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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

Deteriorated Situation

President Bukele deployed military in response to surge in gang-related violence, and relations with U.S. deteriorated further. After months of low violence rates, authorities 9-11 Nov recorded at least 42 homicides, mainly in and around capital San Salvador; upsurge of violence reportedly mostly driven by inter-gang killings. In response, Bukele 11 Nov ordered military to patrol streets; in following days, security forces detained dozens of gang members. Violence immediately dropped with police recording “zero homicide” nationwide 12 Nov. News website Infobae next day alleged escalation of violence came after break in negotiations involving govt, MS-13 and 18th Street gangs; govt however denies negotiating with gangs. Following unprecedented anti-govt protests in Sept-Oct, Bukele 4 Nov suggested U.S. is financing NGOs to act as political opponents, and 9 Nov presented “Foreign Agents” bill to Legislative Assembly; bill aims to “prohibit foreign interference” in domestic affairs notably by imposing 40% tax on foreign donations to civil society and media organisations. Over 50 NGOs 16 Nov expressed concern that law might affect freedom of press and association and hinder continuity of their projects. Prosecutors 22 Nov raided offices of seven NGOs, allegedly as part of investigation on embezzlement of public funds, but rights activists denounced move as intimidation. American technology company Apple 24 Nov alerted over two dozen reporters, activists, opposition and ruling party New Ideas politicians of potential govt surveillance of their iPhones. Attorney general 17 Nov urged National Assembly to withdraw immunity of two New Ideas lawmakers to investigate them over allegations of accepting bribes from U.S. to plot against their own party, which U.S. embassy denied. U.S. chargé d’affaires in El Salvador, Jean Manes, 22 Nov announced her departure, said bilateral relations currently “paused” due to San Salvador’s apparent lack of interest in dialogue.
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Reports & Briefings

Virus-proof Violence: Crime and COVID-19 in Mexico and the Northern Triangle

Also available in Español

Miracle or Mirage? Gangs and Plunging Violence in El Salvador

Also available in Español

El Salvador’s Politics of Perpetual Violence

Also available in Español

Mafia of the Poor: Gang Violence and Extortion in Central America

Also available in Español

In The News

5 Sep 2020
The reduction of homicides [in El Salvador] seemed not to be due to government security strategy, but rather a gang decision. Washington Post

Tiziano Breda

Analyst, Central America
1 Mar 2018
Un pacto de Estado por la paz en El Salvador [entre el Partido FMLN y Arena que] suponga un compromiso con los cinco ejes del Plan El Salvador Seguro [es un paso indispensable]. El Faro

Sofía Martínez Fernández

Former Analyst, Northern Triangle
20 Dec 2017
Reprimir y perseguir el crimen [en El Salvador] es necesario, pero tratar por igual a los supuestos criminales y al casi medio millón de personas que viven bajo su yugo puede llegar a ser contraproducente. El Faro

Sofía Martínez Fernández

Former Analyst, Northern Triangle

Latest Updates

Gangs and Plunging Violence in El Salvador

The murder rate in El Salvador, once the world’s highest, is falling fast. President Nayib Bukele attributes the good news to his harsh anti-gang crackdown, but other factors are likely also salient. The government should explore policing and socio-economic reforms to calm the country’s streets. These interviews were recorded in San Salvador, capital of El Salvador, in December 2019. During our field research we met with representatives from civil society, ex-gang members, politicians and government officials.

Miracle or Mirage? Gangs and Plunging Violence in El Salvador

The murder rate in El Salvador, once the world’s highest, is falling fast. President Nayib Bukele attributes the good news to his harsh anti-gang crackdown, but other factors are likely also salient. The government should explore policing and socio-economic reforms to calm the country’s streets.

Also available in Español

Deportation and Disease: Central America’s COVID-19 Dilemmas

As the coronavirus spreads, and the U.S. presidential election looms, the Trump administration and Mexican government continue to deport migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Some deportees are carrying the virus. Central American states should press their northern neighbours for more stringent health measures.

Also available in Español