El Salvador, still recovering from its 1980-1992 civil war, is beset with endemic poverty and police corruption. Since the late 1990s, waves of violent crime have hit the country, making its murder rate one of the world’s highest. Most killings are perpetrated by gangs extorting money or fighting for control of city districts. Every year the dangers of daily life push tens of thousands of Salvadorans to hazard the journey north to the U.S. border. Through its fieldwork and advocacy, Crisis Group presses for crime prevention, rehabilitation and socio-economic reform policies that can make El Salvador a safer place to live.
Over the last three years, gang violence has killed nearly 20,000 people in El Salvador, propelling tens of thousands northward in search of safety. With U.S. help, the Salvadoran government should try to counter gangs with crime prevention as much as with law enforcement.
President Bukele defied Supreme Court’s rulings deeming some measures taken amid COVID-19 pandemic unconstitutional, opening institutional crisis, and sudden spike in homicides late-April after months of improvement in security situation prompted govt to reverse prison policy. Bukele early April authorised security forces to toughen measures against those defying COVID-19 quarantine, including detaining and transferring them to containment centres. Supreme Court 8 April ruled detention of citizens for breaching quarantine unconstitutional and 15 April ordered Bukele to comply with decision; Bukele immediately said he would not abide by rulings, opening institutional crisis. Legislative Assembly (LA) 16 April approved extension of state of emergency until 1 May. Inter American Press Association 15 April expressed concern over alleged increase in violations of press freedom in context of COVID-19, while NGO Human Rights Watch same day denounced holding of 4,236 people in 87 containment centres and said Bukele “encouraged excessive use of force”. After months of low homicide rates, police reported 23 homicides in one day 24 April, allegedly highest daily toll since Bukele took office last June; violence continued 25-27 April with another 54 homicides. In response, Bukele 24 April imposed total lockdown in jails housing gang members, arguing orders to kill came from imprisoned gang leaders; 26 April ordered members of different gangs be mixed in same cell, reversing long-standing prison policy, and offered legal support to security officials involved in killing of gang members. Amid continued focus on migration, U.S. Sec State Pompeo 13 April said migratory flow from Central America dropped by 76% since May 2019 and announced restoral of some aid – cut in 2019 – to help country further tackle migration.
Intense gang warfare continues to plague El Salvador, undeterred by successive governments’ heavy-handed and militarised repression policies. More investment in holistic violence prevention strategies and economic alternatives to criminal violence are necessary if the country's chronic insecurity crisis is to be alleviated.
Central American gangs are responsible for brutal acts of violence, abuse of women and forced displacement of thousands. Governments must go beyond punitive measures and address the social and economic roots of gang culture, tackle extortion schemes and invest in communities.
Un pacto de Estado por la paz en El Salvador [entre el Partido FMLN y Arena que] suponga un compromiso con los cinco ejes del Plan El Salvador Seguro [es un paso indispensable].
Reprimir y perseguir el crimen [en El Salvador] es necesario, pero tratar por igual a los supuestos criminales y al casi medio millón de personas que viven bajo su yugo puede llegar a ser contraproducente.
As the coronavirus spreads, and the U.S. presidential election looms, the Trump administration and Mexican government continue to deport migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Some deportees are carrying the virus. Central American states should press their northern neighbours for more stringent health measures.
El sociólogo Robert King Merton calificó de "profecía autocumplida" una predicción que, una vez hecha, es en sí misma la causa de que se haga realidad.
Originally published in EFE
Originally published in The Washington Post
The northward flow of undocumented migrants fleeing economic hardship and violence in the Northern Triangle of Central America exposes thousands of vulnerable people to mass victimisation. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2017 – Third Update early warning report for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to continue to pursue an approach grounded in supporting community violence prevention, institutional reform and poverty alleviation in the countries of origin while supporting transiting countries in managing the flow.