HomeNewsBriefEl Salvador Now Using Anti-Terrorism Law to Tackle Gangs
BRIEF

El Salvador Now Using Anti-Terrorism Law to Tackle Gangs

ARGENTINA / 12 AUG 2015 BY MICHAEL LOHMULLER EN

El Salvador has invoked its anti-terrorism laws to prosecute alleged gang members -- raising the debate over definitions of crime and terrorism, where the two intersect, and the government's motives in framing the gangs as terrorist organizations.

On August 11, El Salvador Attorney General Luis Martinez announced capture orders had been issued for approximately 300 alleged gang members on charges of “terrorist acts,” reported EFE. The gangs have “gone too far,” said Martinez. "They attack the police and prosecutors, intimidate the population, force people to leave their homes, and intend to destabilize the state. They are terrorists, not gangsters.”

Martinez said applying El Salvador’s Special Law Against Acts of Terrorism -- on the books since October 2006 -- against gang members reflects a “new strategy” to “restore order and create social peace.”

Under terrorism charges, gang members can receive between eight and 12 years in prison, while gang leaders can receive 10 to 15 years. The law also lays out prison terms of between 40 to 60 years for those convicted of carrying out “an act against the life, personal integrity, liberty, or security” of a public official or employee.

Authorities also announced the arrest of 130 alleged members of the Barrio 18’s “Revolucionarios” faction. They are suspected of enforcing a recent public transportation “boycott” -- during which at least seven bus drivers were killed and two buses burned -- with Martinez declaring they “conspired and proposed the development of terrorist acts to bring terror and fear to the population.”

Capture orders have also been issued for alleged gang members suspected of carrying out attacks against police and soldiers. In 2015, 41 police officers, 15 soldiers, and one prosecutor have been killed.

InSight Crime Analysis

El Salvador’s Attorney General first proposed using the country's anti-terrorism law to go after gangs in April 2014. On a recent trip to Washington DC he emphasized gang members had evolved from simple delinquency to terrorism.

SEE ALSO: El Salvador News and Profiles

Nonetheless, terrorism is a politically charged concept that is difficult to define. Indeed, El Salvador’s own legal definition of terrorism is vague and applicable to varying contexts. The law defines a terrorist act as  "evidence of intent to provoke states of alarm, fear or terror in the population, place in imminent danger or affect the life or physical or mental integrity of people."

It may be that Salvadoran authorities see linking the gangs with terrorism as advantageous, carrying a lower burden of proof than criminal charges to reach a conviction. Painting gang members as terrorists may also be a politically expedient way for the government to justify harsher and more forceful anti-gang measures to the Salvadoran public.

Regardless, the Attorney General’s move raises the debate over where Salvadoran gangs fall on the “crime-terror continuum," and whether the gangs are truly using terrorist-like tactics to achieve political goals. While the question of whether El Salvador's gangs are truly political actors remains in contention, it is also clear that the gangs are using violence to extract certain concessions from the government (such as less-restrictive prison conditions). 

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

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.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

ELITES AND CRIME / 27 JUN 2020

The ambush of Mexico City's police chief by heavily armed gunmen has been described by authorities as a failed assassination…

BARRIO 18 / 2 NOV 2017

Stories such as that of the former mayor of the El Salvador municipality of Apopa, José Elías Hernández,…

ELITES AND CRIME / 10 APR 2015

Authorities in Honduras are investigating more than 30 local politicians for alleged ties to organized crime and drug trafficking. If…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Unraveling the Web of Elites Connected to Organized Crime

27 JUL 2021

InSight Crime published Elites and Organized Crime in Nicaragua, a deep dive into the relationships between criminal actors and elites in that Central American nation.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime’s Greater Focus on US-Mexico Border

20 JUL 2021

InSight Crime has decided to turn many of its investigative resources towards understanding and chronicling the criminal dynamics along the US-Mexico border.

THE ORGANIZATION

Key Arrests and Police Budget Increases Due to InSight Crime Investigations

8 JUL 2021

With Memo Fantasma’s arrest, InSight Crime has proven that our investigations can and will uncover major criminal threats in the Americas.

THE ORGANIZATION

Organized Crime’s Influence on Gender-Based Violence

30 JUN 2021

InSight Crime investigator Laura N. Ávila spoke on organized crime and gender-based violence at the launch of a research project by the United Nations Development Programme.

THE ORGANIZATION

Conversation with Paraguay Judicial Operators on PCC

24 JUN 2021

InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley formed part of a panel attended by over 500 students, all of whom work in Paraguay's judicial system.