“El Mentiroso”, El Negro”, and the others

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Tomorrow, Sunday the 9th of March, is a historic day in El Salvador. It´s a double feast, like the bands put it:

“The 9th of March the country has a double party. (…) On one hand we are electing president and vice-president. On the other, we are celebrating the two-year-anniversary of the most successful process of prevention of violence in all of Latin America”.

I have been accompanying this process. I have written quite a few articles, talked to peace-mediators, the police, analysts, people on the street and gang-members, the main aim being to give visibility to this unique process, where thousands of mainly young Salvadorans with tough lives are the protagonists, and now in the midst of a new fight: for peace.

In this, and the following posts, I thought you should meet a few of the the approximately 50 000 young Salvadorans who share the same destiny. Unique stories, yet so alike.

I post these stories in  homage to these persons, and to the people who support them.

Some of them have been published before, others not.

Kevin, “El Mentiroso”: “I want to change”

Kevin in the print-room where he hopes that he, within short, will be printing t-shirts
– I don´t want to fall back, I want to progress and get back my lost time, my lost youth, I want to reintegrate into society.

The words belong to Kevin, a member of Barrio 18 and an ex-convict. He is involved in a special proyect in Ciudad Delgado, a suburb of San Salvador, which I visited in August last year.

It is a production-centre which members of Barrio 18 themselves have established, with the help of an Evangelic priest from the neighbourhood, and a community leader.

In the beginning of 2013, a jailed member of Barrio 18 contacted both the priest, the community leader and a Barrio 18-leader from the street:
– Please give us a hand in establishing something that gives the guys (members of Barrio 18) a job, some income and which keeps them away from the street, was the message.

They agreed, and started to coordinate the project.

Almost ready
Eight months later it is almost reality. 84 members of Barrio 18 from a number of local communities in Ciudad Delgado, together with the coordinators, took over an abandoned finca, where, among others, tilapia (fresh-water fish) had been grown. Now the basins had been renovated, and a new building built.  There the plans are to establish a bakery. They have an oven, but no dough-machine. And no electricity.

Another building is being equipped to house a t-shirt print-shop, a metal workshop and facilities to make disinfectants.  But nothing is ready for production yet.

All of this was the fruit of their own hard work, fund-raising among friends, churches and local businesses.

– We are almost there, but we need some more funds to get started and make some money, says the Barrio 18- coordinator, Juan Carlos, who shows me around.

Kevin, El Mentiroso (“the Liar”), is 22 years old. He doesn´t know why he got this nickname, he says, laughing, but it has followed him all his life.

He wants to print t-shirts at the centre.

As a gang-member and ex-convict Kevin has small chances of getting a job. The production project is his only chance, he says.
– When this project is finished, I hope I will be earning money for some food, at least. For my daughter and my girl-friend, the mother of my daughter.

Kevin has been in jail three times, for a total period of 4,5 years. When he got out the last time, a few months ago, he expected everything to be as before – chaos –  but times had changed. Because of the truce between the gangs:
–  They told me it had been going on for a year and then I saw it with my own eyes. Things had changed.
Before we were hiding in the woods from the police – now they behave well towards us.

And Kevin´s friends  told him about the production-centre, where local members of the gang could work and make some money.

Will take long time
All his friends from  Barrio 18 are involved in this project which is not only benefitting them, but the whole community, according to Kevin. Because people are still looking at Kevin and his friends with an evil eye:

– A lot of blood has been shed, innocent people died. It´s been a war of many years and many have resentments and it is not going to be resolved in a day or a month, he states.
– The only viable solution was to start a peace-process.  And our mission is to show people that we with acts are getting more legal, Kevin continues.

And it´s getting better, says Kevin. Even the police are improving:

-At the moment  the police are not abusing their power like threatening us to death, like they used to do. But since they are police, nobody is judging them.

Kevin also stresses that not only Barrio 18 are causing suffering, there are other gangs and criminal goups.
– But usually they give the gangs the blame, he says.

More support
Kevin has  finished 9th grade, but explains that “reality”: the lack of money, the circumstances, always lead to the same thing: The street. Which is a temptation:

– The girls, the vices, everything, he says. The bad thing is when it has consequences, he says.

But now he has “all the will in the world” to change:
– But we, as gang-members need more support to get going. The truce as a whole needs more support, he says.


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