The cancer of gang violence has intensified to a horrifying degree in El Salvador, and the government has entered into an increasingly bloodthirsty war in an effort to contain it. Law enforcement has deemed all gang members and their associates as terrorists, and this reclassification has the potential to empower even greater fear, casualties, injustice and societal destabilization. The viability of this conflict, and the moral considerations which surround it, serves as the basis for the new documentary from Vice News titled Gangs of El Salvador.
The statistics are harrowing. In a country of just under six million people, one murder occurs every hour, and 11 percent of the population have connections to the gangs either as members or citizens who are reliant upon them for their livelihood.
Two major gangs rule the streets of El Salvador, and their reign of violence is merciless and extreme. These gangs are divided in their quests to control territory, but united in a shared war against police. This nefarious intent has expressed itself in a scourge of police station car bombings, and specific factions of gangs whose roles have been relegated to law enforcement death squads. While the police's declaration of war on the gangs is understandable given the nature of the threats against them, and the vast majority of the public regard it as a necessary step, others believe it has only worked in further stoking the flames of chaos and bloodshed.
VICE News correspondent Danny Gold boldly ventures out with law enforcement during several of their nightly raids, during which the oppressive threat of impending violence hangs thick in the air. That same atmosphere of dread permeates the streets of El Salvador as Gold struggles to connect with ordinary citizens who are too frightened to comment on the carnage they must contend with on a daily basis. Others refuse to speak out against an organization that provides them with more lucrative opportunities than any legitimate industries operating in the country.
El Salvador is clearly losing its identity to a widespread criminal element. Gangs of El Salvador is a haunting exploration of the fight to get it back.