Friday, November 28, 2008

Terrorists Striking At Will In El Salvador

Photo1: Bus Driver Killed For Extorsion In San Salvador

Gangs in El Salvador, and yes………. everyone is sick of hearing about the gang problem here….
gangs are waging war on the public transportation sector. In the past three days, they have torched two buses, killed 5 bus drivers (or the person who takes the money on the bus, known as the "cobrador"), and made attempts on the lives of many more. Just today, a security guard died in a shootout when gangsters were trying to kill a bus driver.

Photo2: Bus Burned In Apopa, On The Outskirts Of San Salvador

This year, close to 100 bus drivers on public buses have been killed here. This statistic is low, as it doesn't count the passengers, as well as security guards, who have also been killed. The gangs do this as intimidation for the bus owners to pay "La Renta", extorsion.

Photo3: Family of Slain Cobrador Identifying the Body, San Salvador
The president has called for the bus owners to resist the gangs, and yet the government has done nothing to stem the tide of this violence, nor to reshape public transportation to prevent this tragedy. The reason is, the public buses are all actually privately owned, and the bus owners wield a lot of political power. For example, the bus owners, being the only source of transportation to voting centers, can simply refuse to transport people in one particular area if they are irritated by a political party. The bus owners evidently don't care if they lose a few drivers or buses, as they too have done absolutely ZERO to secure their routes.
Are the gangs terrorists? Max G. Manwaring, the General Douglas MacArthur Chair of Military History at the US Army War College, has likened the widespread, organized criminal enterprise of MS-18 and MS-13 as a form of urban insurgency. More to the point, the effect of all the gang violence is the equivalent of a low intensity conflict (read: war) with the governing nation, here being El Salvador.

Photo4: Bullet Hole From The Shot That Killed A Bus Driver, San Salvador

Consider: in the United States or any other country in the world, if there were coordinated attacks on public transportation and targeted assasinations (one every three days in the city here) by an organized group with a defined agenda (here it is simply to gain power, money, and undermine the government), we would call the people who carried out these attacks terrorists.

Photo5: Passengers in Central Eastern Bus Terminal

In El Salvador, these attacks almost never make the front page, because people are so used to them. They are not news anymore. If people want to stabilize this country, fight terrorism, and prevent transnational crime, this would be a really good, cheap place to start.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Send In The Clowns.......

Some time ago, I promised to publish happy photos of life in El Salvador. Unfortunately, I am going to have to break that promise.

Photo1: Slain Clown in El Centro

This clown, 33 year old Geovanni Guzman, known as "Piecito", was shot 13 times in a place in the city center known as Parque San Jose, right in front of the old church there. I said to myself, "13 times, someone must have been really mad at this clown". And, I was correct. Witnesses told us that he was a robber and thief. Turns out, a number of the clowns that work on the public buses here are actually spotters for gangs, or else rob people when they get off. They come on the bus, do some schtick, see who has money or goods, and then call to the gang members. This clown was shot at about noon, three times in the face, and 10 times in the body.
As I left the scene, a group of what looked to be gangsters asked what I was doing. "Taking pictures of the dead clown" I said. They asked to see the photos, and as they were looking at them on my camera, one said "So somebody finally killed that clown".

Photo2: Brothel Floor

I have been working on a story about sex workers in El Centro for some time now, and it is because of this that I haven't been publishing much on the blog. The stories of these women are fascinating, horrifying, and sad. This is a photo of the floor of one of the rooms of the brothel, with a prostitute (almost certainly underage) in the process of buying drugs, surrounded by used condoms. I asked the owner why they didn't clean it up, why there were used condoms all over the place. She told me that when the women go on drug binges, they basically can't wait to buy drugs, so they take the used condoms off the men, drop them wherever, and hustle out to buy crack. Another lovely aspect to prostitution and sex tourism. The bright side is, at least they were using condoms. I guess.

Photo3: Slain Bus Cobrador (Fare Collector), El Centro
Photo4: Bullet That Killed The Cobrador
Photo5: Child In Front of Bus With Slain Cobrador

Another round of bus driver killings have been occuring here, with the government doing ABSOLUTELY ZERO to prevent it. Here, a 24 year old assistant to the bus driver, the person who collects money and is known as the cobrador, was shot in the afternoon in El Centro. The casing of the exact bullet that killed him is shown in the next photo. The motive for the crime was supposedly extorsion, as it always is. He was shot in the city center from outside the bus, and the bus driver attempted to drive to the hospital, but the cobrador died after a couple of blocks so the bus driver stopped the bus........and fled.
For whatever reason, this is the 5th murder in two weeks that hasn't made any of the papers, not a note.
The last photo is a child watching the scene unfold. The bullethole from the shot that killed the cobrador is to the right of his eye, in the doorway of the bus.