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

Unchanged Situation

Authorities renewed state of exception for tenth time as President Bukele lauded improved security situation; Salvadoran debt remained high.

Authorities once again renewed state of exception. Legislative Assembly 11 Jan extended state of exception, cornerstone of Bukele’s administration, for tenth time. News outlet La Prensa Gráfica 17 Jan reported that more than 97,000 people, or 2% of country’s adult population, is now behind bars, making it highest imprisonment rate worldwide; Legislative Assembly 12 Jan reported over 61,000 people have been arrested since state of exception began in March 2022. Bukele 17 Jan declared that El Salvador had become “safest country in Latin America” and that state of exception would last “as long as necessary”.

NGOs raised concerns over arbitrary arrests and deaths in custody in past year. NGO Cristosal 5 Jan said it had received 3,086 complaints of human rights violations between March 2022 and 31 Dec, 97% of which were for arbitrary arrests. In its World Report 2023, NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) 12 Jan expressed concern for high number of arbitrary arrests and deaths of 90 people while in custody. In joint statement, HRW and Cristosal 27 Jan said leaked database belonging to Ministry of Public Safety “supports findings of mass due process violations, severe prison overcrowding, and deaths in custody”.

In other important developments. News outlet Elsalvador.com 18 Jan reported that Bukele had increased Salvadoran debt by $5 billion in his three years in office. Legislative Assembly 11 Jan approved controversial Digital Securities Law, allowing El Salvador to issue Bitcoin-backed bonds. VP Ulloa 3 Jan asked Brazil to rejoin Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, signalling willingness to engage with other countries in region.

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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

Former 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 indispen... 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 p... El Faro

Sofía Martínez Fernández

Former Analyst, Northern Triangle

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