Posted by: missopinion | February 15, 2010

How Can El Salvador Succeed?

I am usually an ideas person. I can think of a million ways to do things, the hard part is the implementation and execution of such ideas, I could probably think of 100 ways to fix El Salvador’s problems but more often than not these solutions are hindered by money and a lack resources. Let’s pretend that if we could do anything to fix it how could we do it?

In order to answer this we need to look at the source(s) of the problem. In El Salvador, when one asks this question, the answer to always depends on whose view you seek and what side of society they come from, how the current political climate is affecting that individual and how they see their own future. There are numerous problems in El Salvador and when I have held this exact same discussion with family and friends, often, the political and economic debate that transpires is very passionate. It is fair to say that the root of the problems extend both in the political history of El Salvador and also by the social and political impact of international policies that have affected El Salvador to date.

In previous posts I have addressed the enormous problem of ‘maras’ or the notorious gangs of LA which have laid roots in El Salvador. This is not the only problem, but it is a problem that is preventing other problems from been resolved and prevents the country to move forward and develop.

I have been thinking about this a lot, the mentality of the young men and women who choose this life, do they fully comprehend the impact? Are they truly committed to the wrong doings of these organisations or are they just misguided? Who’s fault is it? Why do the gang leaders insist on continuing with their misaligned beliefs and structures?

I watched an interesting documentary the other day; Duke: A Prisoner’s Tale, which I would recommend you watch in conjunction with reading my post so that you can understand the context of a lot of the ideas Ive included. In this documentary they have followed one of the 18th street gang leaders who at the time of the documentary were incarcerated in El Salvador. The first time I watched it, it disturbed me, it truly did. I physically felt ill, truly conflicted and found myself disorientated by the question; Why?

These gang members are not necessarily stupid entirely. Many are, but the leaders I would rather describe as influential misguided strategists, not stupid. Their reasoning behind the things they do, their gang structure etc I will even go so far as to say is commendable on its own. Duke is one of the ‘respected’ gang leaders, he was deported from the USA where he spent time in prison for criminal acts he was convicted of doing. Duke has a loving wife and children who stand by him, love him and dream of what any other family does – a close happy loving family. Duke describes how he was given the nickname Duke – he describes how historically the title of Duke was given to a man who proved himself to the King with acts of loyalty, in his world the ‘king’ is the gang, 18th street. Immediately this impressed on me as to how these men and women develop such loyalty to an entity that for, the society in which it exists, provides nothing of value and only brings to them violent early death, pain, suffering, incarceration and separation from their loved ones. Duke’s journey in the gang commenced in his infancy. He admits that he has been absorbed into the gang life since he was 5 years old and he does bring a valid point how can you change a lifestyle to which you have been accustomed to? By this reasoning, Duke was stating that his life is the gang, has known no other and considers himself unable to change if forced to. This does not mean that gang members cannot change, but that their mentality must change first. It is equivalent to describing how someone quits smoking. You cannot force someone to quit, they need to want to do it on their own in order to succeed. To me this was an enormous representation of the challenge that governments face both in the US and in all the Latin American countries, particularly El Salvador.

The gang leaders in the documentary talk about having honourable traits such as sense of honour and pride. This is great stuff, you don’t believe me? It is true. The traits of honour and pride are extremely important to success of the individual, to a family and country. It is unfortunate that the gang members are applying these magnificent traits to a cause that only brings destruction, violence and early death to themselves, their families and innocent people in the neighbourhoods and countries in which they live. Duke’s wife describes him as a good husband, a good father and a man who helps her around the house Once again, these are traits that any human being would be proud of. I will not take these traits away from Duke it is good that he is like this to his family, but the questions that arose in my head were:

  1. Being a good man – why would he participate in the killing of other human beings? Why participate and mentor others into a life of crime and violence and destruction? Why is he allowing his children to be absorbed and be put at risk by belonging to an entity that is so violent and destructive? Does he not want his children to have the ability to succeed in life without having to fear for their lives? Without having the gift of being able to hope that they will live to see their children and grandchildren? That his family has no hope of truly living a life of peace and prosperity? Does he not want this for his own life?

His wife even describes the bad things about him: smoke crack, weed, and “likes to do a lot  of bad things too”.

  1. I understand a lot of people smoke pot/weed whatever you wanna call it. It is a dangerous drug but in the grand scheme of things crack is worse, lets call a spade a spade. Crack is worse. Is this truly the behaviour of a good husband and father? Is this the example of a good man that he wants to be for his children and the youth that look up to him? Why? The answer is not why not. The answer is why is a life of violence, destruction, death appealing? Why is that a good alternative? Death is in all walks of life, but violent death is not. Not if you choose peace.

