Lauren Markham at VQR:
San Salvador is both the political and homicide capital of El Salvador, a country where, most recently, a plague of murders has surged after the unraveling of a two-year-old gang truce in early 2014. Gangs have been running Mercado Central for years; according to Salvadoran journalist Oscar Martinez, in a 2015 report on the swelling of violence in the city center, they tell vendors “where they will sell, how much they will pay for the space to sell… . Sometimes they even tell them who to vote for.” Gangs come to the market to recruit kids to join their ranks, or to collect renta—a euphemism for extortion money—from vendors and stores, or to menace and, when they deem it necessary, to kill. All of which has provided justification for San Salvador’s young mayor, Nayib Bukele, to attempt to solve the problem of this rag-tag market, in part, by dismantling it.
This is an ambitious project for Bukele, an upstart politician who, at thirty-three, and with just three years of experience in public service, won the most important mayoral seat in the country in 2015. Previous mayors have attempted to physically remove unregistered vendors from Mercado Central, which led to all-out riots. Bukele’s strategy is to entice them to move by building new markets just outside the city center (construction is slated to be completed by 2018). Instead of haggling from makeshift stalls in the middle of sidewalks and roads, his plan would allow vendors to operate through leases, in conditions that are safe and sanitary, with plenty of security and opportunities for a diversity of businesses to thrive.