HomeNewsAnalysisEl Salvador Citizen Security Plan Struggling to Reduce Insecurity
ANALYSIS

El Salvador Citizen Security Plan Struggling to Reduce Insecurity

EL SALVADOR / 16 JUL 2018 BY PARKER ASMANN EN

Three years after the launch of a much-touted citizen security initiative in El Salvador, officials say the program has helped significantly reduce crime and violence. But while national murder rates have declined, other evidence suggests some important drivers of criminality remain unaddressed.

El Salvador’s National Council on Citizen Security officially launched the 124-point Plan Secure El Salvador (Plan El Salvador Seguro – PESS) on July 16, 2015.

The initiative’s five main objectives center on preventing crime and violence, making improvements to the criminal justice system, rehabilitating and reintegrating inmates into society, attending to and protecting victims, and strengthening the institutions that are responsible for citizen security.

SEE ALSO: El Salvador News and Profiles

Salvadoran authorities say the plan has led to a decrease in homicides and other crimes like extortion. In 2015, when the program was implemented, El Salvador’s murder rate reached 103 per 100,000 citizens, the highest in Latin America and the Caribbean. Following the implementation of the plan, the homicide rate dropped to around 80 per 100,000 in 2016 and to 60 per 100,000 in 2017.

Deputy Security Minister Raúl López hailed Plan Secure El Salvador in a recent interview, saying that “the numbers speak for themselves.” And US Ambassador to El Salvador Jean Manes has credited the program for a drop in the number of people fleeing the country for the United States. (This assertion appears to be contradicted by a recent United Nations report showing the number of asylum seekers from El Salvador has more than doubled since 2015.)

At the same time, critics say the 50 municipalities that the plan initially targeted were selected based on faulty criteria, and crime rates in some of those areas have actually increased.

Attorney General Douglas Meléndez has conceded the latter point. But rather than recommending a renewed focus on the comprehensive approach laid out in Plan Secure El Salvador, Meléndez has said the government should “intervene” in crime-ridden municipalities and “address the issue with force.”

InSight Crime Analysis

While officials say Plan Secure El Salvador is working, a closer look at criminal dynamics and other indicators suggests that the significant decline in the national murder rate and other crimes doesn’t tell the whole story.

El Salvador’s declining homicide rate is indeed a positive development, though the country is still the most violent in the region after Venezuela. In addition, Salvadoran citizens are feeling safer; a recent report from the Gallup polling organization found a “marked improvement” in perceptions of security there.

But Florida International University professor José Miguel Cruz questioned whether the improvement was as significant as it appears on the surface. Cruz told InSight Crime that falling homicide and extortion rates may be more indicative of a growing sophistication among the country’s gangs in response to extraordinary anti-gang measures, rather than a result of Plan Secure El Salvador.

“What has happened is the consolidation of gang control in many places and communities, the sophistication of the gang’s criminal activities, and the fact that gangs have increasingly moved on to other activities than extortion,” said Cruz, who has investigated gangs in El Salvador.

Beyond the statistics, there are other reasons to be skeptical of Salvadoran officials’ claims about the success of Plan Secure El Salvador.

For example, two of Plan Secure El Salvador’s main aims are to strengthen security forces and the justice system. But credible allegations of torture and extrajudicial killings by police and military alike — few of which have been punished — suggest security forces remain abusive and unaccountable. Moreover, the justice system is still characterized by widespread impunity for crimes of all sorts.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Security Policy

Cruz told InSight Crime that the limited progress Plan Secure El Salvador has made stems from a lack of adequate attention to the root causes driving crime and violence in the country, such as a lack of access to education and legitimate economic opportunities.

According to Cruz, instead of focusing solely on trying to improve weak security and judicial institutions, the program “really needs to invest and allocate more resources to education and training opportunities for the youth, low-income communities and in rural areas.”

“The big problem is that there is not any sensible policy of training, education, or providing people with new and competitive skills in the current job market,” Cruz told InSight Crime. “If you don’t do that, gangs will continue to be the first choice for many youth.”

Additionally, Cruz said Plan Secure El Salvador could benefit from a comprehensive assessment to figure out if the program is working, where it’s working and where it needs to be improved.

“Nobody has conducted a scientific evaluation of Plan Secure El Salvador as far as I know,” Cruz told InSight Crime. “We have seen a decrease in homicides in the last couple of years while Plan Secure El Salvador has been around, but in the absence of real data linking both things, it’s very hard to know if this [decline] is the result of Plan Secure El Salvador.”

Compartir icon icon icon

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Related Content

BARRIO 18 / 20 JAN 2020

El Salvador has ended 2019 with its lowest murder rate in years. But though the government has taken credit for…

BRAZIL / 6 NOV 2015

The number of women prisoners in Brazil is skyrocketing, exemplifying how punitive drug policies have heavily impacted women, at the…

EL SALVADOR / 14 JUN 2013

Extortion of small businesses in El Salvador is getting worse despite the country's gang truce, according to business groups, and…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Events – Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area

ARGENTINA / 25 JAN 2021

Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…

BRIEF

InSight Crime’s ‘Memo Fantasma’ Investigation Wins Simón Bolívar National Journalism Prize

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was…

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – From Uncovering Organized Crime to Finding What Works

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas. …

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – Ten Years of Investigating Organized Crime in the Americas

FEATURED / 2 NOV 2020

In early 2009, Steven Dudley was in Medellín, Colombia. His assignment: speak to a jailed paramilitary leader in the Itagui prison, just south of the city. Following his interview inside…