Today is World Refugee Day, an international day dedicated to raising awareness about the 22.5 million people around the world who have fled their homes due to famine, violence, and persecution around the world.
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Óscar Martínez is an award-winning Salvadoran journalist who has long been recognized for his investigative work on gang violence in the northern triangle of Central America. Last month, Verso released his second book in English, A History of Violence: Living and Dying in Central America, a tenaciously reported, elegant treatise on how the long-lasting effects of US intervention and the War on Drugs created a region of fear; a place where citizens suffer from the some of the highest homicide rates in the world, and many are forced to flee for North America.
Martínez recently spoke with Alberto Arce about A History of Violence in the New York Times en Español. We present the interview below, translated by Natascha Uhlmann.
Óscar, with 103 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in El Salvador, the highest recorded rates worldwide, is this considered a war?
I’ve used the word war in the past, but it scares me because if true, it allows for a particular sort of discourse from the government. The president of the republic already used this term, and it legitimizes the use of policies whose effects are less than clear.
Jon Lee Anderson is a war correspondent and an investigative journalist for The New Yorker. The following is his introduction to Óscar Martínez's A History of Violence.
Photo by Pau Coll, elfaro.net.
In A History of Violence, Oscar Martínez befriends a contract killer living in a small Salvadoran town. The killer, the Hollywood Kid, has ratted out numerous former accomplices to police, but, sensing that the government doesn’t care enough to protect him, he fretfully awaits his execution at their hands. The Hollywood Kid has a shotgun to defend himself, but when the moment finally comes, he is defenseless, on his way home from his baby daughter’s baptism. At the burial, Óscar is accosted by his dead friend’s enemies, who appear in the cemetery to gloat and swagger.
Óscar Martínez, director of the Salvadorean investigative journalism project, Sala Negra, has been reporting extensively on the northern triangle of Central America — Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador — and exposing the systemic causes of the violence there since 2011. His forthcoming book, A History of Violence: Living and Dying in Central America, tells the story of the more than 1,000 refugees who leave the region everyday to attempt to enter the United States. As the current wave of ICE raids authorized by President Obama deports Central American refugees, it is essential to understand why for many Central Americans of the northern triangle, returning home is a death sentence. The following is excerpted from A History of Violence.