Former Attorney General of El Salvador speaks at Pacific about gang activity in the U.S. and abroad
On Monday, Feb. 23, the University was honored to have former Attorney General of El Salvador Romeo Barahona speak. The event was sponsored by the College of the Pacific, as well as the Latin American Studies program. Barahona’s lecture focused on the gangs of El Salvador. The speech was delivered entirely in Spanish.
Romeo Barahona started out as the Assistant Attorney General in El Salvador from 2002-2009; he took over the position of Attorney General from 2009-2012. Barahona was instrumental in the creation of La Policía Nacional Civil (National Civil Police) as part of the peace treaty that ended the Salvadoran Civil War. His current work focuses on corruption within government.
As the Attorney General of El Salvador, Barahona is intimately familiar with the structure, activities and culture of the gangs within El Salvador and in the U.S.
The most notorious of El Salvador’s gangs, and the gang Barahona chose to focus on, is Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13. MS-13 actually originated in America, not El Salvador, within Los Angeles. The gang was made up of mostly Salvadorian immigrants who fled their home country’s civil war during the 1980s.
Deportation of high-profile members back to El Salvador, as well as contact between gang members in the States and their associates in El Salvador, led to increased gang presence outside of the U.S. Currently, MS-13 operates within Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Guatemala, in addition to America and El Salvador.
The increase in gang violence was blamed as the one of the principle causes of the influx of Central American migration to the U.S. during the summer of 2014. The inability to handle such a large amount of immigrants led to mass deportation and refugees being held in immigrant facilities all along the U.S.-Mexico border, most notably in Texas.
Barahona pinpointed the reasons for gang membership as a lack of education, lack of opportunities and the disintegration of familial and community connections. The displacement of Salvadorians by the Salvadoran Civil War, as well as current economic hardships in El Salvador, caused the formation of these gangs.
Barahona then went on to give examples of the kinds of activities Salvadorian gangs engage in, including the dealing, smuggling and trafficking of arms, drugs and even people. Mexican cartels also employ the gangs as assassins.
Barahona ended his lecture by taking questions.
When asked about the presentation, electrical engineering student Ryan Chen ‘17 commented, “I didn’t know how destructive the gangs were becoming, especially in their own country.” The general consensus among the students was that the lecture was informative and engaging.
Not all students were fully immersed or engaged by the speech, however. Many students attended the lecture in order to earn extra credit for their business law class.
None of these students were aware that the lecture was going to be entirely in Spanish. The only students who did seem to be aware of the language of the presentation were there to receive extra credit for their Spanish classes. These students seemed to be fluent in the language.
Some attendees expressed discomfort regarding the language of the presentation. Complaints that the University should have made this fact known more widely were abundant. Some protested the lack of flyers advertising the event. This reporter was only able to find two flyers.
Both mentioned that the presentation would be in Spanish at the end of a paragraph detailing Barahona’s background in 12-point font. Still other students brought forth the concern that the language issue went unmentioned in the event description on Pacific’s online calendar of events.
This reporter can verify that the online description of the event makes no mention of the language of the event, implying that it would be in English, or at least have a translation available.