August 18, 2015
What I Know About El Salvador
The thing that I most remember about previous reporting trips to El Salvador are the eyes of the children– big, round, black and brown –that and their smiles, sometimes shy, always dazzling.
I have seen those children in the teeming urban jungle of San Salvador, the beaches of Intipuca and remote hamlets at the foot of mountains. I’ve also seen those children here, in the D.C. metropolitan region. Some recently arrived as unaccompanied minors, others as full fledged American citizens. I have gotten to know both kinds of the Salvadoran community –both in the U.S. and in El Salvador— since moving to the Washington area in 1992.
I’ve learned about the bloody civil war (fueled by the Cold War) that ignited a diaspora that is still in effect decades later. It’s a community of hard working people trying to overcome poverty, trauma and displacement. It’s also a community beset by violence and fear. I have seen evidence of all of this both here and there.
I have met humble day laborers, star athletes, professionals and proud U.S. elected officials with roots in El Salvador. I’ve also met former and current gang members. The lives of all of them are intertwined with the conditions plaguing their country.
I’m leaving for El Salvador again this Thursday for another reporting trip, and my return comes at a historical juncture. The first elected government run by former left-wing guerilla leaders is trying to make things better for Salvadorans even as it faces a massive upswing in violence and murders related to gangs. Dozens of people are killed everyday. They are mostly young, mostly male and mostly gang connected, but bus drivers, small businesspeople, students and police officers are also among the dead.
The Salvadoran people are conflicted over the violence. Many want the gang members dealt with harshly. In a country with a history of government death squads, “harshly” has only one meaning.
Others say the government needs to sit down and negotiate with gang leaders who represent about 50,000 gang members and as many as 500,000 associates. This is nearly 10 percent of the population. Add in a dismal school system and a weak economy and the challenges facing this country can seem overwhelming. Yet, there are many Salvadorans who refuse to give in to the despair these conditions can rightly engender. I look forward to meeting some of them during my visit later this week.
Tune into The Kojo Nnamdi Show Tuesday, August 19 at 12:20 p.m. EST to hear Armando Trull and El Salvador’s Ambassador to the United States, Francisco Altschul.
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