While the documentary interviews another gang leader, called Diablo (Devil) proudly attests that the neighbourhood inside the prison and outside is run by the gang and inside prison it is where they hone their skills in the gang and learn how to be a ‘better’ gang member to teach them ‘how he is supposed to walk and how he is not supposed to walk’ until they ‘graduate’.  This demonstrates their intelligence in gang structure, their commitment to developing the youth within the gang. They are rewarded and revered if they have committed homicide or “have been working hard for the gang”. The gang mentality describes that the gang will discipline those who do not follow the rules and that “you don’t resent that” because it is liken to a parent disciplining their child onto the ‘right’ path.

So they want discipline, the gang respects discipline, but yet they have no respect or discipline for the innocent who get caught in their intra-gang violence? Why cant they apply this fantastic mentality to their own individual lives and discipline themselves for a greater good of the entire community not for some entity that is born out of rebellion and hate which does nothing to progress their individual economic or social status.

What is the answer?

  1. Annihilation of all gang members by some form?
  2. Capital Punishment used as a deterrent?
  3. Rehabilitation?
  4. Negotiation?

Keeping gangs in prison without real punishment is only ensuring a breeding ground for more gang violence and insurgence.

Gang members in interviews often state that the reason the gang was born was in a response to the oppressive government of the US who discriminated against them and their families and caused much pain and hardship, that the gang was the only way to respond to the injustices they felt they suffered. El Salvador was governed by a right-wing democratically elected government for at least 20 years until 2009 when the leftist FMLN party won democratic elections. By their own reasoning it would be reasonable to conclude that the right wing government who worked with the US government all those years is no longer in power so any hate, rebellion, destruction and horrors they felt justified in doing all those years should have ended with the FMLN taking power. What these gang members fail to realise is that the FMLN was conceived by people fighting for their families rights and fighting against the injustices they claim to have suffered. El Salvador’s is not the US government it needs to be respected and the atrocities these gangs inflict on El Salvador must stop. There is no validity in their reasoning anymore. Their continued violence and hate on El Salvador’s people is no longer even remotely justified, not that it ever was, but any arguments cited are well and dead now.

The US government has fault in all this too. Their immigration policies and ineffective gang controls policies have resulted in a problem that is getting out of hand and infecting the entire continent. The US governments and Salvadorian government’s imposition of economic garbage like the DR-CAFTA has only served as fuel to the fire of such problems. DR-CAFTA serves to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. The once innocent poor children of El Salvador grow discontent, resentful, angry, frustrated, revengeful and are soon found to turn to the gangs which offer a safe haven for them to commit revenge, malice and essentially engage in war with the government and the people they feel anger towards.

Of course I have played my opinion in its most simplistic form. I could go on and on about the wrongs of the past both in El Salvador and the US that have led to this phenomenon.

How can the DR-CAFTA effects be resolved? By abolishment. When you hear concepts like ‘those at the top got there by using those at the bottom’ that is exactly what DR-CAFTA ensures for the USA. It disguises assistance and bilateral trade as fair and equitable, when in reality it is not.

The government of El Salvador needs to establish, support and develop fair, just, ecologically sound and profitable industries that will enable the country to stand on its own two feet and compete well in the international markets, continuing its commitment to things such as universal access to health care, education and housing and equitable employment for all ages not just the youth.

El Salvador cannot solely rely on the government to do everything. I realise this. But it has the responsibility to put strategies into place so that it takes the responsibility to ensure El Salvador is renewed and is reborn into an exemplary peaceful state. There are many Salvadorans living abroad from Europe to Australia to North America, many whom have become successful in their own right. Many of whom would wish to return to El Salvador and help the country progress and develop, but this cannot happen if the problems above are not resolved. How can we return to El Salvador to invest in the economy by establishing businesses and other sources of employment when we will not feel safe and secure?

copyright missopinion 15 Feb 2010



  1. It is clear that Gangs represent one of the major challenges that El Salvador has to face. Many youths are ready to turn their back on the gangs, but they need support and alternatives. Many analysts predict that illicit gang activities may accelerate illegal immigration, drug smuggling, and trafficking in persons and weapons to the United States. Others assert that unless the root causes of gang violence, which include poverty, joblessness, and the social exclusion of at-risk youth, are addressed in a holistic manner, the problem will continue to escalate. This shows that law enforcement solutions alone cannot resolve this problem!!!

    I applaud your opinion and analysis. It is fantastic!!

    • thanks! MM nice to see you around here 🙂

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