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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Friendly Mistrust: Coping with the Rule of Gangs in a Salvadoran Community

  • Author(s): Palomo Contreras, Areli
  • Advisor(s): Zilberg, Elana J.
  • et al.

This study focuses on strategies or practices that members of a Salvadoran community have incorporated to their everyday life in order to cope with gangs. Through time, gangs in El Salvador have transformed into powerful social actors, and currently, their dynamics distort the quotidian life of those who live under their rule. I argue that gangs have imposed rules or constraints to people’s behavior, and that community members have incorporated these rules and produced practices to co-exist with gangs or to survive their rule. Among these practices of co-existence, I describe precautionary strategies, negotiations and finally exile.

This research is based on an ethnographic fieldwork that took place from July to September 2014 in a Salvadoran community of the state of La Libertad. I conducted 35 semi-structured interviews and participant observation during the above-mentioned period. I conclude that, through these strategies, it is possible to observe that gangs are parallel structures of power to the Salvadoran sate and that in some cases strategies to cope with gangs also reproduce their power.

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