Voices

Heidi Part 1

Heidi was a regular college student in El Salvador. She attended the public university and studied law. One of her professors was vocal about the violence tearing their country apart. He was killed and his corpse was flung in front of the university with a message.

“In this country, we do what we want.”

Heidi lived in a neighborhood that had two points of entrance, one claimed by MS 13 and the other by 18th Street, rival gangs that wreak havoc on the population of El Salvador. The east was MS 13 controlled and on the west, 18th Street claimed the territory. Heidi recalled, “I wasn’t anyones friend or anyones enemy.” Gangs controlled the neighborhood. Taxis and unidentified cars were not allowed to enter. Those who were identifiable were required a quota to get home. A quota is a fixed share of money that a group is entitled to receive.

The situation changed when 18th Street decided that nobody was going to enter or exit through their territory. Within a few days, a woman and her son were killed 15 houses down from Heidi’s home. The police were not sent to the scene and they never set foot in her neighborhood. After that, she received a phone call threatening that she begin paying an additional quota or else her family was going to suffer the consequences.

They explained, “We know what time you leave and come back, we know your mom is in the United States, where your brother is, and you live with your grandmother. You are going to give us a monthly quota or else your brother, your family, and you are in danger.” The fear and panic caused Heidi to faint and when she woke up, her grandmother and uncle asked her who had called and what was said.  Heidi remembers, “After that phone call, I lived in fear. I would walk but I’d look around to see if anyone was following me. We changed our phone numbers and residence.”

With elections coming up in El Salvador, the situation grew more intolerable in her neighborhood. Gangs began fighting over territories. The violence often spilled into the streets, trapping civilians in the crossfire.

Heidi moved to another neighborhood for her and her families safety. Shortly after in another part of the country, her aunt was threatened and her cousin was beaten. Their family decided to get a bigger house to stay together while being persecuted in their own country.

Heidi recalls shootings in the new neighborhood, as well. It was difficult to complete daily errands when people were warning her to get inside and not go out because there was another shooting.  

In front of Heidi’s new house there was a bus stop, one day the bus was burned with people inside. They closed the doors and used gasoline and burned them. There were 13 people who died and 5 critically injured on the bus that day.

It was normal to be warned about bodies on the street. Heidi lived with warnings not to go outside because there was a corpse on the corner of the street. If you didn’t use your car, then you’d be assaulted on public transit. If you were in your car, they would break your windows and steal from you. There was no securIty and delinquency is too common in El Salvador.

For example: Heidi’s father has to pay the gangs a $50 quota each month to have his business.

In El Salvador, people typically make $5 to $6 dollars a day.

Heidi took two buses from home to school and often after the first stop thieves would assault and ask for belongings. She remembers people being killed for hats, shoes, or any designer product.  She has the vivid memory of a man who was taken off the bus, his shoes were taken from him, and a bullet shot through his body.  In 2015, El Salvador had the highest murder rate in the world for a country not at war as 116 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.