Gang terror, schools, & the exodus of Central American children

The Global Post has a recent article called “El Salvador gangs kill teachers over as little as a failing grade” that is both heartbreaking and terrifying.  As I’m sure you’ve heard, there has been a flood of children showing up on the US border since October.  Estimates are that “52,000 unaccompanied minors — mostly from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — have arrived at the US border…[and that]…about 1 in every 240 Salvadoran children has been detained at the US border.”  While there are a lot of factors involved, it seems that the terror and violence of gangs is at least one of the reasons for the exodus of the children.

The Post reports that in the last few years, “27 Salvadoran teachers have been killed, and thousands extorted, as gangs have gained hold over even remote areas of the country.”

The reason for the violence can be as prosaic as a bad grade.  Here is one chilling example:

Raul Antonio Parada, 54, principal of a grade and middle school in eastern El Salvador, was only two years short of retirement when he was murdered. On the afternoon of May 21, an approaching storm caused him to dismiss his students and teachers early, but he stayed behind in the mostly empty school, organizing papers. Gunmen entered about 5 p.m., found Parada in the director’s office, and shot him 10 times in the head and abdomen. 

Days later, Luis Alonso Sandoval, a 22-year-old member of a local MS-13 cell known as the Sailor Locos, was arrested and charged with aggravated homicide. Oscar Rene Melendez, the lead investigator on the case, said he had two theories about Parada’s murder. “It could have been related to extortion,” he said. Or it had to do with Parade’s high academic standards. “Some students associated with the gangs felt uncomfortable over issues with their grades, with his level of discipline,” Melendez said.

Gangs have infiltrated the school system and it is no longer provides kids a safe place away from the violence:

Gang members in El Salvador recruit even in grade schools, where parents themselves are often involved with gangs, known here as “maras.” Principals are forced to collect money from teachers to pay “la renta,” the cynical term for extortions, and many have found themselves caught between opposing gangs trying to extort the same school.  Zetino said one MS-13 gang member recently offered to provide his school protection from the rival Barrio 18 gang. “It’s a sick joke,” he said. “What security can they offer me? But they are that bold now.”

The children may not meet the official definition of “refugee” but just sending them back to their country seems heartless and cruel.  I’m not sure what the answer is but it’s likely going to take a lot of changes back home to stem this tide.

 

 

 

 

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