The 9th of March was a “double fiest” en El Salvador, to use the words of the gangs: The elections, and the 2nd anniversary of the truce.
In my previous post I wrote that I would publish some encounters with gang-members, as a tribute to the truce-anniversary.
On elections day I, among others, met William, “The Sniper” a leader from MS-13. He said:
– This is an important day for us. And like all the other citizens, we are deciding about important things such as job-opportunities, support to the youth, violence and education.
We were circulating between polling stations in some populous and rather violent suburbs of San Salvador, where there had been trouble during the first elections´ round the 2nd of February – or where problems could arise.
We were accompanying a friend of ours whose work is – to prevent trouble. He is namely part of the group which accompanies and supports the peace-process.
At the first place we visited, in the municipality of Apopa, the police had refused some gang-members access to vote. The 9th, though, it seemed pretty calm. But there were police everywhere in the area, where one gang controls one side of the street, another, the other.
We continued to another, Ciudad Delgado (just on the border to the second most populated municipality of all Latin America – Soyapango. Impressing, in this tiny country!)
“We behave well”
Here a murder had been committed the night before, supposedly by one of the smaller gangs. And since the area is controlled by the bigger gangs las letras (Barrio 18) and las cifras (MS-13) , our friend wanted to check things out.
Just as announced, after noon the guys from las cifras started showing up. In groups, with girl-friends, families, or two-and-two. Many of them were, as many other young men, checked by the police before going to the voting booths .
William, “The Sniper” from MS-13 seemed relaxed, though:
– Everything is calm here and nothing like “the gangs are going to make trouble” is going on. With the truce we have showed everyone that the gangs are collaborating and that we can behave well, also during the elections.
The gang leader explains that the gangs before the truce didn´t participate that much in the elections because of police harassment. What he doesn´ t explain is that the gangs previously also behaved bad during elections, even causing riots. The reason why the truce was hurried up in March 2012 was that there, in fact, was fear of the gangs making trouble, even managing to prevent the elections from taking place.
Like so many other gang-members I have talked to, William is happy about the truce. And like the others, he stresses how difficult it is.
– It´s been hard work for two years from our side, with lots of obstacles. It´s been a high price, but we will continue.
– We are hoping that the next government will help us gangs, because we are continuing the process, whatever happens.
– We don’t have a preference, but we will support the one who is elected. But he has to support the youth and the truce.
He won´t tell me whom he, or his gang, is voting for. He stands in front of FMLN electral propaganda and he doesn´t mind me taking a picture of him there:
– Why should I? Is his rhetorical answer, with a smile.
It is a public secret that the gangs will vote for the FMLN.
And he stresses that the day of the elections, which coincides with the two- year-anniversary of the truce, is important:
– We are going to celebrate both. And we will continue the efforts. We won´t stop, he says.
And hurries away, talking quickly on the phone. There are more important things to do. Like voting, with the brotheres.