El Salvador registered more than 4300 murders in 2011, making it the bloodiest year since the end of the civil war in 1992, the result of street gang violence and drug trafficking.
El Faro reported the National Police homicides for last year, which reached 4308 by mid December, overtaking 2010, which saw 4223. This brings the murder rate up to 65 per 100,000 of the population, one of the highest in the world, but still well below neighboring Honduras which registered a rate of over 80 per 100,000.
Howard Cotto, the Police Subdirector of Investigations, blamed much of the murder rate on the expanding internal distribution of drugs, “narcomenudeo.” The transnational criminal syndicates that move cocaine northwards through El Salvador often pay their local partners in product rather than cash, feeding the domestic drug market, which in turn feeds local violence.
The National Police report also highlighted the rate of captures during 2011, which saw an average of 152 people arrested every day for the seemingly impressive figure of 52,000 arrests over the entire year. What was not made clear was how many of these arrests ended in convictions, but it is unlikely to exceed a tithe of the total.
InSight Crime Analysis
El Salvador continues to be plagued by violence generated by street gangs, the most powerful and organized among them being Mara Salvatrucha 13 and Barrio 18, which are engaged in a never ending war for turf and credibility. This is unlikely to change any time soon, but the real fear is that these gangs, working with transnational drug smuggling groups, will make the leap into serious organized crime and present an even greater threat to national security.
There have already been indications of Mexican cartels operating in El Salvador, principally that of Sinaloa and the Zetas. These groups already use local criminal organizations like the Perrones and the Texis Cartel to transport drug shipments, but the real fear for the future is that the fragmented mara "clicas" or cells will be united under strong leadership and present a cohesive and national organization, perhaps allied with Mexican or Colombian transnational criminal groups.