Controversial French filmmaker Christian Poveda shot dead in El Salvador

From Times Online
September 3, 2009

Christian-PovedaA French filmmaker whose documentary about a violent street gang in El Salvador provoked controversy earlier this year has been found shot in the head.

The body of Christian Poveda, 52, was discovered in a car in Tonacatepeque, a poor rural area 10 miles outside the capital San Salvador.

Police say that Poveda was driving back from filming in La Campanera, an overcrowded ghetto that is a stronghold of the Mara 18 gang, when he was apparently ambushed.

Gangsters are suspected to be behind the kil#i*gg, which has provoked anger and revulsion. Mauricio Funes, the former Marxist guerrilla who became President of El Salvador in June, spoke of his shock in a statement last night and ordered a full investigation.
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Manuel Melgar, the public safety minister, deplored the “repugnant and reproachable criminal act” and vowed that police would work tirelessly to find Poveda’s ki*lers.

La Vida Loca (Crazy Life), Poveda’s latest film, focused on the hopeless and brutal lives of various fantastically tattooed members of Mara 18.

Several of the gangsters were ki*led or jailed during filming and the documentary records disturbing scenes of gang members gunned down in the streets, relatives crying over coffins and young female gangsters with tattooed faces.

The film is critical of the heavy police crackdown on gang members, which Poveda felt failed to take account of the hopeless poverty and personal tragedy that drive young Salvadorans to turn to crime.

“We have to understand why a 12- or 13-year-old child joins a gang and gives his life to it,” Poveda said in a recent interview with El Faro, a Salvadoran online newspaper.

“Children who have terrible family problems, or come from poor families who don’t have time to take care of their children.”

christian_poveda2The film concedes that gangs spread terror, but also describes the young gang members as captivating and as representative of the breakdown of family life in El Salvador.

The Mara 18 and rival Mara Salvatrucha gangs form part of a huge criminal network that runs down through Central America from Los Angeles, where there is a large community of Salvadoran expats.

Authorities estimate there could be as many as 30,000 so-called mareros, who sell drugs, rob illegal migrants or extort money from businesses in the tiny, impoverished country of 5.7 million people.

Many of the gangsters were deported from the United States after serving jail terms there. El Salvador has one of the highest homicide rates in Latin America.

Poveda first came to El Salvador in the early 1980s to cover the decade-long civil war as a photographer for Time magazine. He also reported from wars in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and other countries.

He returned to El Salvador in the 1990s and dedicated himself to documentary work, concentrating on Salvadoran gangs.

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