, if you happen to stroll by a homicide, please do yourself a favor and don't put your kids on your shoulders so they can see better. Thank you.

Pic3: Also a common, depressing side effect of crime scenes, the friends and family coming face to face with the death of a loved one.

Pic4. Here, the food vendor is rinsing the blood and, uh, whatever else ended up on the sidewalk after Amilcar Moreno was shot 5 times in the back. I would also remark in passing that there are no suspects for the crime, and it will probably go unsolved. News of this, also, was barely mentioned in the press, because it's so common.

Pic5: here the food vendor, who declined (wisely) to be identified, prepares lunch and dinner. The pot on the stove is the same used to clean the blood only a few minutes before.

Also taking place concurrently as the above unpleasantness, two blocks away the chief of the police force (Tobar Prieto) and the Minister of Security for the country (Rene Figeroa) were meeting with members of the press, presumably about the little old gigantic homicide rate. Yes, that was a bit of irony, and for that I am sorry.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Death and Prostitution at "The Child's Park"

clicking on a photo will enlarge it
Picture 1
: As usual, when I post a photo of a person laying prone on the ground, there's a very high probability that they are not asleep. Unfortunately, this was the case today. This woman was shot three times, including once in the eye (ouch!), in front of the "Parque Infantil", near the Mayor of San Salvador's office. This park, despite being named "The childs park" (depending on your translation), the only resemblence to a child park is that some the sex workers in the brothels surrounding the park are shockingly young (see later photo). Anyway, this unidentified woman was shot for unknown reasons at 2:30 today.

Picture 2,3: As I mentioned, the park is surrounded by brothels staffed by women and men of all ages and, unfortunately, states of pregnancy. This young girl was sitting outside a brothel, watching the murder scene evolve and chatting with friends. She is, obviously, underage, also pregnant, and still a sex worker. She, and her friend "China" (next photo), were kind enough to let me take their photos after I asked them and their co-workers. Ms China, by the by, I think may be more of a he than a she, in case you're wondering. S/he still had lovely eyes, though, whatever was going on there.
If you happen to live in or visit San Salvador, and decide to cruise by this place, I would strongly, strongly advise against trying to take pictures. This goes for any prostitution zone. I would say the people in these places take a rather……"active" role in not having their pictures taken. There was a woman selling shrimp ceviche (essentially, shrimp marinated in lime and onion, with tomatoes and chilis) who had gang tattoos on her face, including two teardrops (she's killed at least twice) and a three point "la vida loca" tattoo on her other eye. When the person who sells shrimp cocktail in your neighborhood is a killer, you've gotta be pretty tough to be there.

In any regard, these photos are sad, and, as usual, the presence of underage pregnant prostitutes is taken for granted; I would point out the presence of a major police station within 200 meters of the brothel where this girl works, as well as the roughly 25 police officers working the crime scene and chatting with girls.

Picture 4: to give some idea of the politics surrounding this area, there was a dummy strung from a tree with a Rodrigo Avila ARENA party t-shirt (and tie: classy!).

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Losing your head in San Salvador. Literally.

Hello again. Against my better judgement, I'm cranking up the blog again, and I hope you enjoy the photos and words. Anyway, to business: If you click on a photo, it will appear larger.

1. This is a young crack addict named Arenyo who begs in the street on Calle Juan Pablo II. It was raining hard that day, making it particularly not fun. This is in a neighborhood known as Tetunichapa, a haven for the drug business. Typically, they will beg for change on the surrounding streets, and then go to a crackhouse located next to Hospital Rosales for a little "afternoon delight", as it were. Arenyo didn't know how old he was, but guessed 17 or 18. He looks older, but then as they say, it's not the years, it's the miles. Except here it's kilometers, I guess. Whatever. This photo will be part of a kids at risk photo essay I'm doing.

2. And speaking of kids at risk, this youngster, Jorge Miguel Perez Menendez AKA "Chino De Hoover" is a member of the Mara Salvatruch-18 gang clique Hoover Vatos Locos Surenos. He is wanted for, well, let's just say a lot of things, and I'm not talking about Good Samaritan awards.

3. This is the view down the alley of an MS-18 controlled neighborhood known as Don Rua, a barrio in San Salvador. Around the corner, where the kid is covering his face, they found a decapitated young girl. We helped them look for the head for a while, but my reporter quickly grew bored so we took off for another assignment. Still no word on the head. The police said 22 gangsters from that area had recently been captured and sent to jail, and they thought it could be retribution for that. And they still haven't identified the girl.

4. These next two photos are really sad. Not like, uh, the others, I guess. Anyway, this was about a story of abandoned kids in the maternity hospital in San Salvador. A record number of babies have been abandoned in the Hospital Maternidad this year, and the El Salvadoran laws make adoption very difficult. This may seem like a bad thing, and in this case it is, but the goal is to prevent something like another Guatemala. I will bitch about Guatemala another time in more depth, but suffice it to say, Guatemala (population, about 15million) had only a few hundred less adoptions than China (population, uh, over 1 billion). Basically, it's a baby stealing factory.
Anyway, this baby is abandoned, and has HIV. The other two babies, twins, were abandoned as well. The nurse said the mothers will simply cut their ID bracelets and sneak out of the hospital. There were only a few nurses to care for over a hundred babies in the room, and when the bottles would fall out of their mouths when they were done feeding, they would just sit there and drip milk on the babies face, as the nurses were tending to others. When I see shit like this, and then I see the national police force is bragging about having bought another helicopter this week, it brings to mind the typical misplaced priorities of Central American governance.