El Salvador is still not safe 20 years after peace accords ended the bloody civil war there.
Today, the violence revolves not around politics but around gangs. And just as the United States played a role in the civil war, so, too, does it play a role in the gang violence.
Back in the 1980s, Central America was a hot spot. President Reagan used inflated claims about communism triumphing there and creeping across our southern border to justify aiding and arming death squads in El Salvador and backing the right-wing government.
The civil war against left-wing rebels claimed the lives of more than 80,000 people. Many of the murdered were innocent, working-class civilians who supported neither the soldiers nor the guerrillas.
The United States is still a source of instability in El Salvador in two ways.
First, it has deported thousands of inmates who had been imprisoned for gang-related issues. The jails in El Salvador do not have capacity to hold the never-ending numbers of inmates deported by the United States, so now many of these criminals roam the streets.
Second, the demand for illegal drugs in the United States fuels the gangs in El Salvador.
So when Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich recently denounced the Salvadoran MS-13 gang, he was instilling fear but not offering solutions to help El Salvador fight the crime and violence.
One solution is more U.S. aid to El Salvador to fight poverty.
A different solution, which another GOP presidential candidate, Ron Paul, has controversially supported, is legalizing drugs in the United States so as to take the criminal element and the violence out of the drug trade.
This drug trade — and the gangs that feed off it — is ruining El Salvador, since the cartels are now extensively operating in Central America.
Salvadorans have not really known peace for more than 30 years now. They, like everyone else in this world, deserve a chance at a normal life.
The United States should help give them that chance.
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