El Salvador, still recovering from its 1980-1992 civil war, is beset with endemic poverty and police corruption. Since the late 1990s, waves of violent crime have hit the country, making its murder rate one of the world’s highest. Most killings are perpetrated by gangs extorting money or fighting for control of city districts. 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.
Amid ongoing political tensions between govt and judiciary, reports emerged of officials conducting informal negotiations with criminal groups. Newspaper El Faro 3 Sept reported senior state officials including director of prisons Osiris Luna have been negotiating since at least Oct 2019 with MS-13 gang leaders in jails to reduce homicides and secure electoral support; President Bukele same day denied allegations but Attorney General’s Office 4 Sept opened investigation and 7 Sept raided penitentiary system headquarters and two jails. Attorney general 16 Sept issued fresh arrest warrant for former President Funes on charges of illicit association, arbitrary acts and neglect of duties in relation to 2012 “gang truce”. Tensions between executive and judiciary persisted. Supreme Court 15 Sept ruled requirement to test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of landing in El Salvador, introduced by airport authorities 11 Sept, is unconstitutional; Bukele next day said measure would remain in force; attorney general 23 Sept opened investigation into possible felonies by presidential staffers for disregarding Court’s order. Institute for Access to Public Information 10 Sept criticised govt’s Aug changes to freedom of information act that make it more difficult to obtain public information from govt institutions. Group of U.S. Democratic lawmakers same day expressed “deep concern” over govt’s “hostility toward independent and investigative media outlets”, echoed by six Republicans 23 Sept who also warned that alleged negotiations with MS-13 would legitimise gang. Bukele 8 Sept asked VP Ulloa to draft constitutional reforms “in accordance with current societal needs”; Ulloa 17 Sept said reforms would not touch on country’s political system or alternance in power but declined to clarify their scope. Military 21 Sept denied judge investigating 1981 El Mozote massacre, in which army killed around 1,000 civilians, entry to military archives; judge 23 Sept rescheduled inspection for 5 Oct, but Bukele next day said he will not allow access.
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.
Intense gang warfare continues to plague El Salvador, undeterred by successive governments’ heavy-handed and militarised repression policies. More investment in holistic violence prevention strategies and economic alternatives to criminal violence are necessary if the country's chronic insecurity crisis is to be alleviated.
Central American gangs are responsible for brutal acts of violence, abuse of women and forced displacement of thousands. Governments must go beyond punitive measures and address the social and economic roots of gang culture, tackle extortion schemes and invest in communities.
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 indispensable].
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.
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.
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.
El sociólogo Robert King Merton calificó de "profecía autocumplida" una predicción que, una vez hecha, es en sí misma la causa de que se haga realidad.
Originally published in EFE