There is a stretch of the Pan-American highway heading west out of San Salvador where each end of the socio-economic spectrum in El Salvador is vibrantly evident.
While moving on the 4-lane highway through the town of Antiguo Cuscatlán, to the right you see three massive shopping malls: MultiPlaza, Las Cascadas and La Gran Via, bridged together by fast food restaurants such as Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, and Tony Roma’s. In these malls there are high rank fashion stores, an Apple Store, and luxurious restaurants.
The enormous complex was built on top of what was once the Finca del Espino, a stretch of undeveloped land at the foot of the San Salvador volcano with diverse flora and fauna, and the site of the primary water tables that supply water to urban San Salvador.
Sometimes when I pass places like this, I feel like I am in the state of Florida… Miami or Tampa, places where I would go to visit family or Disney World as a kid.
But I’m not. I’m in El Salvador, where people face a completely different reality, including environmental crisis, lack of water, poverty, a long history of systemic violence, and the complications of a post-war society. I don’t think that the 17-dollar steak dinners at Tony Roma’s have much relevance to the majority of Salvadorans’ lives.
Directly across the way from this concentration of shopping malls, on a tiny slice of land flanked on each side by the Pan-Americana west-bound and east-bound lanes, lies the squatter community La Cuchilla.