Gangs Demand That San Salvador's Buses Stop Running, But Why? : Goats and Soda The reasons behind the bus shutdown aren't clear, but the results have been tragic: nine drivers assassinated and a city in turmoil.
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Gangs Demand That San Salvador's Buses Stop Running, But Why?

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Gangs Demand That San Salvador's Buses Stop Running, But Why?

Gangs Demand That San Salvador's Buses Stop Running, But Why?

Gangs Demand That San Salvador's Buses Stop Running, But Why?

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/427318473/427318474" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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A police officer stands guard after the murder of a bus driver in San Salvador. Encarni Pindado for NPR hide caption

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Encarni Pindado for NPR

A police officer stands guard after the murder of a bus driver in San Salvador.

Encarni Pindado for NPR

On Monday morning around dawn, a bus driver was shot and killed in El Salvador.

It was the opening salvo in a new gang tactic: a call for buses on some 40 lines in the capital city of San Salvador to get off the road.

The gang-imposed ban on public transportation left thousands of Salvadorans scrambling for a way to commute. Encarni Pindado for NPR hide caption

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Encarni Pindado for NPR

The gang-imposed ban on public transportation left thousands of Salvadorans scrambling for a way to commute.

Encarni Pindado for NPR

Gang warfare is nothing new in this country of 6 million. The local gangs were actually born in the U.S., when El Salvadorans fled the civil war in the 1980s and settled in cities like Los Angeles. They formed gangs to protect themselves from other gangs. When many of the El Salvadorans were deported, they took the gang culture back home with them. Today there are an estimated 60,000 gang members on the streets of El Salvador, and perhaps another 10,000 in prison.

The gang known as Barrio 18 — 18th Street — is believed to be the mastermind behind the transit shutdown.

What is the gang demanding? It's hard to say. It's not like the gangs have official spokesmen. Theories include: pressuring the government to ease up in the crackdown on gangs, better treatment for gang members in prison, pressuring bus companies to pay "renta" — extortion money — to gangs. In addition, the government has accused the right-wing opposition party of being behind the gang gambit as a way to destabilize the country.

The mother of an assassinated bus driver buries her son at a cemetery on the outskirts of San Salvador. Encarni Pindado for NPR hide caption

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Encarni Pindado for NPR

The mother of an assassinated bus driver buries her son at a cemetery on the outskirts of San Salvador.

Encarni Pindado for NPR

Whatever the reason, the result has been tragedy and chaos. Nine bus drivers have been assassinated for driving in defiance of the gang-ordered ban. And getting around the city has been impossible for commuters and schoolchildren. Some private drivers are taking passengers — and charging high fees. And many people decided to drive, leading to nightmarish traffic.

Salvadoran police captured Cesar Vladimir Montolla, a member of the Barrio 18 gang, accused of attacking bus drivers in San Salvador who defied the ban. Encarni Pindado for NPR hide caption

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Encarni Pindado for NPR

Salvadoran police captured Cesar Vladimir Montolla, a member of the Barrio 18 gang, accused of attacking bus drivers in San Salvador who defied the ban.

Encarni Pindado for NPR

Late Tuesday night, the police reportedly captured the gang leader who is behind the transit shutdown, but as of Wednesday, the buses still aren't running.

The president has made it clear the government will not negotiate with gangs and is willing to send out the entire military force to ensure that the streets will be safe.

If and when the bus situation is resolved, El Salvador is still facing a bloody year.

There were 677 homicides in June alone. That's an average of 22 a day.