Coffin business is booming in Central America (Salvadoran gang sports)


EXCERPT: . . . The Pachecos are undertakers working in El Salvador, a country with one of the world’s highest murder rates. Together they’ve embalmed more than 500 bodies in less than two years. They’ve sewn together dismembered limbs, reconstructed caved-in heads with inflatable plastic balls, and embalmed cadavers so putrefied that their flesh appeared to be melting. But although the Pachecos are relatively new to the funeral business, they grew up around death. They’re from Jucuapa, a small city of about 18,000 people and about 30 coffin factories. Manufacturing the “wooden pajamas,” as some locals call them, has become such big business in Jucuapa that families have abandoned their bakeries, butcher shops, and sugar cane fields to enter the funeral industry.

[...] Unlike the Pachecos, Jorge Cárdenas, middle-aged and rotund, has worked in the funeral business all his life and started his own shop in 2012. His team produces 20 to 30 coffins a week, he says proudly, and sells them to funeral homes all over the country. The top seller is the $90 económico, a no-frills brown model usually meant for the victims of violent crime. “Those that get killed in gang shootouts are normally young men with little resources,” Cárdenas says. “When it comes time for the funeral, it’s normally the town hall that pays for the coffin, and the state always chooses the cheapest option.” His most luxurious model, the colombiana, is larger, more elaborately decorated, and, he says, 20 times as profitable.

Cárdenas, like several other coffin factory owners around Jucuapa, acknowledges discomfort with profiting from his country’s biggest problem, but says it’s the only thing keeping him fed. “If all of a sudden the gangs were to stop killing, our business would be very affected,” he says, and besides, 16 competitors ensure he’s making a profit of only $10 to $20 per económico. “We’re not rich here.”

[...] “Gangs everywhere” remains a fact of life throughout El Salvador, a country of 6 million people where 2.5 million live in poverty and the defense ministry estimates that about 500,000 are somehow connected to gang activity. The major rival groups, Barrio 18 and MS-13, have U.S. origins. Refugees founded them to survive in the tougher parts of Los Angeles around the peak of the Salvadoran civil war, when El Salvador’s repressive government targeted citizens using paramilitary death squads funded partly with tens of millions of dollars from the Carter and Reagan administrations.

The gangs returned to El Salvador in the early 1990s, around the time the Pacheco brothers were born, after the Clinton administration implemented mass deportations. Within a decade they’d become one of their home country’s biggest problems. “When you grow up in a poor area, sometimes you have no other option but to join a gang,” says Dennis, a funeral worker and former MS-13 member who asked not to be identified by his last name for fear of reprisals. “It’s up to the state to help us find better options.”

Doesn’t it seem like no matter how heinous/evil something is, there’s a good side to it? So how much goodness does it take for it to go the other way if that’s the case?

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