The Journalist Who Plunged Into Central America’s Deadliest Gang Wars

The Journalist Who Plunged Into Central America’s Deadliest Gang Wars

The Journalist Who Plunged Into Central America’s Deadliest Gang Wars

Óscar Martínez reports, with great beauty, on his region’s deepest traumas.


Óscar Martínez writes for, the first online newspaper in Latin America. In 2008, he won the Fernando Benítez National Cultural Journalism Award in Mexico, and in 2009, he was awarded the Human Rights Prize at the José Simeón Cañas Central American University in El Salvador.

Diary of (Not) Excavating a Mass Grave in El Salvador,” his article in this issue, is adapted from his new book, A History of Violence: Living and Dying in Central America. The book gathers several pieces of his recent investigative reporting, in which he rides along with cops, gangsters, and informants, uncovering the roots of Central America’s pervasive violence. Verso’s English-language translation contains a special message from Martínez to his readers here. He notes that many of Central America’s notorious gangs started in the United States, with immigrants who’d fled the US-sponsored wars in their own country and formed their own groups in gang-heavy Southern California. When Ronald Reagan began his deportation strategy for managing American violence, hardened criminals were deported and dumped back into Central America, forming the nucleus of today’s Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18. This is our problem, too.

Martínez notes that his US readers are oddly practical. He toured the country a few years back to discuss The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail, his extraordinary book chronicling his travels through Central America. “In Latin America, the questions I most heard were along the lines of was I scared to be riding the train, or did anything bad ever happen to me, or which story affected me most. Outside of the region, the most common question was: ‘What’s your solution?’”

Martínez turns that question back on his readers. “I believe,” he writes, “you should read this book for one simple reason: for the sake of humanity. I want you to understand what thousands of Central Americans are forced to live through. Then you can understand why they keep coming.” But as Martínez points out: “The solution is up to you. The crisis will be solved when people understand, and worsens when they don’t. It’s that simple. And it’s that complicated.”

Thank you for reading The Nation!

We hope you enjoyed the story you just read. It’s just one of many examples of incisive, deeply-reported journalism we publish—journalism that shifts the needle on important issues, uncovers malfeasance and corruption, and uplifts voices and perspectives that often go unheard in mainstream media. For nearly 160 years, The Nation has spoken truth to power and shone a light on issues that would otherwise be swept under the rug.

In a critical election year as well as a time of media austerity, independent journalism needs your continued support. The best way to do this is with a recurring donation. This month, we are asking readers like you who value truth and democracy to step up and support The Nation with a monthly contribution. We call these monthly donors Sustainers, a small but mighty group of supporters who ensure our team of writers, editors, and fact-checkers have the resources they need to report on breaking news, investigative feature stories that often take weeks or months to report, and much more.

There’s a lot to talk about in the coming months, from the presidential election and Supreme Court battles to the fight for bodily autonomy. We’ll cover all these issues and more, but this is only made possible with support from sustaining donors. Donate today—any amount you can spare each month is appreciated, even just the price of a cup of coffee.

The Nation does not bow to the interests of a corporate owner or advertisers—we answer only to readers like you who make our work possible. Set up a recurring donation today and ensure we can continue to hold the powerful accountable.

Thank you for your generosity.

Ad Policy