El Salvador’s Street Gangs 14:00, 1997 (Ref: SA97107)


During the 1980s, television brought the war in El Salvador to our living rooms – a war of right-wing death squads, government soldiers and leftist guerrillas. The country is still under siege, but the war today is imported – straight from the United States. In this film, El Salvador’s Street Gangs, we look at the gang culture of San Salvador’s “Mean Streets” and the violence that afflicts young Salvadorians. Veterans of the war say the gang violence is worse than during the war. In the war, 75,000 people died; another million Salvadorians ran for their lives, mostly to the United States and mostly illegally – where they tried to rebuild their shattered lives. But many ended up in urban ghettos and their children joined the street gangs. But in 1992, when the peace accords were finally signed in El Salvador, the Salvadorians began to trickle home. And when they did, they brought with them another war – the war of the American inner-city street gangs.

At the time, El Salvador was struggling to recover from the war which bankrupted the nation and destroyed both institutions and families. Three quarters of Salvadorians are under 25. Never has the country depended so much on the young. But with an economy in ruins, the young have no jobs and few choices. This documentary shows how gangs are a means to money and approval. On the street, guns left over from the war are a dome a dozen and as we see in this film, the weapons the gang members can’t buy easily, like grenades, they make. Two main gangs have carved up the capital into battle zones. Those two gangs are the Alvatruchas, pitted against the Diesiocho, named after the 18th street in Los Angeles. There are echoes of L.A. too, like crack and drive-by shootings. And even the lingo – they call each other home boys. These gang members have a foot in America and a life in Salvador – but they don’t belong in either. This is a visually strong report.