HomeNewsBriefEl Salvador Sees Historic Violence as Gangs Challenge the Government
BRIEF

El Salvador Sees Historic Violence as Gangs Challenge the Government

BARRIO 18 / 21 MAY 2015 BY LOREN RIESENFELD EN

As a result of the escalating conflict between gangs and the government, El Salvador is on track for another record-breaking month of homicides, which at the current rate will surpass anything the country has seen since its gruesome civil war.

In the first half of May, there were an average of 21 homicides a day in El Salvador, higher than the 16 daily homicides that made March the most violent month in the last decade, reported La Prensa Grafica. In total, from January 1 to May 18 this year, 1,298 people were murdered. If the violence continues at its current pace, El Salvador could see over 5,000 homicides by the end of December, a level the country has not seen since its civil war, which lasted from 1980 to 1992 and claimed an estimated 75,000 lives, reported La Informacion.

The rising violence appears to be driven by a direct conflict between gangs and the government, instead of the historic pattern of gang on gang violence. At the end of April, a video titled "United Gangs" surfaced on YouTube, in which purported members of rival gangs MS13 and Barrio 18 said they would only reduce violence if the government transferred top-level gang members out of the maximum-security prison Zacatecoluca.

InSight Crime Analysis

While the authenticity of the video could not be verified -- the deputy director of El Salvador's national police said "there is no guarantee" that the MS13 and Barrio 18 have united -- if it was created by the gangs, it represents a direct challenge to the government. Even more troubling, the video indicates that gangs are using murders to force the government to meet their demands.

Indeed, much of the recent violence comes from shootouts between gangs and the police. Gangs have carried out over 250 attacks on security forces so far this year, and there have even been reports that bitter rivals the MS13 and Barrio 18 are teaming up to target police.

Meanwhile, El Salvador's government appears to be doubling down on the "Mano Dura" (Iron Fist) strategies the gang members say are their motivation for sustaining such high levels of violence: transferring gang leaders to maximum-security prisons, policies that allow police to shoot first and ask questions later, and increasingly militaristic rhetoric. 

SEE ALSO: El Salvador News and Profiles

If the government continues to aggressively fight the country's gangs, it is likely that sustained levels of high violence will become the new norm, as the security situation devolves into low-intensity warfare. However, the current violence puts immense pressure on the government to improve security, which could result in some sort of back-channel agreement. Under the administration of former President Mauricio Funes, the government granted concessions to the gangs -- including moving gang leaders to lower security prisons -- that paved the way for a truce that reduced homicides dramatically before unraveling in late 2013.

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

MEXICO / 21 JAN 2021

Former President Donald Trump's border wall project has developed a spotty record of attracting organized crime to its many construction…

COVID AND CRIME / 23 NOV 2020

El Salvador authorities have launched a criminal investigation into the government’s coronavirus pandemic spending, marking the severest legal action to…

EL SALVADOR / 5 AUG 2021

In two separate cases in El Salvador, mayors are accused of heading migrant smuggling rings, a crime that,…

About InSight Crime

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Extensive Coverage of our Chronicles of a Cartel Bodyguard

23 SEP 2022

Our recent investigation, A Cartel Bodyguard in Mexico’s 'Hot Land', has received extensive media coverage.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime, American University Host Illegal Fishing Panel

19 SEP 2022

InSight Crime and the Center for Latin American & Latino Studies (CLALS) at American University discussed the findings of a joint investigation on IUU fishing at a September 9 conference.

THE ORGANIZATION

Impact on the Media Landscape

9 SEP 2022

InSight Crime’s first investigation on the Dominican Republic made an immediate impact on the Dominican media landscape, with major news outlets republishing and reprinting our findings, including in …

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Sharpens Its Skills

2 SEP 2022

Last week, the InSight Crime team gathered for our annual retreat in Colombia, where we discussed our vision and strategy for the next 12 months.  During the week, we also learned how to…

THE ORGANIZATION

Colombia’s Fragile Path to Peace Begins to Take Shape

26 AUG 2022

InSight Crime is charting the progress of President Gustavo Petro’s agenda as he looks to revolutionize Colombia’s security policy, opening dialogue with guerrillas, reforming the military and police, and…