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

President Bukele looked set for re-election in February; Minister of Justice announced start of trials against gang leadership as authorities again renewed state of exception. 

Poll suggested Bukele poised for victory in Feb election. Salvadorans will head to polls on 4 Feb to elect president, vice-president and legislative assembly, with possible runoff in March if no presidential candidate secures over 50% of vote. This appeared unlikely, however, after Francisco Gavidia University Centre for Citizen Studies 16 Jan presented their final poll prior to election day, which gave Bukele (who is constitutionally banned from seeking immediate re-election) 71% lead over his nearest rivals. 

Authorities renewed state of exception as trials of gang leadership began. Congress 9 Jan extended state of exception until 10 Feb amid continued criticism from human rights groups. Minister of Justice Gustavo Villatoro 4 Jan declared that El Salvador’s 2023 homicide rate was lowest in Latin America; he added that authorities had arrested 75,163 “terrorists” under measure and that approximately 18,000-20,000 gang members are still at large. Trial to prosecute 494 gang leaders 22 Jan commenced. Meanwhile, Legislative Assembly 3 Jan approved reform granting Attorney General capacity to declare persons or entities “national terrorists”, and to petition for their inclusion on UN Security Council terrorist list.

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