Gold 2015 / Editorial / Photo Essay

Life and death in El Salvador

  • Prizes
    Gold in Editorial/Photo Essay
  • Photographer
    Patrick Tombola

El Salvador has recently become the most murderous nation in the world outside a war zone, with an average of 25-30 homicides per day, with the overwhelming majority of them being youths. The insecurity that results from such violence has rocked every section of society causing widespread distrust amongst its citizens along with a collective sense of fear and trauma.Historically, the violent gangs of El Salvador began in the United States as Latinos formed gangs to battle other street gangs in Los Angeles and other cities. As members were arrested and deported to El Salvador in the 1990s, their gangs filled a power vacuum in their home country that was fresh off a civil war that stretched from 1979 to 1992. The Cold War era that saw Marxists and Maoist insurgencies throughout Latin America subsided and created a further power vacuum for drug and extortion gangs to fill. Today the scars of its long-term conflicts run like invisible lines throughout the country limiting the physical sphere of influence of each of the two rival gangs, Mara Salvatrucha and 18 Street. Impossible to detect to the naked eye these lines structure and regulate the everyday life of its inhabitants. If someone from a suburb belonging to the Mara is found merely walking through an area under the control of Barrio 18, he or she may be tortured and killed.