Bus massacre shocks El Salvador

All of El Salvador was shocked today as the country's violence took a horrifying turn. Sunday night in Mejicanos, a suburb of San Salvador, gang members shot at a micro-bus of Route 47, then doused it with gasoline and set it on fire. Fourteen people were burned to death in the bus.

The attack attracted press coverage world-wide. From National Public Radio:

"This is an act that seeks to generate terror among the population," President Mauricio Funes said, adding that his security Cabinet was to meet to increase security in the country...

The attack took place in a gang-plagued part of the municipality of Mejicanos, just outside San Salvador, National Police Commissioner Carlos Ascencio said. At least 14 people were killed, he said.

Moments later, gang members opened fire on another bus in the same neighborhood, killing two people.

Ascencio said Monday night that eight suspects had been arrested in the bus burning, including one who was detained minutes after the attack and smelled of gasoline. Among the detained were a woman and two minors.

Earlier, Funes said seven suspects had been detained, most accused of being members of the Mara 18 street gang.

Justice Minister Manuel Melgar called the attack "a typical terrorist act," but said the motive was under investigation.

At least 217 drivers and other employees of El Salvador's public transport industry have been killed over the last year and a half in suspected gang attacks, said Catalino Miranda, president of the national federation of transport workers and businessmen. Most victims were shot to death.

How do you react to something like this? Go numb? Cry? Pray for the victims and their families? Scream in rage? Demand vengeance? Huddle in fear? Call for more troops in the streets? I have no answers.


Chris Duckworth said…
Lord, have mercy.

Thanks, Tim, for keeping us up to date. With all the violence just across the border in Mexico these days - and all the press coverage it gets - it can be easy to miss the challenges facing El Salvador ...
Carlos X. said…
The words "massacre" and "terrorism" are abused in the Latin American press which often is driven by morbid sensationalism, and by Latin American politicians who use these words to justify state thuggery. Yet, before an event like this, the words seem to recover their authentic meaning. As I often do in times when social upheaval seems to cloud reason in El Salvador, I harken back to Archbishop Romero, who knew how to stay upright when his world went topsy turvy, and who said in a 12/11/77 Homily: "El camino más seguro para derrotar al terrorismo consiste en promover la justicia en nuestras sociedades: justicia legal, económica y social." ("The most assured way to defeat terrorism is by promoting justice in our societies: legal, economic, and social justice.") This means in NO WAY to justify or overlook the culpability, the despicable criminality of the acts and those who commit them. Romero denounced the "guerrilla mystique" and the resort to terrorism. He said it tended to deify or idolize violence, and would never work as a practical solution to temporal problems (8/6/78 sermon). But he recognized that these abhorrent and misguided transgressions were fueled by an atmosphere that had been allowed to develop, which breeds violence and crime. El Salvador has systemic problems that it needs to solve in order to effectively curtail these abominations.
Robinson said…
Correct me if I's wrong, but El Salvador does not have the death penalty as punishment right, because if they do have it, they should put the murderers to death.
I know that the topic of capital punishment in the US is a hot one, but looking at the situation in El Salvador, the death penalty will give closure to the family of the victims and will send as strong message to future gang members.
For those who oppose the death penalty, just remind them how those murderers torture their victim before killing them.
Danielle Mackey said…
Thanks for posting this, Tim.

Many of us here in El Salvador are in experiencing the same emotional groping for answers--and an inability to merely process what happened-- that you express in the last lines of your entry. Living the daily reality of this tiny country, one certainty is that the causes of senseless violence like this are systemic. What experiences must a person live in order to be able to commit-- or plan and pay for-- such a horrific act? Without pardoning violence, we must think beyond our gut.

Tim, you do a great job of profiling the many obstacles to a future that young Salvadorans face. Constant human rights violations, lack of job prospects, poor education, narcotrafficking, constant feeling of being in danger, a childhood in communities where the way out is through gangs or crime. Add this explosive situation to the fact that the Salvadoran government has no crime prevention programs-- only penalties. And once a young person goes through the penal system, El Salvador knows no concept of restorative justice to incorporate him or her back into society.

To put it more cleanly: cause and effect. The links of society have been smashed. Basic human dignity is denied. It may sound morbid, but given the lack of just leadership that we witness here every day, can we be surprised when we start to see its effects?

Another thing: though the media both international and domestic have pinned this on gangs, no one has proven it. It's a mere theory, not to mention a common tactic by the various power structures to blame the problem away. An act like this is premeditated. While it's likely that gang members were hired by someone to carry out the act, intellectual authors (who often come from the same power structure that tries to throw the blame elsewhere) are almost never discovered by the lame Salvadoran justice system.

If we really want this to change, we have to be serious about giving everyone a fair chance. Wealth redistribution. Public works to prevent annual flooding. More attention paid to the agricultural sector, El Salvador's traditional (and recently neglected) stronghold. A higher percentage of the national budget spent on social programs, education and health. A little more protectionism, a little less free trade. Etc, etc, etc.

There are no easy answers. The solution must be integral. The violence didn't start Sunday; its root causes are not these seven young people in handcuffs. Let these deaths be not senseless, but yet another wake-up call to get serious about human dignity in practice.
Anonymous said…

Has there been any talks with the Geneva convention on passing the death penalty in El Salvador? I am sure that with proper supervision this can been resolved without violating human rights.
Tim said…
For those who would propose the death penalty, I think you need to reflect on the significant failures of the Salvadoran justice system. How could you expect even-handed application of such a punishment or that innocent persons would not be put to death? Besides, there is no evidence that capital punishment serves as any deterrent to crime.
El-Visitador said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
El-Visitador said…
«How do...»

Fire-squad the henchmen.

Muerto el perro, se acabó la rabia. That's your evidence that firing squads work, Tim.