Óscar Martínez is not one to shy away from danger.
A Salvadoran through and through, this man searches for the truth in Central America, walking through cities overrun with crime and where the narcos rule the law, Guatemalan jungles concealing massive drug plantations legally owned by narcotraffickers, even prisons that are overcrowding with criminals, with compounds meant to house 800 holding 3,700. It’s no wonder that massacres are almost common in these places. The guards can do nothing but watch as walls are broken and the fighting begins. He talks to coyotes-people traffickers-who have seen firsthand the disastrous influence gangs such as Los Zetas can make; migrants that tried to flee across the border into the US that were raped, forced into prostitution and abuse, and made to phone their relatives in order to wire their kidnappers ransom money, before being killed anyways; a victims mother of a Los Zetas mass murder at a remote abandoned farmhouse in Tamaulipas, her son gunned down and left to rot along with 195 other bodies. He even talks to a murderer who has ratted out many of his accomplices to the police; knowing they won’t protect him from his enemies, the Hollywood Kid waits for his death in a small shack.
He was shot dead on his way home from his baby daughter’s baptism.
Martínez sneaks his way into every nook and cranny of Central America, meeting the many victims of a problem started, as Martínez calls it, by ‘the product of certain American politicians’. In his preface, he sounds angry.
That something that should never have even concerned them has now come to eat up his entire nation and the ones surrounding it, and have become engulfed in a never ending wash of crime and trafficking. In his journalistic yet immersive and emotional stories, he covers three parts of the situation: Emptiness (the absence of the state and government), Madness (what is festering in the emptiness) and Fleeing (not migration, as many Americans like to call it, but the only option for many people forced out of their homes or those who see no other way). In each of these stories, he connects with his interviewee-they may be convicts, they may be mass-murderers, they may be rapists, but this does not change the way he speaks to them. In A History of Violence: Living and Dying in Central America, Martínez lets us know that in this world (this world not too far away from ours), you can either flee or you can join the mad. There is no other option.
His beautifully descriptive, almost poetic descriptions of otherwise decrepit, dangerous places of a country not quite recovered from its civil war and currently in an internal one-the war against the narcos-help shed some light on an otherwise fuzzy, largely forgotten part of the world and bring it to life, however tragic. Amidst a world full of chaos and white noise, cut through to this book, and the stories that matter. The lives that matter. This book changed my view of the world and inspired me to act for change. I hope it can do the same for you.
NB: Going to Paris in a couple of days, then Scotland for half term. So much to write! But I had to do this book. It really needs to be recognized as a great piece of literature.