SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — El Salvador’s prisons are wretched, overcrowded hellholes, among the worst in Latin America, but for William Romero Cartagena a trip to prison would be a step up in life.
Romero is among 3,000 or so detainees currently housed in police station holding cells, unable to get remanded to one of the nation’s 19 prisons. The holding cells are even more crowded and ghastly than the prisons. Romero, 23, was accused a few months ago of extortion. Since then he’s been held in a cell that measures no more than 9 feet by 9 feet. It contains 23 men. It has no toilet. Feces are passed out on a plate for removal.