Central America

October 6th, 2012  |  By Round Earth Media

Salvadoran Killed While Waiting On US Immigration Papers

The Garcia Family | Photo courtesy of Alyssa Garcia

Some years ago, Charlie Garcia came to the United States illegally and married an American citizen. Then the Salvadoran decided to try to legalize his immigration status. He went back to El Salvador to file his paperwork, as required. Tragically, he was killed there, waiting for his paperwork to come through.

This story was broadcast in English on National Public Radio in the United States and in Spanish in El Salvador in ContraPunto. Eric Lemus contributed to the story published in El Salvador.

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August 5th, 2012  |  By Mary Stucky

Imagine: Worrying that your child could be kidnapped into a gang

A child in El Salvador believed to have been kidnapped into a gang. | Photo: Ambar Espinoza

El Salvador has the world’s second highest murder rate – more than 4,300 murders last year alone. That’s just behind Honduras, its neighbor in Central America. The United States bears some responsibility for this.  Many of these young men (or their parents) fled to the U.S. to escape the war in El Salvador in the 1980s, a war that was financed, in part, by the United States. Some of those young immigrants grew up to be gang members and were deported from the U.S. by the courts, ending up back in El Salvador where they continued their gang activities.

The U.S. has poured hundreds of millions into anti-gang efforts in Central America but nothing much seemed to change until just a few months ago, when the Catholic Church stepped in to broker a truce between two gangs in El Salvador.  But the culture of violence there remains.

We sent Ambar Espinoza to El Salvador to report one mother’s story and what the U.S. and El Salvador are doing to try bring justice and safety to the country.  Ambar herself was born in El Salvador and fled the country when she was just a child, grew up in Los Angeles and went on to become an award-winning public radio reporter.   Here’s her story.

July 24th, 2012  |  By Round Earth Media

El Salvador Claims Violence Decline, Mother Still Looks for Kidnapped Son

This photograph is one of many Betty Espinoza keeps of her missing son Franklin, who was 13 years old at the time he went missing. | Photo by Ambar Espinoza

This story was broadcast in English on National Public Radio in the United States and published in Spanish in El Salvador on the front page of  ContraPunto.  Eric Lemus contributed to the story published in El Salvador.

Listen to this story

The following is a transcript. To listen to this broadcast, please click on the link above.

| By Ambar Espinoza

El Salvador has the world’s second highest murder rate – more than 4,300 murders last year alone. That’s just behind Honduras, its neighbor in Central America. The United States has poured hundreds of millions into anti-gang efforts in Central America but nothing much seemed to change until just a few months ago, when the Catholic Church stepped in to broker a truce between the two gangs in El Salvador. But the culture of violence there remains.  Ambar Espinoza has this report. (more…)

April 14th, 2012  |  By Mary Stucky

From El Salvador: Gang Homicides Down Dramatically – Due to U.S. Funded Program?

Under Secretary of State Maria Otero in El Salvador | Photo: Ambar Espinoza

The United States has long ties with El Salvador.  In the 1980s civil war, the U.S. backed the government of El Salvador despite it’s serious human rights abuses.  Now there is a new partnership between the U.S. and this country wracked by poverty and gang violence.  Under Secretary of State for Civilian Society, Democracy and Human Rights Maria Otero visited El Salvador recently while our reporter, Ambar Espinoza, was in the country on assignment for Round Earth.  Espinoza sent us this report about a new U.S. role in El Salvador, a country that used to make headline news in the U.S. and is now almost forgotten.  Here’s Ambar Espinoza:

Otero visited a police precinct where a U.S.-funded pilot program has reportedly succeeded in reducing the homicide rate in the town of Lourdes Colon by 40 percent. Lourdes Colon is a community that has been highly affected by gang-related crime and violence.

Otero said the United States is assisting the police force in Lourdes to gather information using simple technology, such as extracting information from the cell phone chips of gang members in order to gather intelligence. The program offers police with equipment and training for investigations, prevention and community policing.

In 2009, Lourdes Colon had 319 homicides; in 2010, 285 homicides; in 2011, 184 homicides. “Overall, the decrease they have seen is a decrease that appears to be real,” said Otero. “This is important because it is a model that is not just going to…find anyone with a tattoo and put them behind bars. It is really an effort to understand how you gather intelligence, it is an effort to understand how it is that gang members are linking to others to extort, to carry out different crimes, to even kill each other.”

Otero said security in El Salvador affects security in the United States.  “Part of the issue of security, not just around the United States but around the world, is one that is a very important piece for our own overall security, our national security,” she said. “Generally, I think being able to make sure that countries are secure and are stable and are safe ensures that their citizens can stay in the country. It ensures that they can also develop economically and even become an important source of economic interaction with the United States.”

