El Salvador is characterized not only by widespread violence but also by the brutality with which the violence is carried out. After firearms, machetes are the most common murder weapon. Often, the aim is not just to kill, but to torture, maim, and dismember the victim. The emergence of an intricate gang culture with its own traditions, rules, and structures has transformed the act of killing into a ritual, filled with intentional references to sadism and satanism. Videos and stories of these killings, which usually involve a group of laughing gang members gleefully hacking away at the body parts of a victim and removing organs, have paralyzed Salvadoran society, creating a pervasive atmosphere of fear: Anybody can be an informer for a gang, nobody is safe, any street can become a crime scene, anybody can disappear. Public killings are common, accounting for nearly 40 percent of all murders. The roots of El Salvador’s current violence lie in the country’s civil war during the 1980s. The war was brutal and exposed many Salvadorans, particularly children, to horrific violence. Many Salvadorans fled to the United States, and in particular to Los Angeles, where Salvadorans teenagers joined together in ethnic solidarity to protect themselves against other established gangs in the city. Following the end of the civil war in 1992, immigration policies in the United States became more restrictive, and migrants who had been convicted of crimes were sent home, bringing gang culture and violence to an already struggling state. Today, in many Salvadoran cities, it is impossible to cross the street due to the boundaries of rival gangs’ territory. When entering a new neighborhood by car, visitors often have to flash their lights or roll windows down to indicate allegiance to the gang that controls it—or face violence.
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Music to this video: “Temporary” composed and played by Othon @OthonPanMuzik
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