Powerful statements made by a member of one of El Salvador’s most notorious gangs to the New York Times illustrate the group’s violent approach and its current war footing.
The statements, which came as part of a Times Magazine article on El Salvador's never-ending cycle of violence between the gangs and the government, focused on how the gangs view the government's heavy-handed approach, which includes extrajudicial executions of suspected gang members.
“The government will have to pay the bill for what they’ve done,” Santiago, a member of the Sureños (loosely translated as Southerners) faction of the Barrio 18, told The Times in reference to the hard-line approach. “They will have to answer to us, in one way or another.”
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Violence on both sides has risen to extraordinary levels. The nearly 15 homicides committed per day in September of this year made it the deadliest month so far in 2017. But this is not enough, according to Santiago, to push the sides to negotiate.
“The violence has to reach a much higher level than where it is now to force that reckoning,” Santiago told The Times. “Only then will people start thinking about an integrated solution. The truth is, the country has to bleed more.”
InSight Crime Analysis
Santiago's comments showcase the cycle of violence that still persists in El Salvador and how the country’s gangs use it to their advantage.
A government-brokered truce with the gangs in 2012 ushered in an almost immediate drop in homicides. But killings skyrocketed following the collapse of the truce, illustrating the way gangs appeared to be willing to use homicides as leverage to force further talks.
The gangs not only use violence as a bargaining chip, but also to wield political power. To be sure, El Salvador Police Chief Howard Cotto recently accused the gangs of trying to infiltrate local politics by offering to secure votes for candidates in exchange for reducing levels of violence.
However, hard-line policies have failed to stop the carnage. What's more, authorities have been accused of running clandestine jails and anti-gang death squads. And scores of police have been charged for their alleged misconduct.