HomeNewsBrief‘We’re At War’ With Gangs: El Salvador Police Official
BRIEF

‘We’re At War’ With Gangs: El Salvador Police Official

BARRIO 18 / 19 FEB 2015 BY ARRON DAUGHERTY EN

A top police official in El Salvador has advocated an aggressive stance against street gangs, but these hardline security policies will likely only increase violence in the short term.

If more police and citizens shot gang members in “legitimate self-defense,” it could help pacify El Salvador, police internal affairs head Ricardo Salvador Martinez told La Prensa Grafica.

Martinez’ comments come during a tense time of frequent shootouts between police and street gangs, including the MS13 and Barrio 18. During the first two weeks of 2015, police were reportedly killed at a rate fives time higher than the same time period the previous year. Meanwhile, El Salvador’s civilian police director recently urged authorities to use their weapons against criminals with “complete confidence.” 

“We’re at war,” Martinez said of the country’s security situation. “And in this war, the criminals are beating us.” With this in mind, gang members killed during police operations should not be labeled “assassinations,” he said.

Martinez also accused the press of unfairly sympathizing with slain gang members and dismissed allegations of gang leaders being executed by paramilitary death squads as “urban legends.” 

In additional comments to La Prensa Grafica, Martinez criticized the potential for any gang truce to reduce violence, and instead advocated for an increase in police presence and aggressive anti-gang tactics.

InSight Crime Analysis

By asserting that El Salvador is essentially “at war,” Martinez articulated a reality that’s been evident in the country for some time now. As Martinez implied, the police see themselves as under serious pressure, which, from their perspective, justifies the greater use of force. The MS13 and Barrio 18 members number in the thousands, and police have reported feeling outmatched in terms of firepower. With low-ranking officers feeling under fire literally from criminals and figuratively from some media outlets, Martinez obviously saw the need to express unconditional support for the police rank and file. 

However, examples from elsewhere in the region cast serious doubt on whether this hardline approach will bring lasting peace to El Salvador. When asked if shooting more gang members (in self defense) would create instability, Martinez responded “We’re not creating violence, we’re fighting it.” Notably, Mexico used similarly aggressive tactics in its fight against organized crime, tactics which have resulted in “an epidemic of summary executions, enforced disappearances, and torture by the military and police,” according to a recent Human Rights Watch report

In contrast to this hardline approach, Latin American neighbor Ecuador dramatically lowered its murder rate by raising police salaries, increasing training and emphasizing community policing. In El Salvador, however, the police appear convinced that going back to an “iron fist” approach is their most viable option for now. 

Compartir icon icon icon

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.

Related Content

EL SALVADOR / 15 SEP 2015

El Salvador's recent capture of Jose Misael Rodriguez Cisneros, alias "Medio Millon" is the second time El Salvador's…

MEXICO / 18 FEB 2016

A new study examining the evolution of security in the Mexican states of Nuevo León and Chihuahua may offer lessons…

EL SALVADOR / 12 JAN 2017

Following the proposal by one of El Salvador's main gangs to start a dialogue with the government that could end…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Events – Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area

ARGENTINA / 25 JAN 2021

Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…

BRIEF

InSight Crime’s ‘Memo Fantasma’ Investigation Wins Simón Bolívar National Journalism Prize

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was…

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – From Uncovering Organized Crime to Finding What Works

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas. …

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – Ten Years of Investigating Organized Crime in the Americas

FEATURED / 2 NOV 2020

In early 2009, Steven Dudley was in Medellín, Colombia. His assignment: speak to a jailed paramilitary leader in the Itagui prison, just south of the city. Following his interview inside…