The horror and violence of gangs in El Salvador | Babelia

A gang member wounded by a gunshot, during the operation that saved his life in a hospital in San Salvador, in 2015.
A gang member wounded by a gunshot, during the operation that saved his life in a hospital in San Salvador, in 2015.Jan Sochor (LatinContent via Getty Images)

The new chronicle of Óscar Martínez – editor-in-chief of– It is very hard like his previous works, but this one is planted with questions about the risks, dilemmas and challenges of the practice of journalism. Without cynicism and without imposture, with doubts and some certainties. “If something makes me proud of the trade, it is that, when done well, it tends to reach levels of depth in its investigations that surpass those of the justice system in weak countries like El Salvador.” It is a meditation on the profession taken to the limit, a making of about how he got the information about the horror and reflecting on the implications of going all the way.

As I read the book, aware from the introduction that some of its sources are going to be assassinated, I wonder what the point is to turn another page if I know that I will have to relive one more massacre and verify the usual ritual of so much misery and so much death. in central America. “How many readers does reading get dirty?” Lives broken from childhood, too many mutilated and badly buried bodies, variations on macabre crimes. One case, another case, another, but I keep reading. Not so much because of the tragedy that it tells, I think, but because of the author’s reflection on the trade and his working method. The notes of the dark notebooks taken in absurd and risky situations, the references to their teachers —Fallaci, Eloy Martínez, Hersh (Ramón Lobo in the background) -, the fragments of articles published with the Sala Negra research team created in 2010 and dedicated to tell and try to understand the violence of the gangs and also of the police.

Articles like the one posted on July 22, 2015: The Police massacred the San Blas farm. They challenged the official version after a methodical job —analysis of forensic reports, interviews, ballistics reports— and, to avoid complications, hours before posting it on the Web, the newspaper removed the journalists who signed that story and their families from the country. Everything was contrasted and, at the same time, the order of the information and the style were consciously chosen. They would start with Dennis, a kid shot by the police who was not even a gang member. Dennis was the engine of the article and who had started it was his mother, Consuelo, the source, who after four months of being published received a call from an unknown number that spoke four words: “We are going to kill you.” Why had she wanted to tell the tragedy if she could lead her, like her son and brother, to their death? “After our irruption in her life, she had made the dignified and informed decision to speak with us to fight against the system for the dignity of her dead.”

This radical decision to testify of the victim converges with Martínez’s commitment to tell, knowing that his sources are going to be assassinated and that he will try to save them even after they have been shot. “I live it as Tantalus yearns for fruit and water, believing that he can achieve them. Hunger and thirst, that’s how I live journalism, hungry and thirsty all the fucking time ”. And that experience of the profession turned into a life project, with the authenticity of confessing on occasions oblivious to the tragedy (as in that scene in which he hears a woman raped in a group on her way through Mexico to the United States), is what what makes of The dead and the journalist something that goes beyond the morbid and fright. I go to the end because it is a work of brutal honesty.

Cover of 'The dead and the journalist', by Óscar Martínez.

Author: Oscar Martinez.

Editorial: Anagram, 2021.

Format: soft cover (232 pages, 18.90 euros) and e-book (9,99 euros).

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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