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Letter From El Salvador

July 3, 2021

Things are getting better in El Salvador, though they were unimaginably bad not so long ago.

Miguel Patricio

By Miguel Patricio

No author bio

(CN) — So many kinds of street sales, which is what the unemployed must do to survive …

Find something to sell, if only for $5 a day...

Young, athletic folks jump in and out of moving buses with bags: a dollar’s worth of tomatoes, onions, green peppers, toilet paper …

Homemade rums and vodkas are peddled by older guys who chant more softly than the legal vendors, and walk the neighborhoods instead of the main drag …

A typical street in a village in northern Cuscatlán Province. (Courthouse News photo/Miguel Patricio)

A team of Guatemalan Indians walks through town to sell kitchen cabinets and tables door to door. Athletic young men and women carry the furniture on their backs to your door and ask for an offer ...

Mostly we are offered tamales, limes, and cress, for a spicy salad ... or fresh cuajada —cheese curds

In the capital, San Salvador, things are worse.

Out in the provinces, we have volcanoes and volcanic soil and everything grows …

rich maroon soil devoted almost entirely to sugar cane rather than food. Sugar is cash ... For those lucky enough to own a plot of land, the company sends a check after the harvest ...

The landless have grim harvest jobs for six months; if they can save rather than drink cheap liquor they can support a family … barely.

A flowering mango tree on the slopes of Guazapa volcano in Cuscatlán Province. (Courthouse News photo/Miguel Patricio)

Selling bread in the early morning from a big basket on the back of a motorbike can bring in $7 a day.

San Salvador is a giant traffic jam … no one goes there unless absolutely necessary … very few even go halfway.

Yet things are getting better, rather quickly, though they were unimaginably bad not so long ago.

Gang gunfights with other gangs and the police ... 25-30 homicides a day ... mafia-style extortion of all businesses and even government agencies ... political parties on the phony left and extreme right paying thousands of dollars a day to the gangs for votes …

Assault guns sold to the gangs by legal gun stores ... uninvestigated femicides ... unpardonable pockets of squalor.

Talked on video phone with an old friend who sold bags of candy on the buses while they were loading, before she escaped to Charlotte, N.C., with her 4-year-old, somehow. Her daughter is in kindergarten; she has a job in a big bakery. Her big sister was shot in the head for not having a dollar to pay a gang member for a one-day loan. She was nostalgic, but glad to have had such good luck.

Thanks to her remittances, her family here has moved into a house without a dirt floor and with a toilet.

The FMLN is long gone in the areas where they fought the army and lost, but were given land and money to lay down their arms after the peace accords. If the FMLN had a stronghold during the 1980-1992 civil war it was Suchitoto, an old Mayan town on the Lempa River.