HomeNewsAnalysisEl Salvador Violence Up, Govt Blame Game Down
ANALYSIS

El Salvador Violence Up, Govt Blame Game Down

BARRIO 18 / 17 MAR 2015 BY ELYSSA PACHICO EN

El Salvador’s recent spike in homicides may be related to the recent transfer of gang leaders to a high-security prison, but unlike previous upticks in violence, officials are not speculating as to who or what is responsible.

El Salvador is now registering an average of 14 murders a day, up from about 11 just a month ago. According to El Salvador’s national forensic institute, the Central American country registered 805 homicides between January 1 and March 11 this year, compared to the 794 homicides registered during the first three months of 2014. 

Some of the attacks included:

  • Four young men, between the ages of 17 to 27, found tied up and covered in machete wounds in Cuscatlan department.
  • An attack against a family that left one person dead and two injured, including a 3-year-old girl, in San Salvador.
  • A 28-year-old shot while working at a carwash.
  • The killing of a former gang member turned evangelical pastor.

There have also been 10 police, two military officers and five prison guards killed so far this year, along with several attacks against military and police patrols. In another case that drew attention, the prosecutor who headed the homicide unit in El Salvador’s fifth-largest city was shot a reported 15 times while leaving his home. 

However, thus far security officials in El Salvador have been reluctant to say that there is a relationship between these killings and the recent transfer of leaders of the country’s two largest gangs, the MS13 and the Barrio 18, to a maximum-security prison. 

El Salvador brokered a truce with these two gangs in 2012, and moved their leaders to prisons with less stringent security and more visitation rights in exchange for reduced violence. The truce eventually unraveled amid accusations that the homicide rate was artificially low, and after President Salvador Sanchez assumed office in June 2014, his administration emphasized they would not seek to negotiate with the gangs again.

SEE ALSO: El Salvador’s Gang Truce: Positives and Negatives

In comments made to the media, director of El Salvador’s national forensic institute (IML) Jose Fortin Magaña cautioned it may be too soon to say that there is a relationship between the gang truce’s reversal and the rising homicides.

“There isn’t data that shows us the number of crimes went up after the inmates were transferred [on February 19], but there were days in which more deaths were reported than others,” he told newspaper El Mundo

He also told another newspaper that there wasn’t enough evidence “to make such suppositions.”

The country’s attorney general nevertheless reacted strongly to these comments, asserting that Fortin’s remarks were “irresponsible” for even implying there was a relationship between the prison transfer and the uptick in killings. 

El Salvador Minister of Security Benito Lara also appeared to pick his words carefully when speaking to newspaper La Prensa Grafica.

“Look, every action we do is going to have a reaction,” he said, adding that the government was planning to take “extraordinary measures” to combat the rising violence. 

InSight Crime Analysis 

During previous upticks in violence, government officials have been quick to lay the blame on the gangs. Their reluctance to do so now reflects the delicate politics surrounding the failed gang truce.  

It is clearly not in the government’s interest for its top security officials to assert that government policy — namely, the total reversal of the truce that dramatically lowered homicides in El Salvador — has actually made things worse. And given the low rate at which homicides are actually solved in El Salvador, it would be a herculean task to determine which homicides are related to gang leaders possibly ordering an intensification of violence (to “punish” the government for going back on the gang truce) and which ones are not. 

SEE ALSO: El Salvador News and Profiles

There are also reasons to believe that this increase in homicides involves multiple actors, not just the gang-on-gang violence that comes with a failed truce. In the words of El Salvador’s head of police internal affairs, the security forces see themselves as “at war” with the gangs, and the death toll is certainly reminiscent of a country in a major conflict.  

Some of the violence may be due to extrajudicial killings. In his comments to El Mundo, El Salvador’s forensic director indicated that there are some clues that death squads could be behind some of the murders.

“In some cases we know that the victims are made to kneel and then shot in the back,” he said.

Reports of such death squads have circulated since last year, although the head of police internal affairs recently dismissed such reports as “urban legends.”

Meanwhile, gang leaders are leading their own protests of the transfer. They recently held a three-day hunger strike and presented a complaint before a judge about conditions in the prison where they are now being held. In a reflection of the government’s stance that it will not negotiate with gang leaders anytime soon, the national head of the penal system said it planned to make no changes to the facility.

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

COLOMBIA / 12 SEP 2019

The murder of seven candidates in Colombia’s upcoming municipal election in just one month, the highest rate since 2015, has…

CRIMINAL MIGRATION / 27 AUG 2020

The recent arrests of MS13 gang members in El Salvador accused of committing brutal murders in US East Coast states…

HOMICIDES / 16 MAY 2011

Colombian police have arrested the alleged second-in-command of a faction of the Medellin mafia, another indication that the security forces…

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…