We are increasingly conscious of security by and from government as real or imagined terrorist threats are dangled in front of us and the constitutional shields of civil liberties are being removed by power hungry politicians.
Salvadorans can be justifiably paranoid when it comes to security. Our iron doors are double or triple bolted. The high brick walls surrounding our properties are topped with broken glass bottles embedded in cement or rolls of barbed or razor wire on our vulnerable tile or sheet metal roofs.
Here, where 911 has a circuitous and unclear path via San Salvador and your provincial seat before the local cops get the message, people probably have arms or at least machetes to try to keep thieves out of the house and out of the corn field. We are wary. We don’t go out at night and we don’t go out alone. We walk our kids to and from anywhere. If they go to the corner store, we stand on the porch or in the street to watch.
Those old enough to have lived before and through the civil war fear the police and the military. But there’s a new organization, born in Los Angeles and raised in California’s prisons, that they fear even more. Las maras or pandillas, the gangs.
Wherever you live in the U.S. you’ve read about and watched TV to see how gangs have taken over much of Mexico and have grown in power in U.S. towns and cities as much more than petty drug dealers, protection extortioners, and pimps. They have no limits to the extent of their violence, mayhem, and the terror they wreak where they exist.
On our nightly news reports, we see dismembered bodies of both male and female young adults, teens, and even children. We see bodies lying in the streets of the cities, towns, and hamlets. We see the discovered graves in fields and forests filled with missing persons. We see the corpses of commuters shot with automatic weapons from outside their buses and then burned to death if they somehow escaped the bullets. We know the names: Mara Salvatrucha, MS-18, and now the Zetas. We know their connections to the Mexican cartels. We know that we are caught in a crossfire between competing syndicates for control of transit of drugs and raw materials for their production between their South American sources and their points of retail sale in your town.
Wednesday’s paper told of young men being accosted on the streets of a normally quiet and peaceful neighborhood in San Salvador. A young man of 24 coming home from the university was stopped by a pandillero who demanded to know his gang affiliation. He said he had none. The punk wasn’t satisfied and questioned him menacingly. Seemingly satisfied, the thug followed the student to his house and demanded a glass of water with ice in it. When the young man returned to the door, the gang-banger was gone. But the fear wasn’t. I doubt it will be.
Another young man coming home on a microbus had a banger sit next to him and ask the same question. Receiving a negative answer, he forced the young man to the back of the bus and told him to lift up his shirt so he could see if he had tattoos from a rival gang. There weren’t any. The young man wisely got off the bus at a different stop and started walking. He realized he was being followed so he stopped at a house and asked for help. By the time the police arrived the punk was gone.
You read about Ciudad Juarez and the number of deaths in Mexico since the federal government started seriously going after the cartels. You read about police chiefs assassinated and the young female chief who fled to the U.S. for her life. You read about top level politicians, judges, and journalists being murdered. Families being killed for their SUVs or pickups. Americans shot dead for no apparent reason other than to instill fear. Like other terrorist armies, these gangsters don’t wear uniforms. Not even pin-striped suits. You see two or three kids joking around on the sidewalk and you don’t know who they are. Students or pandilleros. Police don’t patrol as they do in New York, Los Angeles, or Piscataway, NJ. They’re as afraid as the civilians and only seem to show up to investigate the bodies that have been found.
So we see the mothers, the wives, the children wailing in mourning over the corpses on the sidewalk or the main road through town. We listen to the police tell the TV reporter what they know or don’t know. Sometimes we see the arrest of some alleged killers who are paraded in front of the cameras and even interviewed. They show no sorrow, shame, guilt. All in a day’s work. They’ll go to jail and prison. Their mothers, wives, and girl friends will bring them food, clothes, and money. Then they’ll protest at the prison gate about the bad conditions their men are suffering…forgetting the mothers, widows, and orphans of the dead. Only the dead are secure. Neither the governors nor the governed are secure. God help us all and save us from the cravings of the drug users up north.