A couple weeks ago, Salvadorans tired of the extortion and violence that plagues their neighborhoods began a calling on their fellow citizens to overcome their fears and not pay when the violent street gangs try to extort money. The movement uses the face of Don Ramón, a Mexican sitcom character from the 1970s known as a “rent-dodger,” to convey its message that the people are tired and should no longer going to pay extortion (or “the rent” as it is called on the street).
In a short period, the image of Don Ramón has been spray-painted all over the capital, and found its way onto t-shirts and bumper stickers, and banners that have been unfurled on bridges, monuments, and bridges. Almost 20,000 people have joined the movement on Facebook while supporters have held rallies throughout San Salvador and Santa Tecla. Don Ramón’s face even appeared on signs and tee-shirts at immigration rallies held this past weekend in Los Angeles, declaring that they are tired of the lack of immigration reform.
As we have discussed in other blog entries, extortion and violence is one of the most important issues in El Salvador, affecting the economy, security, and all other aspects of life. Today, La Prensa Grafica is reporting that in April 2010 alone, El Salvador had 385 homicides bringing the annual total up to 1,473. The April total is up 49 over 2009. The demand for “la renta” has spread much farther than the barrios of San Salvador. We recently visited a campesino friend from one of our partner communities and he told us of a recent call that he received demanding $3000 not to kill him and his family.Though this was before the Don Ramón movement, he told the caller that he was not afraid of them and he would not pay. The callers did not follow through with their threat.
The Don Ramón organizers have a website on which they posted a manifesto explaining their movement. We have provided a rough translation below (click here for the website and original in Spanish).
This Tuesday, the 20th of April, various monuments, buildings, and bridges in the Capital are covered in giant banners that state: “I AM NOT PAYING THE RENT!”
It is time to shed our fear and retake our lives.
We are tired of feeling powerless against the violence and blackmail that have converted our neighborhoods, villages, parks, and schools into zones where law does not apply; there is no happiness; and we live without harmony.
We cannot continue this way. Our fear, our silence, and our passivity are accomplices to the crimes committed by the delinquents. We cannot wait for the State to resolve that which we are unwilling to confront and stop.
This is why we, a group of citizens who are tired of the impotence, are adopting the figure Don Ramón to declare that we are retaking what belongs to us: our neighborhoods, communities, villages, schools, and voice in order to be heard.
Ours is a call to civil courage and to take responsibility for our communities. Don’t try to respond to violence with more violence. If you try as Salvadoreños to recoup what is ours, the word gang will return to meaning our circle of friends; and respect will return to being that which we earn through a job and dignity instead of with threats and violence; and that the neighborhood returns to a place of cohabitation and happiness, and no longer a territory of dispute between gangs.
Ours is a call to overcome fear. We are no longer able to allow our fear to paralyze us. We have to raise our voice and show that we, the decent people, we are much, much stronger. The face of Don Ramón will have propagated throughout the city so quickly because it is a symbol that the majority are tired of remaining silent.
Don Ramón is only a face that we adopted to express that we are tired and that we as individuals have to take responsibility for our families, our communities, and our El Salvador. There is no political party, church, or ministry behind this campaign. We are all Don Ramón.
Even when the Don Ramón banners are no longer on the bridges and monuments, the message will remain. It will hit Salvadorans in their heart and conscious: We are all tired, but we are able to decide to take action and we will be strong if we act together. We cannot feed ourselves to the violence that is consuming us. We all ought to promise to take action to recuperate what is ours. This is why Don Ramón exclaims: I AM TIRED! I WILL NOT PAY THE RENT!
We call upon all that are able to reproduce this message where you live, work, or study. We are more , and we are more creative.
San Salvador, April 20, 2010
The Don Ramón Initiative