The Market in San Salvador

The Market in San Salvador

How a Salvadoran market became the soul of a community — and now fights to survive

SAN SALVADOR, VERSAFE, BOLIVIA — It was a Thursday evening in June last year, and the air hung heavy with the smell of jasmine.

In the yard of a dusty, little-known market on the outskirts of Bolivian capital Santa Cruz — one of the nation’s poorest regions — dozens of white plastic chairs were arranged in small rows on the asphalt. A small, round table sat on a rickety table in the center of the yard. Children of all ages were hanging clothes on it: bright T-shirts and cotton dresses. Women in brightly colored shawls sat on the edges of the chairs, chatting and laughing.

The scene was eerily calm, almost tranquil. No music, no shouting children, no barking dogs.

But the moment was about to be torn apart: The small market in Bolivian town of San Salvador was about to become the scene of the country’s most serious civil unrest since the civil war six years ago.

It was a scene like no other.

“This is how the revolution happens in my district,” said Ruxandra, the market manager, as she stood in a corner of the yard, looking at the shoppers.

The market is part of a bustling, little-known community that sits on the edges of San Salvador. It is divided by a steep drop of land with a steep drop of its own.

Its residents are black, indigenous Bolivians from the nearby San Borja indigenous reserves. And they are about to learn that they are facing a civil unrest unlike any seen in their nation for more than a decade.

A few years earlier, Ruxandra had watched the events unfold in the street outside her door.

“I saw the government being attacked,” she said. Some 15 people were killed, she said, but she and her sister managed to escape.

She is still haunted by their screams and the sound of gunfire.

It wasn’t until November 2015 that the crisis began to explode in her district.

That was the day the police arrived.

The protests

The protests, sparked by a proposal to build a dam for the local community in the village, quickly spread through the region.

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