Camilo from San Salvador, El Salvador

I met Camilo a few years ago in England. As a matter of fact, Roxana, my sister introduced us before Christmas, 2014, I believe… 

Camilo lived in the UK for about 13 years or so. He has a son who is very bright and talented and in fact he is into playing the guitar but he is also interested in other creative activities. 

I remember chatting to Camilo a few times about how complicated life in El Salvador is before he took off for El Salvador, yet, people have to put up with the violence etc. and smile to make the day a little less harsh… 

Once installed in San Salvador I started to ask him questions to find out more about him. Camilo told me that, as was the case with many people in the country back then, his family as members of the FMLN (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional) also took part in the war in the 80’s guerrilla forces. He recalls how they would be sent out on missions and used their house as headquarters to protect and hide other endangered members. Camilo used to undertake specific missions such as sending and collecting notifications that would be passed on to other guerrilla members across the country. 

After the war ended and the peace accords were signed between the FMLN and the Salvadorian Government back in 1992 at Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City, a new phenomenon of violence has struck the country. 

The U.S. government implemented a programme whereby thousands of Salvadorians were deported back to El Salvador. Such deportees had left El Salvador with the purpose of finding peace in the United States. Many kids who were born in El Salvador and grew up in the USA were forced to return to a country that they did not recognise. 

This would mark the beginning of what is known today as the MS 13 and the 18th St. gang war. 

I will not elaborate on this as it’s a topic of another story but I obviously discussed this with Camilo since it cannot be taken for granted as the violence not only affects gang members but the entire Salvadorian society. 

On my arrival in San Salvador I expected to see many gang signs on walls and gang members heavily tattooed walking around in full freedom. During the journey to Camilo’s house I perhaps spotted 1 gang mark on the walls –the rest of it was traditional graffiti sprayed all around. There is a policy of zero tolerance and extermination of gang members implemented by the security forces and paramilitary groups so gangs are always on the run and hide away though they are active in their communities. Camilo explained to me that the gangs control most of the city. As we were chatting, he showed me an area were the Mao Mao gang operates which is said to be the oldest gang in the country, established back in the 70’s. 

The Mao Mao, as it’s known, has existed for longer than the other two groups and was set up in San Salvador as opposed to the MS13 and the 18th St. which were established in Los Angeles, California originally. 

Interestingly enough, the Mao Mao’s modus operandi is the sale and distribution of drugs. According to the people I spoke to, that gang does not interfere in people’s daily lives, doesn’t carry out extortions and is not at war with other gangs. They have remained as what some describe as a ‘Narco’ group. 

Camilo’s former experiences living in El Salvador and the knowledge he gained later in the UK, motivated him to start a new venture back in his home town. He returned with the idea of opening a cooperative. 

The project has slowly gained strength with the support of a large group of people who share similar views of cooperation, solidarity and the defence of local farmers and distributors. 

Tukal, as it’s called, has been running for almost a year and the results have been pretty positive, he points out. There is still a lot to improve but it is slowly gaining ground and a local clientele is building up. 

Simultaneously, Camilo and 4 other associates started to produce and distribute a type of mushroom called Pleurotus which is commonly consumed. The vision they had has slowly been bringing the company small success. 

During my stay in El Salvador we engaged in many conversations, some which were based on mere stupidity and little content at all –jokes for the most part –but we balanced that out with more intellectually driven chats about the world we live in, comparisons between the UK and the countries in which we reside. 

Camilo’s view on change seems to be based on a more radical method, in other words, direct action to improve people’s living conditions is the way forward. He believes that the only way to see things change is by implementing drastic changes, visible things, confronting and questioning politicians at meetings , mobilising people to protest, influencing government bodies to stop policies that affect the majority and so on and so forth… 

He thinks that the way in which British activists make their demands for change is quite passive, which is why very little change has been seen there. Based on his experiences, he thinks that activism in the UK is quite passive. ‘Peaceful’ and friendly actions for change will not change anything he says. ‘A more radical approach is needed’, he notes, ‘if we want to see improvements in the world.’

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