The program also integrates a youth mentorship program between the police and a local school where elementary and middle school students learn strategies for how to stay in school and on track for college, prevent getting involved in gangs and maintain a healthy relationship with their parents.

“It [the work] is involving the community in a very real sense to make sure that they are active in this work,” said the under secretary. “It’s putting cameras in different places. It’s giving radios to policemen. It’s creating a 9-1-1 that allows them to deal with issues that even extend beyond gangs, like domestic violence…”

This model pilot program will be replicated in the country’s second largest city west of San Salvador in Santa Ana, another city highly affected by gang-related crime and violence.

Round Earth reported about gangs  from Nicaragua.  Here’s that report.

April 4th, 2012  |  By Mary Stucky

Gang Truce in El Salvador

Among the hardest-hit victims of extortions by gangs in El Salvador are private businesses, big and small.

Fabio Colindres | Photo: Ambar Espinoza

On Tuesday, March 27 Monsignor Fabio Colindres, the head army and police chaplain responsible for mediating a ceasefire between El Salvador’s two major gangs, shared details of the gang truce with the National Association of Private Enterprise—in Spanish Asociación Nacional de la Empresa Privada (ANEP).

Reporters waited for Colindres outside of the ANEP offices ready to ask more questions and Colindres made time for them as he exited the ANEP premises in a white pickup truck.

Colindres said  the gangs “are showing a sign of good will” by agreeing to reduce homicides, and are asking for opportunities in education and employment in order to survive in society.

Reporters sought clarification about the gang leaders’ specific requests under the mediated agreement. Colindres said the gangs were requesting humane prison conditions for their terminally ill members—most are HIV positive, said Colindres. They requested to spend their last days in the company of their families as Salvadoran law permits. Reporters raised concerns that a truce sounds temporary, but Colindres said he asked the gangs to agree to something more permanent than a truce.

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April 1st, 2012  |  By Mary Stucky

From Ambar Espinoza in El Salvador: Is the Salvadorian President cutting deals with gangs?

Ambar Espinoza writes from El Salvador where she is reporting for Round Earth Media — look for our stories on NPR and also in the media in El Salvador.   Round Earth Media’s reporting from El Salvador is supported by the Stanley Foundation.

Maurcio Funes, President El Salvador | Photo: Ambar Espinoza

What an interesting time to be back in El Salvador. This week (Wednesday, March 28) at a press conference President Mauricio Funes denied the Salvadoran government negotiated any deals with leaders of the country’s two violent gangs, Mara Salvatrucha 13 (MS-13) and Pandilla 18, in order to reduce homicides—El Salvador has among the world’s highest homicide rates (66 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2010). This is the first time Funes addressed the country’s latest development.

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August 2nd, 2010  |  By Round Earth Media

Global Hit: Bocafloja

International star Bocafloja says he wasn’t really interested in politics or social change when he first started out – but now it

Rap, in Spanish, easily crosses borders with fans in the United States, Canada and throughout Latin America. One of the most popular independent rappers in Spanish is Aldo Villegas, also known as Bocafloja (which means “loose mouth”). Bocafloja has been active in Mexico City’s hip hop scene since its inception in the mid-1990s and, as Mary Stucky reports, over the years he’s acquired a huge following in both Mexico and the United States.
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July 18th, 2010  |  By Mary Stucky

Remember the “Marxist Threat” in Central America in the 1980s?

President Mauricio Funes of the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front took office a year ago in El Salvador. The former TV journalist was elected on the ticket of the FMLN, this after a 12-year civil war and after the former Marxist revolutionary group turned into a mainstream political party. The right wing Arena Party had ruled the country since the end of the civil war. How’s Funes done in his first year in office? Reporter Ambar Espinoza addresses that question as we plan our reporting trip to Central America.

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July 7th, 2010  |  By Mary Stucky

Our Central America Project

Gold mining in El Salvador: Pacific Rim verdict expected in August 2010

As we get closer to our trip to Central America, we will be blogging about some of the most important issues facing the region. One of the most contentious issues facing the country of El Salvador is gold mining. Is it an economic boon or an environmental disaster? From journalist Ambar Espinoza, the latest on the case involving the so-called Pacific Rim mine.

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January 12th, 2010  |  By Mary Stucky

In El Salvador, War Wounds Still Fresh

From journalist Ambar Espinoza in El Salvador, the country of her birth:

My family took mIMG_0170e to El Puerto de La Libertad, which is a port that was established in 1824. The pier was built in 1829 to export indigo and coffee to Europe and the United States. Ships no longer come to this harbor to load and unload cargo because the pier eventually became too old and antiquated. Now trade takes place at El Puerto de Acajutla, which has a far more sophisticated infrastructure.

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