HomeNewsBriefEl Salvador Reforms Classify Gangs as Terrorists, Criminalize Negotiation
BRIEF

El Salvador Reforms Classify Gangs as Terrorists, Criminalize Negotiation

EL SALVADOR / 25 APR 2016 BY SAM TABORY EN

Legislators in El Salvador have passed anti-gang reform measures that establish new crimes, prohibit negotiation with criminals, and classify gangs as terrorist organizations as the government doubles down on hardline security policies. 

On April 21, members of El Salvador's Legislative Assembly voted nearly unanimously to pass reforms to the country's penal code that target the "mara" street gangs, such as the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and Barrio 18, reported El Faro.

The legislation criminalizes negotiation and dialogue with gangs under the broader umbrella of laws against criminal association. Specifically, the new law allows for prison sentences of up to 15 years for anyone who "solicits, demands, offers, promotes, formulates, negotiates, convenes or enters into a non-persecution agreement [with gangs] or any other prerogative to illegally dispense with applicable laws, or offers benefits or advantages to members of illicit groups...[.]"

The measures also modify the country's existing anti-terrorism statute to explicitly classify gangs as terrorist organizations. Under the statute, membership in a terrorist organization can carry a prison sentence of more than 8 years.

In addition, the reforms establish new crimes, including "illegally limiting the freedom to circulate," "coercing or threatening students or teachers in or around schools," and "resisting authority."

The new legislation is being billed as part of an ongoing package of "extraordinary measures" that the government announced it would be implementing to combat gangs. 

InSight Crime Analysis

Elected in 2014, President Salvador Sánchez Cerén inherited what had become a controversial security policy -- the gang truce between the MS13 and Barrio 18 that had been facilitated by the previous administration. Since then, violence has escalated to levels not seen since the country's civil war.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of El Salvador gang truce

However, while policies such as those currently being introduced are clearly a reaction to the collapse of the gang truce and subsequent rise in violence, the thinking behind them is nothing new.

Dr. José Miguel Cruz, an expert on governance and organized crime in El Salvador at Florida International University, told InSight Crime that while some of the measures are technically new, in spirit they represent a continuation of "iron fist" security policies the current administration has been pursuing since it came to power and that were a central feature of several previous administrations.

In the past, such hardline legislation has often proved counter-productive, and the new laws could well prove problematic. For example, the effort to criminalize negotiation with gangs is designed to preclude any formal or official engagement with gangs, such as another truce. Yet it remains unclear if the law could also be used to prosecute those who pay protection fees or other coerced rents to gangs, says Dr. Cruz. 

"We don't yet know if the law could be used to criminalize victims [who pay extortion fees]. We do know that in the long term, this closes the door on any alternative spaces or engagement mechanisms for trying to deal with issues of violence in El Salvador," said Cruz. 

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

EL SALVADOR / 28 JAN 2016

El Salvador police are abandoning the National Civil Police (PNC) in record numbers amid rising confrontations with gangs and…

BARRIO 18 / 29 OCT 2015

Berlin is not one of those municipalities often presented as a territory immune to El Salvador's gang phenomenon. Berlin has…

BARRIO 18 / 16 OCT 2017

Around 85 percent of gang members in El Salvador have thought about distancing themselves from gang life or leaving entirely.

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution Met With Uproar

6 MAY 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime launched its latest investigation, Venezuela’s Cocaine Revolution¸ accompanied by a virtual panel on its findings. The takeaways from this three-year effort, including the fact that Venezuela…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela Drug Trafficking Investigation and InDepth Gender Coverage

29 APR 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime will be publishing The Cocaine Revolution in Venezuela, a groundbreaking investigation into how the Venezuelan government regulates the cocaine trade in the country. An accompanying event,…

THE ORGANIZATION

InDepth Coverage of Juan Orlando Hernández

22 APR 2022

Ever since Juan Orlando Hernández was elected president of Honduras in 2014, InSight Crime has provided coverage of every twist and turn during his rollercoaster time in office, amid growing…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution

15 APR 2022

On May 4th, InSight Crime will publish a groundbreaking investigation on drug trafficking in Venezuela. A product of three years of field research across the country, the study uncovers cocaine production in…

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Widespread Coverage of InSight Crime MS13 Investigation

8 APR 2022

In a joint investigation with La Prensa Gráfica, InSight Crime recently revealed that four of the MS13’s foremost leaders had been quietly released from…