Gangs, Vendors and Political Capital in Downtown San Salvador
In San Salvador’s bustling Historic Center, nothing gets done without going through the gangs.
The notorious Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and Barrio 18 street gangs have steadily tightened their grip on almost all aspects of life in a city center housing the heart of El Salvador’s informal urban markets – a gold mine for extortion, contraband, drug-peddling, and more.
This two-year InSight Crime investigation chronicles how the gangs, with their ever-increasing control of territory and criminal revenue, have used their stranglehold on the Historic Center to expand their power in El Salvador.
The center is crucial to the gang’s political awakening – a reality which has brought with it a host of alliances and negotiations with politicians of all parties, from municipal officials to the halls of Nayib Bukele’s presidential palace.
A series of assassinations on Ecuador’s southern border with Peru have been attributed to gang members fighting for control of the illegal crossings by which both people and contraband are smuggled, emphasizing the danger of hard borders in incentivizing competitive criminal...
This is the second part of a three-part series on San Salvador’s Historic Center, the heart of the country’s informal urban markets and a long-time bastion of the street gangs. The stories chronicle how the gangs have used their stranglehold on the center to expand their power in El...