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.
Govt’s hardline security policies continued to fuel concern among rights groups.
Authorities carried out massive security operation amid anti-gang efforts. In one of biggest military operations since President Bukele first declared state of exception in March 2022, govt 1 Aug deployed 7,000 soldiers and 1,000 police officers to Cabañas department (north) to tackle “terrorist cells”. While previous raids had focused on particular communities, Cabañas became first full department to be placed under siege as authorities arrested scores and seized dozens of weapons. Meanwhile, Legislative Assembly 9 Aug approved state of exception’s 17th extension until 13 Sept. Authorities 22 Aug announced 7,000 of 72,000 people detained under measure had been released.
Rights groups kept condemning security measures. Civil society organisations, including Movimiento de Víctimas del Regimen and Institute of Human Rights of the University of Central America, continued to denounce persecution, harassment and abuses under state of exception. Former Supreme Court of Justice magistrate Sidney Blando 1 Aug said no judicial independence existed in El Salvador. Andrés Guzman, appointed to Commission for Human Rights and Freedom of Expression by Bukele, 7 Aug defended administration.
In late March, El Salvador’s criminal gangs spearheaded a killing spree that left 87 people dead over a weekend. In response, President Nayib Bukele imposed a state of exception and launched a #WarOnGangs that has jailed over 53,000 alleged gang members in six months, elevating the country’s prison population rate to the world’s highest. Tiziano Breda, Crisis Group’s Analyst for Central America; Susan Cruz, Consultant; and Roberto Valencia, Journalist, discuss the consequences of this popular and controversial strategy.
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.
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