Daily Picture Show

El Salvador's Slow Recovery

El Salvador has technically been in peacetime since its civil war ended 17 years ago. But as photographer Juan Carlos says, it "has come a long way but has not moved forward." For many Salvadorans, postwar recovery has been almost as devastating as the war itself: The country is plagued with violence, drugs and a stagnant economy — not to mention the various natural disasters that continually impede development. Carlos, currently living in El Salvador, has documented the country's postwar struggle in his series "Duro Blandito."

  • El Salvador has about 7 million inhabitants, and its capital, San Salvador, has more than 1 million.
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    El Salvador has about 7 million inhabitants, and its capital, San Salvador, has more than 1 million.
    All photos by Juan Carlos
  • It is the smallest country in Central America, but has the third largest economy. A street vendor sits on the streets of San Salvador.
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    It is the smallest country in Central America, but has the third largest economy. A street vendor sits on the streets of San Salvador.
  • The country's small-business sector is large. Mr. Mundo has a small family-owned bakery at his house. He bakes the bread and then heads out to sell it every day from his van.
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    The country's small-business sector is large. Mr. Mundo has a small family-owned bakery at his house. He bakes the bread and then heads out to sell it every day from his van.
  • A child sells candy on the streets.
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    A child sells candy on the streets.
  • Bicycles are a main source of transportation for many Salvadorans.
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    Bicycles are a main source of transportation for many Salvadorans.
  • The heart of San Salvador at night is not the safest of areas. El Salvador has one of the highest homicide rates in the world.
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    The heart of San Salvador at night is not the safest of areas. El Salvador has one of the highest homicide rates in the world.
  • A park bench is stained with blood. Minutes before, a person was shot while he was sitting in the park.
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    A park bench is stained with blood. Minutes before, a person was shot while he was sitting in the park.
  • Dogs roam the streets.
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    Dogs roam the streets.
  • According to UNICEF, poverty affects mostly rural areas and has a significant effect on children, largely in terms of nutrition and poor sanitation.
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    According to UNICEF, poverty affects mostly rural areas and has a significant effect on children, largely in terms of nutrition and poor sanitation.
  • A boy waits for his father to finish fishing in a contaminated lagoon.
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    A boy waits for his father to finish fishing in a contaminated lagoon.
  • This family has been contaminated with lead from polluted air, water and dirt. The contamination was caused by a battery factory that deposited its toxic waste in the region of El Nino in El Salvador.
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    This family has been contaminated with lead from polluted air, water and dirt. The contamination was caused by a battery factory that deposited its toxic waste in the region of El Nino in El Salvador.
  • A baptism is performed at a local swimming area in the city of Chalchuapa. Evangelical churches have gained popularity in the postwar era. A large percentage of Salvadorans have changed religions, mainly from Catholic to evangelical Protestant denominations.
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    A baptism is performed at a local swimming area in the city of Chalchuapa. Evangelical churches have gained popularity in the postwar era. A large percentage of Salvadorans have changed religions, mainly from Catholic to evangelical Protestant denominations.
  • People wait at the Comalapa International Airport to greet visiting Salvadorans. Tens of thousands of Salvadorans fled the country during and after the war to seek better lives elsewhere, mainly in the United States.
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    People wait at the Comalapa International Airport to greet visiting Salvadorans. Tens of thousands of Salvadorans fled the country during and after the war to seek better lives elsewhere, mainly in the United States.

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"Duro Blandito" (hard soft) is a type of cheese and, in popular Salvadoran speech, an oxymoron expressing the ambiguity of life. For Carlos, the phrase also conveys the difficulty of defining peace in a postwar era. The country had been defined by civil unrest for several decades, culminating in the 1980s and '90s in a civil war to overthrow a repressive government. Peace accords were finally signed in 1992, and with that came hope for the Salvadoran people.

But El Salvador is still among the 10 poorest countries in Latin America. "In various parts of the country," Carlos says, "one can still catch sight of the stillness of time." That is, those regions have remained socio-economically stagnant for the past three decades. While things are changing slowly for Salvadorans, daily life is a struggle for many. The photos in this series say more.

Juan Carlos, like many other Salvadorans, moved to the United States in the mid-1980s and settled in California. He has since returned to El Salvador to live and work. He offered to share his story with The Picture Show, hoping that it might reach those unfamiliar with El Salvador's situation. View more of his work on his Web site.

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