Martínez writes in powerful, unforgettable prose about clinging to the tops of freight trains; finding respite, work and hardship in shelters and brothels; and riding shotgun with the border patrol. Illustrated with stunning full-color photographs, The Beast is the first book to shed light on the harsh new reality of the migrant trail in the age of the narcotraficantes.
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.
At the present time several international organizations are pressuring us to build “megaprojects” on indigenous lands — refineries, tourist resorts, and hydroelectric dams — that threaten to displace our people.
But we ask, “Who are the people that make these proposals? We are the people who live in those areas, and we should have a right to decide what kind of projects are built on our lands.” - Berta Cáceres, writing in 1999
The assassination of Berta Cáceres in the pre-dawn hours of March 3 came as a shock to Honduras and to Latin America watchers around the world. Berta, a vibrant woman with a glowing smile, was still young — and seemed too full of life, too driven and too determined, to be cut down.
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.