HomeNewsBriefSurge in Disappearances Reflects Gang Violence in El Salvador

Surge in Disappearances Reflects Gang Violence in El Salvador


El Salvador saw a huge number of disappearances in 2011, with capital San Salvador alone registering more than 2,000 missing people, in a sign of growing gang violence.

In the capital, some 2,007 people were registered as missing with the government forensics office (IML) between January 1 and December 19, 2011, reports El Diario de Hoy.

Miguel Velasquez, an official at the IML, told the newspaper that local gangs, or "maras," were likely involved in three-quarters of the cases.

Young people, aged 15-35, are far more likely to go missing than any other age group, representing up to 60 percent of cases, while about three-quarters of the victims are men.

InSight Crime's Analysis

The figure of more than 2,000 missing would represent an enormous leap in cases in the last few years, as according to figures quoted in the press the police received only in the region of 1,200 reports of disappearances in the two-year period of 2007-08.

If the vast majority of those missing are now dead, as El Diario de Hoy reports, then this would increase the country's murder rate, which stood at 65 per 100,000 in 2011, by one-third. This would bring it into line with neighboring Honduras, which has a rate of over 80 per 100,000 -- the highest in the world.

Much of these murders, and the disappearances, are due to clashes between gangs, often related to fights over territory, as El Faro documented in a recent photo essay. The fact that these gangs are apparently often choosing to hide their victims' bodies rather than leaving them on display, as is often seen in mass killings in Mexico, suggests that they are more concerned to conceal their crime and avoid punishment than to make a public point and spread fear.

The most prominent street gangs in El Salvador are the Mara Salvatrucha 13 (MS-13) and Barrio 18.

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.


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.


Related Content


Jutiapa is a transit point for narcotics shipments and a hotspot for illegal firearm possession. Criminal groups smuggle illicit weapons…


Corruption, no supervision, and poor legislation have led to Latin American military weapons ending up in criminal hands.

BRAZIL / 24 MAR 2022

The 2021 ranking of the world's most violent cities predictably features a heavy presence by Latin American and Caribbean population…

About InSight Crime


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.


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.


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 …


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…


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…