First displacement, then unemployment

One of the seven families that abandoned their homes in September 2016 because of a Panchimalco gang returned days later. The mother of that family says they returned because they could not find another place to live, and because they did not want to lose their jobs.

In August 2016, Rosa María Mármol heard shots that killed two young men she knew in the village of Los Jorge in El Cedro, Panchimalco. Two months later, she heard that a group of armed gangsters had returned to their neighbor's house, looking for more young people to kill. Anguished, she told her husband and teenage son that they had to flee from Panchimalco to save their lives. She told them not to think about their chickens, ducks, or dogs, because they would surely be a hindrance in starting from scratch somewhere new. She even told them not to think about their jobs as farmers, since she considered it "better to lose a job than your life."

Spurred on by this conversation, Rosa María's husband asked his boss to give them shelter for a few days until they could find another place to live. His boss said yes. Rosa María and her family did what six other families in the village had already done: abandon their simple houses of mud-and-straw walls and tile-and-earthen floors.

The days passed, Rosa María remembers, and her husband could not find another place to live.

Some of Rosa María’s relatives, who live outside of San Salvador, told her they could come and live with them, but her husband didn’t want to go because that would mean leaving the job and the employer that had taken them in. Disappointed that he could not find another place close by, he decided it was time to return to the house they had abandoned.

"We can’t just leave, we have to eat and to eat we have to work," Rosa María remembers her husband saying on the day they returned.

When they returned, 15 days after they had fled, everything was the same: the doors of their neighbors' houses were locked, there were abandoned chickens and skeletal dogs lying next to the doors.

One year and three months later, when this newspaper returned to the hamlet, things were much the same, except the animals Rosa María described were now dead and the roofs of the houses broken. The other six families who left El Cedro have not returned.

Ricardo Sosa, owner of the El Carmen farm located at the entrance of the village, told this newspaper that since the displacement of the families in September 2016, his other employees who lived nearby were afraid to come to the farm because of the gang members who roamed the area.

"I had more than 100 employees, but in this last harvest only 16 came to work. I couldn’t harvest all the coffee, and I lost a lot. The truth is that since they killed these young people and the families left, I am on my way to bankruptcy,” says Sosa.

Some years ago, the same gang that killed the two young people and caused the displacement of the families also stole money from Sosa so he could not pay his employees after the harvest.

"The situation here has been difficult. Some families have definitely not returned, and in any case they are not working with me. I doubt they have found other jobs," says Sosa.

The data

It is difficult to quantify the problem of forced displacement by violence in El Salvador, because the government has not yet recognized the problem and does not have statistics on the issue. It does not even call it by its name, preferring to use the euphemism "internal mobility.”

The number of displacement victims who lost their jobs last year is almost impossible to know, since many victims do not report their situation. The only organization that keeps a record is Cristosal, who works with a sample of victims because it does not know about all the cases that occur. Last year, the non-governmental organization documented 146 cases with 638 victims.

Of that total, 106 victims of working age told Cristosal they lost their job after the displacement. Most of them worked as agricultural laborers or factory workers.

In Panchimalco, after the two young people were killed and the families were displaced, the National Civil Police installed a base at the entrance of Los Jorge to patrol constantly and prevent the gangsters from committing crimes.

"We have been here for about a year now. We are supported by soldiers, with whom we do constant patrols. We already made some arrests, and after those arrests, the place has been quiet," says a prominent agent in the village, who asked to be identified only as "Sibrián."

The mother of one of the two young people killed in September 2016, José Luis Mármol, confirmed to this newspaper that since the arrival of the police and soldiers, the gang members stopped coming around. "After they killed my son, I did not want to leave here. Besides, I had nowhere to go. When they saw that I did not leave, they came to the house again. There were about 20 of them, they surrounded the house. They asked me if I had more adolescent children and I told them no, that the only one I had left was a three-year-old boy. I think they were angry when they didn’t find more young adults in the house: they stole my cell phone, clothes that I had folded on the bed, and even the food that we had stored. But thank God, after that they did not come back. Thank God that the police are here, that gives us some security," says José Luis’s mother.

Rosa María, José Luis Mármol’s aunt, leans on the smooth rock she uses to wash her family’s clothes. Concluding her story about their experience with displacement, she says that she too feels “a bit safer” now.

"It’s not that you are going to be totally safe here, but now we don’t see the gang members around anymore. Before, they walked around armed and you were afraid to find them on the sidewalks. Now I agree with my husband, that it was better to stay here so as not to lose the job," she says.

106: Victims of forced displacement who told Cristosal they lost their jobs.

3: 2017 displacement victims who said they found a temporary job to survive.

97: 2017 displacement victims who told Cristosal they abandoned basic and secondary education.


Translated from Barrera, E. (January 21, 2018). Desplazados hacia el desempleo. La Prensa Grafica. Retrieved on January 22, 2018, from

Hannah Rose Nelson