Rows of corrugated metal roofs.
Forbidding cinder-block walls painted in assorted colors. Thick, locked double garage doors. All houses are camouflaged; hidden from view.
This is the scene from the guesthouse window here in San Salvador. The street in front of me is now fortified by a heavy metal gate opened to its residents by armed guard No. 189 wearing a blue hat and uniform. A long, menacing shotgun is strapped diagonally across his chest. The only other human in sight is the occasional dog walker.
“25 years ago you could see all the houses here,” the owner announces half-apologetically, half-nostalgically. “First the gates around the houses went up; then the wooden garage doors were replaced by heavy metal ones.
Next came the impenetrable concrete walls surrounding the entire property. They were topped by coiled razor wire and/or broken glass bottle shards.”
We recall an armed guard roving the block during our last visit, but as soon as we pull up to our guesthouse, we notice the entire street is blocked off now with an armed guard manning the gate to allow the residents of the block owning vehicles to get in and out. This was installed four months ago.
“Is all this security really necessary?” we ask. He shrugs his shoulders responding, “Ours is one of the last in the neighborhood to gate its street. I like to go for walks with the dog and stop to chat with the neighbors, but most homes are now inaccessible, or people are too fearful to walk outside their homes any longer.”
We sit inside the office chatting with a friend of ours who runs a successful Salvadoran business. Two doors adjoin his office – one into the administrative wing and the other directly into the factory. Whenever anyone knocks on either door, he reaches down under his desk to buzz the person in. How does he know who the person on the other side of the door is? I wonder. My partner believes there is some way the person on the outside of the door identifies himself to the owner. Otherwise, why install the system? Security cameras is our guess. In addition, as we travel outside from one building of the plant to another, a bodyguard accompanies him. On our way back to the office, we come through the recently-built underground tunnel between the buildings. This is in addition to the guards around the entire plant.
It is not uncommon for anyone who is perceived to be affluent to require protection. Another friend who is a small business owner must hire around-the-clock protection of both property and owners. Armed guards often ride shotgun (literally!) with business persons traveling with them everywhere. The police are so often being accused of being complicit with criminals that people can no longer trust them to come to their rescue or even investigate crimes. How much of this is true, we do not know. But we are hearing it wherever we go from so many different people and reading it in so many different sources, that it does garner suspicion.
Everywhere we go everyone seems to be on high alert taking great precautions with their safety.