A survey in El Salvador revealed both overwhelming opposition to gang negotiations and mixed feelings about the country’s police force, a snapshot of public perceptions of security in one of Latin America’s most violent countries.
According to a survey conducted by the University Institute of Public Opinion in El Salvador, over three-quarters of respondents are against the government negotiating with the country’s gangs.
Meanwhile, a third of all respondents indicated that they thought police were involved in criminal activity, while 34 percent said the police protected citizens and 26 percent said they believed the police force contained a mix of both. An overwhelming 90 percent of respondents stated that purging the national police was either very or somewhat urgent.
Although only a fifth of respondents said they had a lot of confidence in the national police, 60 percent believed the deployment of community police would improve security.
In terms of the country’s overall security situation, 69 percent of respondents said they thought that crime increased in 2014, while nearly 22 percent reported having been the victim of a crime. Although the numbers remained small, the percentages of respondents who moved (nearly 5 percent) or had a member of their household leave the country (8 percent) due of threats doubled in comparison to the previous two years.
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Public opposition to the gang truce appears to be in line with government policies. President Salvador Sanchez Ceren’s administration has indicated that it will not publicly support negotiating a new gang truce after the peace deal forged under the president’s predecessor fell apart following an initial drop in homicides. When reports emerged at the beginning of November that the National Council for Citizen Security (CNSCC) was evaluating the possibility of opening dialogues with members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and Barrio 18 gangs, council members were quick to discard the possibility.
In terms of El Slavador’s security forces, the lack of public trust in the national police is understandable. Corruption in the police force is a pervasive problem in El Salvador, where both United Nations and journalistic investigations have revealed links between the country’s drug trafficking groups and security forces. On the other hand, there appears to be a great deal of optimism about the new community police force, which was deployed in capital city San Salvador in August and has been tasked with using the input of local communities to address crime.
Meanwhile, the two-fold increase in the percentage of respondents who had a member of their household leave the country because of threats likely reflects one of the major factors that has precipitated a flood of child migrants from Central America to the United States over the past year.
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