Why Families Flee: The García Family

This post is the first in a series about why families flee when they become targets of violence in El Salvador. The whole series is available at cristosal.org/blog

The García* family is close, even as adults. For many years, the 11 siblings all lived as neighbors on land that had been in their family for generations. But last year, they were forced to leave this land when their family became the target of gang violence.

The violence started one night when Lilian García's husband and his brother were walking home. 

Three armed members of the Barrio 18 Revolutionaries gang intercepted them. The gang members stripped, beat, and interrogated the brothers, demanding to know if someone in the family was a police officer. The brothers were told that the whole García family had 24 hours to leave their homes. If they didn't get out in time, the gang threatened to machine-gun the houses. Afraid of inviting further violence, the brothers did not report the attack.

Photo by    Brandon Wong    on    Unsplash

Two months later, Lilian's eight-year-old son was leaving school when he was approached by a man who told the boy he was going to take him away. The child began to scream and cry, drawing looks from people nearby. Noticing this attention, the man left the boy alone.

Four months after that, Lilian's sister Cristina García heard a strange sound in her sleep. Disoriented, she woke up to four people bursting into the house. The trespassers forced Cristina's husband outside, where they insulted him, accused him of collaborating with the police, threatened to kill his family, and beat him severely before throwing him into a ravine. He managed to escape and find the police. Meanwhile, two other attackers stayed inside. They insulted, threatened, and raped Cristina, then did the same to her young daughter. The attackers threatened to kill Cristina, but the police arrived and the men fled.

After these attacks, the García family decided they had no choice but to move.

Soon after they had settled into a new home, several of the Garcías attended a dance in their new community. During the event, police officers broke into their new house. Lilian and Cristina's mother was shot and killed. While the police report from that night claims there was a shootout, the Garcías say the police broke into the house and deliberately murdered their mother. There are rumors that the police in the area has been infiltrated by gang members.

The García family is still waiting for a final ruling in their case, which is expected to be delivered soon. /  Photo Cristosal

The García family is still waiting for a final ruling in their case, which is expected to be delivered soon. / Photo Cristosal

All of these events were reported to the police and the prosecutor’s office. Police accused several community members of murdering the Garcías' mother. These suspects were soon released due to lack of evidence. The Garcías say authorities have covered up facts in this case. Despite the significant continued risk to the García family, the Salvadoran state did nothing to protect or assist them.

The Garcías were totally dependent on the support of nongovernmental organizations.

The summer after their mother's murder, Cristosal accompanied the García family in filing an appeal for protection (amparo) with El Salvador's Supreme Court. The appeal identifies several government institutions who failed protect the family’s Constitutional rights. It also asks authorities to investigate the involvement of local police in the homicide and cover-up. The Garcías have been granted refuge in another country.

Cristosal has filed six amparos in the last year. The cases are being processed, and a final ruling is expected in some of the cases soon. The decisions the Court makes in these cases have the power to not only protect the specific families who filed the amparo, but also to order the creation of laws and programs to protect the hundreds of thousands of people who flee violence in El Salvador every year. Learn more about our amparo cases here

* All names have been changed for security purposes.