Two gangs, MS-13 and Barrio 18, regularly murder and extort people in their own neighborhoods, the Nov. 2 story reported.
This is one explanation for the waves of migrants seeking to enter the U.S. either by petitioning for asylum or by entering illegally, the newspaper stated.
“As a worker and as a human being you can’t live in this country in peace,” explains El Salvadoran Jose Gualberto Claro Iglesias. “You spend all your time and energy trying to defend your business and your family.”
One gang set fire to Claro’s truck while he and his family were inside because he refused to pay extortion fees, the article reports.
He then sent his wife and four children to live in Los Angeles in 2015.
Claro was caught trying to cross the US-Mexico border in 2017, held for nearly 13 months in a U.S. immigration detention center, and finally deported back to El Salvador.
He said he now plans to sell his property in El Salvador and may move his family to Panama.
Many youth in El Salvador have bleak prospects for employment and are attracted to gangs as an alternative to traditional employment, the story noted.
“The only opportunities they have are working at the market nearby where they can unload or load trucks. It’s either that, or they can join one of the gangs,” said school Principal Amilcar Rivera, “You can earn $300 a week doing manual labor or you can get $1,000 a week from extortion. Which one do you think these young people will choose?”
Poverty affects one-third of El Salvadorans, according to World Bank Data.
The government of El Salvador attempted to address the problem by brokering a truce between the two gangs.
As a concession by the government, gang leaders who were incarcerated were moved from solitary confinement or maximum security prisons to more permissive custody arrangements. Although the homicide rate the year after the truce was brokered fell by 42 percent, many business leaders, lawmakers and voters accused the government of bowing down to the gangs by not enforcing laws.
The government ended the truce after pressure by the U.S. government.
“The government’s credibility was destroyed by the truce,” said Martin Rogel, an auxiliary judge who sits on El Salvador’s Supreme Court. “It was as if El Salvadorans stopped believing in God. Salvadorans have stopped believing in the rule of law.”
After the truce ended, the homicide rate rose to 60.1 per 100,000, nearly 12 times the rate in the U.S. and the highest in the world, according to the United Nations.
“The highest cost is human,” said a successful El Salvadoran businessman, Javier Siman. “We’re losing the best people we have. They either flee the country, they get killed or they are constantly forced to move around. They have to pay the gangs just to enter the neighborhoods where they live and work.”