For those of you who are not familiar with El Salvador, El Salvador is a small country in Central America. In fact, it is the smallest country in Central America. No, its not part of Mexico either. However, despite its size, it is the most densely populated country in Central America, at about 6.4 million people (2014). To put that into perspective, Costa Rica is about twice the size of El Salvador but only has about 5 million people (2016). It is well known for a few things like the delicious Pupusas, beaches, host to annual surf competitions, the use of American Dollars, it has the third largest economy in Central America, and its volcanoes.
Unfortunately there are other things that El Salvador is known for, and its been in the news a lot recently for these reasons. Im sure you have heard of the notorious gang, "MS-13", or also known as the "Mara Salvatrucha". This notorious gang is known through out the world as the worlds most dangerous gang, and because of this and the gang's activity over the past couple of years, El Salvador has now taken the title as, "The World's Most Dangerous Country".
As per Usa Today El Salvador is now the "Murder Capital of The World" which saw a total of 6,657 reported homicides for the year of 2015, which is a 70% increase from 2014. This homicide rate of 104 per 100,000 is said the be the highest rate of any country in nearly 20 years. The interesting thing about this is that, El Salvador currently has the title as most violent country in the world, and that is for a country that is currently not at war. With an ongoing struggle overseas in the Middle East, one would think that there are more dangerous places. That is true, however most of those countries are at war. El Salvador is not. At least not the war we would normally think of.
Of course there are two sides to every story, and I constantly hear stories about friends who go on a yearly basis to visit family over there, and they come back with stories about how much fun it is. Its true, there are many cool places to visit, and fun things to do, and of course safe areas. All over Instagram and Facebook i am constantly seeing photos and stories of all these festivals and parties that are going on. It really makes me want to go back.
The last time I was in El Salvador was 1998. Thats 18 years ago. I had spent a little over a month there with my family. I had an amazing time, in fact it was the first trip I took that made me realize that I want to travel the world one day and learn about new cultures. However during my time there, fortunately I did not see any murders or dead people, but I did see many gang members roaming the streets robbing people and starting fights with locals. It was kind of scary walking around and being worried about having your shoes or hat stolen.
About two years ago I was planning a trip back for 2015 but I kept hearing stories about the violence, and how people were being kidnapped from the airports, or being followed home. Relatives were being threatened that if they did not pay the gang a monthly tax, that they would be killed. All the stories on the news and so on and so fourth just made me not want to return. The reality is that most of the murders taking place are amongst gang members, rival gang members, the army and the police, but with the gangs terrorizing local businesses and citizens its just a big NO for me. At least for now. Eventually i will return one day when everything calms down.
My hopes for the country are that the gangs can reach a truce like they once did, locals can roam the streets freely without having to fear for their lives, and people can visit the country and feel safe while they're there. I wanted to share this video from vice news about the gang problem. Also, as of writing this post the current average stands at 23 killings per day, and January 2016 saw a total of 1222 homicides.