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El Salvador

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.

CrisisWatch El Salvador

Unchanged Situation

Govt shut down anti-corruption body, fuelling further tensions with international partners. Govt 4 June pulled out of 2019 anti-corruption agreement with Organization of American States (OAS) that created International Commission against Impunity in El Salvador (CICIES); govt said move resulted from OAS hiring as adviser former mayor of country’s capital San Salvador, Ernesto Muyshondt, currently investigated for paying gangs in exchange for votes in 2014 presidential election. Police same day detained Muyshondt, and attorney general 24 June charged him and five others with “illicit association” and “electoral fraud”. U.S. Special Envoy for Northern Triangle Ricardo Zúñiga 4 June “regretted” govt’s decision to shut down CICIES, while OAS Sec-Gen Luis Almagro 7 June accused President Bukele of having used CICIES as tool “to investigate actions of opposition politicians”. In world premiere, Legislative Assembly 8 June approved Bukele’s proposal to make cryptocurrency Bitcoin legal tender. International Monetary Fund 10 June said move raised “macroeconomic, financial and legal issues”; Central American Bank for Economic Integration 14 June said it will provide technical assistance to govt for Bitcoin implementation; World Bank 16 June denied support to govt citing “environmental and transparency shortcomings” of bitcoin. U.S. development agency Administrator Samantha Power 14 June visited country, reiterated “U.S. concerns on democratic governance”, but announced $115mn in aid to address root causes of migration.
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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