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.
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.
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...
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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