San Salvador has been called the murder capital of the world, and violence in El Salvador is a part of everyday life. In a local cemetery, workers in think rubber boots dig graves with shovels and move dirt with wheelbarrows at the Cementerio Municipal Santa Tecla. Image by Lauryn Claassen. El Salvador, 2017.
According to the World Bank, the homicide rate in El Salvador hovers around 109 deaths per 100,000 people, making it the most violent country outside of a war zone. San Salvador is neck and neck with its regional neighbors Caracas and San Pedro Sula as the murder capital of the world.
The current spike in violence is rooted in the drug trade. As a lowland country that forms a physical bridge between South and North America, El Salvador bears the brunt of an industry in which they are neither the suppliers nor the buyers.
And even the foot soldiers on the ground are imported. The warring gangs locked in a Capulet and Montague-Esq battle were born in U.S. prisons in the 1980s and 1990s. Rivalries were created and crystallized—and then deported back to a country still reeling from civil war and in the middle of a power vacuum.