HomeNewsBriefLack of State Control Credited With Rise of El Salvador Death Squad
BRIEF

Lack of State Control Credited With Rise of El Salvador Death Squad

EL SALVADOR / 29 NOV 2016 BY DAVID GAGNE EN

Numerous sources told Al Jazeera that the authorities' inability to reduce crime in El Salvador has contributed to the rise of a shadowy group dedicated to killing suspected gang members, but the government's attempts to take back control are only exacerbating the violence. 

"The police and the military do what they can," a spokesman for the death squad known as "Los Exterminio" (The Extermination) tells filmmaker Lali Houghton and local journalist Bryan Avelar. "But they will never be able to truly protect our communities. We have to defend ourselves." 

The interview was part of an investigation by Al Jazeera into the death squad operating in the eastern province of San Miguel, which has been credited with at least 40 murders of gang members. 

The sentiment expressed by the spokesman was shared by an active police officer who is under investigation, along with 19 of his colleagues, for potential links to Los Exterminio. 

"People who live in the countryside, they are defenseless," said the man identified as Inspector Maradiaga. "Police might go there once or twice a month, but these criminals live there. So that's why these people decide to take matters into their own hands." 

The journalist Juan Carlos Diaz also pointed to the government's weak presence in certain areas as the principal motivation for the anti-gang death squad. 

"The very origin of the Los Exterminio group is the state's neglect of the communities," Diaz told Al Jazeera. "The state has not been able to guarantee security, which is why those who are able have organized themselves to fight the criminals." 

InSight Crime Analysis

Authorities in El Salvador are feeling increasing pressure to fill the security void cited in the Al Jazeera investigation. El Salvador became the murder capital of the world last year, and appears to be on pace to keep that dubious title in 2016. 

Security officials are attempting to regain control by implementing harsher anti-gang policies, such as the "extraordinary measures" that seek to cut off communication between incarcerated gang leaders and their subordinates on the streets. In tandem with these policies are militarized offensives against the groups. The most recent, "Plan Nemesis," was launched in response to an alleged MS13 plan to wage a "stepped-up war against the system." 

But unsurprisingly, this strategy has led to greater levels of police-gang confrontations and violence. At least 44 police officers and 20 soldiers have died this year, a large number that nonetheless pales in comparison to the over 500 suspected gang members killed. This lopsided tally suggests a significant number of these so-called "confrontations" were actually extrajudicial killings by the security forces. 

SEE ALSO: El Salvador News and Profiles

Instead of deploying more police units, redirecting these resources towards improving El Salvador's weak judicial system would likely pay greater security dividends in the long run. The impunity rate for homicides stands at 94 percent, meaning there is little incentive for either gangs, death squads or the police to stop the killing. 

"The real cancer is impunity," Avelar told Al Jazeera. "Impunity has allowed the gang phenomenon to grow and evolve and has now created these other violent armed groups."  

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

COLOMBIA / 14 JUL 2011

Southern Pulse examines those areas of Latin America where there is no state presence, and transnational criminal organizations are able…

EL SALVADOR / 26 APR 2016

El Salvador's Inspector General for Human Rights has accused police and soldiers of committing extrajudicial executions in two massacres last…

CRIMINAL MIGRATION / 2 JUL 2013

Mexico's principal drug trafficking organizations have moved 90 percent of their US-destined cocaine trafficking operations to Central America, indicates…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Criminal Enterprise on the High Seas

12 AUG 2022

Last week, InSight Crime published the second half of an extensive investigation into Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing that plagues the waters of nine Latin American countries. Among the stories were how…

THE ORGANIZATION

Oceans Pillaged in Central America and the Caribbean

5 AUG 2022

Last week, InSight Crime published the first installment of a nine-part investigation uncovering the hidden depths of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing in Latin America. The first installment covered Central America and…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela’s Tren de Aragua Becomes Truly Transnational

29 JUL 2022

This week, InSight Crime published a deep dive into the total control that Venezuelan mega-gang, Tren de Aragua, has over the lives of those it smuggles between Venezuela and Chile…

THE ORGANIZATION

Turkish Traffickers Delivering Latin American Cocaine to Persian Gulf

15 JUL 2022

Last week, InSight Crime published the second half of an investigation piecing together the emerging role of Turkish cocaine traffickers in supplying Russia and the Persian Gulf, which are among…

THE ORGANIZATION

Turkey as a Lynchpin in European Cocaine Pipeline

8 JUL 2022

InSight Crime is extending its investigation into the cocaine pipeline to Europe, and tracking the growing connections between Latin American drug traffickers and European criminal organizations. This led us to…