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.
Following a spate of murders, the Salvadoran government ordered mass roundups of suspected criminal gang members, throwing more than 53,000 in jail. The clampdown is popular but unsustainable. Authorities should develop a path out of gang life that members can choose.
President Bukele announced candidacy for 2024 elections, authorities renewed for sixth time state of exception, and economic outlook remained poor.
President Bukele announced re-election bid. On anniversary of country’s independence, Bukele 15 Sept announced he would seek re-election in 2024, defying country’s constitution prohibiting presidents from serving consecutive terms. Supreme Court’s constitutional chamber, appointed by current legislature, had already ruled in favour of allowing Bukele to stand for re-election in Sept 2021.
State of exception was extended for sixth time amid small-scale protests. Several protests against state of exception (imposed in March to address gang violence) took place throughout month. Notably, relatives of detainees 5 Sept marched to Human Rights Ombudsperson’s office calling on institution to address alleged abuses perpetrated under emergency powers; hundreds 15 Sept took to streets in capital San Salvador demanding end to state of exception. Civil society groups 23 Sept filed lawsuit with Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for arbitrary detention of at least 152 people. Legislative Assembly 14 Sept however extended emergency measures for sixth time; decision came days after consulting firm Cid Gallup 5 Sept published poll showing that 91% of respondents supported govt’s measures to crackdown on gangs.
Economic outlook remained worrying. Govt 12 Sept offered creditors partial buyback of $1.6 billion bonds due in 2023 and 2025 in order to reduce risk of debt default; Bukele 21 Sept announced govt had repurchased $565 million bonds. However, financial services company Fitch Ratings 15 Sept said “default of some sort” in future was “probable”.
The reduction of homicides [in El Salvador] seemed not to be due to government security strategy, but rather a gang decision.
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 indispen...
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 p...
El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele set in motion a massive crackdown on suspected gang members when he declared a state of emergency in March. In this photo essay, Crisis Group experts explain how the government's response to gangs affects women.
This week on Hold your Fire! Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh talk to Crisis Group experts Tiziano Breda and Ivan Briscoe about politics in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras and why Central Americans are leaving for the United States.
San Salvador’s millennial President Nayib Bukele simultaneously represents an opportunity to end gangs’ chokehold on his country and risks the disintegration of a fragile democracy carved out of the 1980s civil war. He needs to be more transparent, but deserves more support.
As the coronavirus rages in Mexico and the northerly Central American countries, criminal outfits have adapted, often enlarging their turf. To fight organised crime more effectively, governments should combine policing with programs to aid the vulnerable and create attractive alternatives to illegal economic activity.
Online Event to discuss International Crisis Group's report on the drop in homicide rates in El Salvador and the security policies of President Nayib Bukele.
The plunging homicide rate in El Salvador has sparked debate about the role of the new president’s hardline policies. Much of it transpires on Twitter, where his champions and critics engage in rows that could pre-empt reasoned discussion of how to keep tamping down violence.
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.