The mayor of El Salvador's capital city says homicides are down 70 percent, but the data tells a different story.
First, the hard facts, which I will try to present objectively.
First. The National Civil Police (Policía Nacional Civil - PNC) registered 323 homicides in the municipality of San Salvador from January 1 to August 31, 2016. During the same period in 2015, there were 339 homicides. In 2014, there were 216. And in 2013, at the height of the gang truce, 125 homicides were reported in the same eight-month period. In terms of percentages, the municipality of San Salvador has experienced a decline of 5 percent from 2015, which was the most violent year in the 21st Century. But compared to 2014 and 2013, homicides in the capital have increased by 50 percent and 158 percent, respectively.
Second. If the cutoff for the period is changed to April 1, when the government began to implement “exceptional measures” and country's three largest gangs announced a unilateral ceasefire, San Salvador -- the city, not the department or metropolitan area -- would go from 51 homicides per month to 34. The resulting decline of 33 percent is significant and even encouraging, but it pales in comparison to the same cutoff applied at the national level, which produced a 46 percent decline.
Third. If we use the global point of reference of measuring homicides per every 100,000 people, San Salvador is consistently the most violent region of El Salvador. Based on the first eight months of this year, San Salvador is projected to have a murder rate of 195 per 100,000 people for 2016. Following San Salvador is San Miguel with 107 and Usultán with 97 per 100,000 people. Among the least violent cities are Chaltenango with 24 and Santa Tecla with 40 homicides per 100,000 people.
SEE ALSO: InDepth Coverage of Homcides
Fourth. A Mexican non-governmental organization (NGO) called the Council for Public Security and Penal Justice put together the “List of the 50 most violent cities in 2015.” As I previously wrote in an entry published at the end of January, the study presents a number of methodological shortcomings, but there are two things to keep in mind: first, a new list will be published in January, so no one can assert with authority in October which cities will be the most violent, and which ones will experience an increase or decrease in violence; second, the Mexican NGO did not consider San Salvador proper. Instead, they grouped together the 14 cities of the Metropolitan Area of San Salvador as a single entity. As such, San Salvador’s ranking is dependent on not only homicides in the historic center and the rest of the capital, but also in Santa Tecla, Soyapango, Illopango, Nejapa, Meijicanos, Antiguo Cuscatalán…
Considering the realities of the data collected on homicide rates in the capital and the ranking process for the most violent cities in the world, I have a few personal reflections about what is being published on recent insecurity in San Salvador and on the malicious and/or ignorant dissemination of information.
First. In the first eight months of 2016, yes, homicides were decreasing in the city of San Salvador, but at a much lower rate than the rest of the country. If I can make a comparison: imagine a classroom in which students advance and learn at different paces. El Salvador's capital city would be, in a public security sense, one of the worst students in the class.
Second. Before the implementation of extraordinary measures, the historic central district was already being aggressively militarized by the PNC and armed forces. This appears to be the principal cause of the decline in homicide rates. It would be a grave error, however, to extrapolate the data from the PNC's subdivision in the historic center to the entire municipality -- there are also police subdivisions in the neighborhood of San Jacinto and in the suburbs of Miramonte and Escalón -- and even worse would be to extend the crime data in the center to the entire metropolitan area.
SEE ALSO: El Salvador News and Profiles
Third. It’s not desirable, but one can see the powerful propaganda and cult around the mayor's office (partly paid for by our taxes and fines) in attempting to magnify alleged accomplishments and facts and figures to gain favor. As a journalist, it pains me to say that there are reporters, editors and media personnel -- who identify themselves as such -- that are incapable of separating fact from fiction, of comparing information from different sources, or of engaging in basic analysis, all of which is evident in headlines like “San Salvador gets off the list of the top 10 most violent cities in the world.” They are pure science fiction, inventions.
And fourth. I live in San Salvador. My daughters live in San Salvador, they study in San Salvador. My wife as well. I travel by bus in San Salvador. I walk through San Salvador, and through the historic center. I regularly eat lunch at the central market, I go to the Cuscatalán Stadium, I visit Romero’s crypt… If only the statement Mayor Nayib Bukele released on the afternoon of October 10 were true: “A 70 percent decrease in homicides city-wide!” An accomplishment attributed to “city reorganization, a reconstruction of the social fabric, improved lighting around San Salvador, and the revitalization of the Historic Center.” With all my heart I wish it were true, but it's not.
*This article was originally published in El Faro and was translated, edited, and reprinted with permission. It does not necessarily reflect the views of InSight Crime. Read the original article here.