How a bucket of fried chicken can help prevent a gang war in El Salvador

A little Pollo Campero can go a long way to bringing peace to El Salvador
Elena Scotti/ Fusion

A little Pollo Campero can go a long way to bringing peace to El Salvador

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — A greasy 12-piece combo of fried chicken isn’t always the smartest menu choice. But in this case, the double Promoción Súper Campero was all about preserving my health.

I was cabbing across San Salvador cradling two soggy-bottom boxes of chicken parts to make a prandial offering to the leaders of the Pandilla 18, one of El Salvador’s two main gangs. I was told not to come empty-handed.

“We always start every round of peace talks by eating Pollo Campero,” Salvadoran gang whisperer Raul Mijango told me after arranging the interview. “So bring eight pieces of chicken.”

I brought 12. Plus a sizable side of soddened fries and 2 liters of Pepsi.

'Health food'I was on a mission to talk to gang leaders about their country’s spiking murder rate. El Salvador is lurching towards its worst levels of violence in decades. The gang truce that momentarily quieted the guns in 2012-’13 is now a fading memory as the army launches an aggressive military offensive with three new rapid response battalions.

The country’s murder rate in the past few months has reached levels not seen in El Salvador since the darkest days of the country’s civil war, which claimed 75,000 lives between 1980-1992.

For a country that fought so hard to implement an institutionalized peace process 25 years ago, the government’s addlepated rush to find a military solution to the gang problem is baffling. It’s even more befuddling when you think that the ruling FMLN came to power democratically, thanks precisely to the gains of El Salvador’s peace process.

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