Two decades after the end of its civil war, El Salvador has been trying to limit the influence of criminal gangs that control large portions of the country. Once afflicted by the world’s highest murder rate, the country now sees fewer homicides, but the gangs have tightened their grip upon turf where they run extortion rackets and exercise other forms of social control. 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.
Following a spate of murders, the Salvadoran government ordered mass roundups of suspected criminal gang members, throwing more than 53,000 in jail. The clampdown is popular but unsustainable. Authorities should develop a path out of gang life that members can choose.
President Bukele slashed size of Congress and number of municipalities, raising fears govt is consolidating power ahead of 2024 polls; authorities put pressure on former officials accused of corruption.
Govt enacted number of administrative-political reforms. During State of the Union address on 1 June, President Bukele announced reorganisation of govt: reduction of municipalities from 262 to 44; reduction of legislative assembly from 84 seats to 60; and “war on corruption”. Following speech, govt 7 June passed law slimming Congress down to 60 deputies, 14 June reduced number of municipalities to 44. Opposition politicians warned move concentrates power in hands of ruling party Nuevas Ideas ahead of Feb 2024 presidential, legislative and local elections; Nuevas Ideas 26 June announced Bukele had registered to run for re-election, despite constitutional ban on consecutive presidential re-election. