So I’m reading Black Chronicles: From a Region that Doesn’t Matter, which is a collection of investigative reports from Central America. I already told you about the first article in the book, in which Roberto Valencia talks about a teenage gang-rape victim called Magaly.
The second article isn’t nearly as well written as Valencia’s reports but it’s still fascinating. It talks about a split within Barrio 18, the rival gang of MS-13. The article follows the life trajectory of Lin, the gangster who was the gang’s leader at some point and who caused it to split.
The importance of Los Angeles in the gang’s Salvadoran history is vastly exaggerated, say the authors. Yes, gangsters brought the name, the tattoos, and the symbols from the US. Lin was in Los Angeles a couple of times and he still tells a story of being rudely talked to by a store owner in LA who didn’t speak Spanish.
But what’s a lot more important for Lin’s trajectory is that he was in the war. He fought on the side of the revolutionary guerrillas and still speaks in Marxist slogans 30 years later. He is the one who taught the gang to intimidate neighborhoods through many-hours-long gang rapes at the end of which the victim’s head is severed and left in a public place. Los Angeles isn’t where he learned this. The war is.
Lin wanted the gang to function like the guerrilla did. But he failed to make that happened. He’s now old, tired, and washed up. And the gangs in Central America are being taken over by the cartels anyway.
The third article in the book explains what life is like in Salvadoran jails and how it happened that they are completely controlled by inmates. Fascinating material. The book is not pleasant to read, obviously, but it is very important to read for those who are interested in Central America. I’d assign it in class instead of inane textbooks but I don’t want to face the ensuing hassle.