Just over 26 percent of people convicted of murder in El Salvador in 2015 were gang members, according to new statistics that undermine the government's assertions about what is driving violence in the country.
According to Public Ministry figures obtained by EFE, a total of 739 people were convicted of murder in 2015, 650 of them on aggravated charges. Of these, 193 people, were recognized as gang members, of which 172 were convicted of aggravated homicide.
In total, 10,792 people were convicted of a crime over the course of 2015, and 2,561 of these were gang members, representing just under 24 percent of the total. Of these, 1,433 belonged to the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13), 1,085 were from Barrio 18, 25 from Mirada Loca, 12 from La Máquina and six from Mao Mao.
InSight Crime Analysis
Violence in El Salvador has reached brutal heights over the last year, making it the most violent country in the Western Hemisphere. The state has maintained that much of this violence is due to intra-gang violence, with officials insisting the overwhelming majority of killers and victims are members of the MS13, Barrio 18 or other street gangs.
However, the Public Ministry figures would appear to contradict this, suggesting gang members are responsible for less violence than the government claims.
Obviously, there are various other factors that could explain this discrepancy, not the least of which is El Salvador's sky-high impunity rate. Most murders cases do not result in a conviction, and as a result, the perpetrators are not included in the figures.
Nevertheless, this is not the first time that homicide statistics have undermined the government's narrative. Police figures released late last year showed that of the 8,150 murder victims from the start of 2014 to mid-September 2015, only 32 percent had established links to gangs.
These data sets may not be giving a complete picture of the extent to which gangs are involved in El Salvador's violence. However, they do suggest that the government's narrative on the security crisis is, at the very least, an oversimplification of an extremely complex and murky situation.