Why Families Flee: The Martínez Family

This post is the last 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 Martínez* family used to live in Ilopango, just outside of San Salvador. Juan and Julía sold food in the community to support themselves, their four kids, and Juan's mother. But in the blink of an eye, everything changed. Members of the Barrio 18 Sureño gang decided the Martínez family was having too much success with their business, especially because other food businesses in the area were owned by or gave money to the gang. The gang members were suspicious that the Martínez family was feeding information to the police. So, the gang told Juan and Julía they had 24 hours to get out of Ilopango.

Julía fled immediately with the kids and Juan's mother, but Juan stayed behind to watch over their home and belongings. They didn't want to lose everything they had spent their whole lives working for. Juan was forcibly disappeared** less than a year later, and his remains were found a few months after that.

Photo Igor Ovsyannykov on Unsplash

Photo Igor Ovsyannykov on Unsplash

For almost an entire year, the Martínez family lived in the shadows. Despite being aware of their situation, neither the National Civil Police nor the Attorney General's Office did anything to protect or assist the family. Non-governmental organizations finally stepped in to assist them with safe housing. To date, state agencies have shown no progress in identifying those responsible for the disappearance and murder of Juan Martínez.

Two years after the Martínez family left their home, Cristosal accompanied them in filing a request for protection (amparo) with El Salvador's Supreme Court. The amparo names Soyapango prosecutors and police officials as authorities who failed to protect the family’s rights to safety and freedom of movement. The amparo also identifies several government organizations which failed in their duty to create sufficient laws, programs, or policies to guarantee the family’s Constitutional rights.

Even though the remaining members of the Martínez family are no longer in immediate danger, they bravely chose to file the amparo in order to help set legal precedent for people who might suffer similar acts of violence in the future.

The appeal filed by the Martínez family is currently being processed by the Court. A final ruling is expected soon. /  Photo Cristosal

The appeal filed by the Martínez family is currently being processed by the Court. A final ruling is expected soon. / Photo Cristosal

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.

**"Enforced disappearance" is the term used when someone is arrested or abducted with direct or implicit approval from the government. Subsequently, authorities fail to acknowledge or act upon the person's disappearance. The fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person remains unknown, often for years or even decades. Learn more from the United Nations.



Hannah Rose Nelson