Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live


Salvadoran Gang Linked To Journalist's Death

Journalist Christian Poveda was killed after completing a documentary about a street gang in El Salvador.
AFP/Getty Images
Journalist Christian Poveda was killed after completing a documentary about a street gang in El Salvador.

Franco-Spanish filmmaker Christian Poveda was shot to death earlier this month, just weeks before his documentary about a street gang in El Salvador was to open in theaters.

Five men, including one police officer, were arrested Wednesday in connection with the murder in El Salvador.

Police say Poveda had been shot at least four times in the face.


Poveda had only recently completed the documentary La Vida Loca, which tells the story of the Mara 18, or M-18, a violent street gang with roots in El Salvador. Poveda's body was found in an area controlled by that gang and authorities suspect a jailed gang member ordered the killing.

The film is scheduled to open in theaters on Sept. 30, but pirated copies had already been distributed widely throughout El Salvador.

Julio Marenco is a Washington correspondent for El Salvador's La Prensa Grafica. In a recent interview with NPR host Michel Martin, Marenco said some gang members were upset with Poveda — not because of the content of the documentary, but because Mara 18 was not profiting from its success.

"They thought Poveda was making revenue out of their misery," Marenco said.

Poveda was well known for his coverage of civil strife in the region. He first moved to El Salvador in the 1980s to photograph the civil war, and again in the early 1990s, when the war ended. In the aftermath of the conflict, gang culture became prominent in El Salvador, and Poveda became interested in learning more about gang life, focusing on the M-18.


The gang is notorious for drug trafficking and extortion and has control of some areas of El Salvador, including the town of Tonacatepeque, where Poveda was killed. According to Marenco, the gang imposes curfews and charges local businesses and street vendors a daily fee in exchange for their safety.

"There have been cases of street vendors being killed for not paying [a] single dollar," Marenco said.

But Poveda wanted to show a different picture of gang life. His documentary shows images of gang members gunned down in the streets, relatives weeping over coffins, and the corpses of teenagers. And though the documentary acknowledges the violence and terror perpetuated by gangs, it also depicts its members as victims who were forced into gang life because of poor social and economic conditions.

"[He] was an advocate of including the gangs, not repressing them," Marenco said. "He was an advocate of sitting down with them and talking to them."

But some say it might have been that same sympathy for gang members that, in the end, cost him his life.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit