El Salvador

Two decades after the end of its civil war, El Salvador has been trying to limit the influence of criminal gangs that control large portions of the country. Once afflicted by the world’s highest murder rate, the country now sees fewer homicides, but the gangs have tightened their grip upon turf where they run extortion rackets and exercise other forms of social control. Every year, the dangers of daily life push tens of thousands of Salvadorans to hazard the journey north to the U.S. border. Through its fieldwork and advocacy, Crisis Group presses for crime prevention, rehabilitation and socio-economic reform policies that can make El Salvador a safer place to live.

CrisisWatch El Salvador

Unchanged Situation

Ruling party swept to victory in local elections; two years after President Bukele first introduced state of exception, Legislative Assembly once more renewed measure.

President Bukele’s Nuevas Ideas party claimed victory in local elections. Salvadorans 3 March cast their votes for mayors, municipal councils and twenty deputies for regional political forum Central American Parliament. Nuevas Ideas was widely expected to win after govt-controlled Legislative Assembly reduced number of municipalities from 262 to 44 in June 2023 to firm up presidential control at local level. Nuevas Ideas secured 28 out of 44 mayorships, four political parties allied to Bukele won fifteen and opposition party Nationalist Republican Alliance secured one. Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), guerrilla group turned political party that has headed govt twice, failed to win any mayorships or seats in Legislative Assembly; defeat prompted party’s Sec-Gen Óscar Ortiz 4 March to announce it would undergo “total reorganisation”. With elections over, govt expected to focus on improving economy amid hesitations from international financial institutions over future loans after country designated Bitcoin as legal tender.

Authorities extended state of exception. Legislative Assembly 8 March extended state of exception for another 30 days. 27 March marked two years since Bukele first introduced security measures to tackle gangs. Rights group Amnesty International same day said that as of Feb 2024, human rights organisations and media reports had registered “327 cases of enforced disappearances, more than 78,000 arbitrary detentions… a situation of prison overcrowding of approximately 148%, and at least 235 deaths in state custody”; group accused govt of “reducing gang violence by replacing it with state violence”.

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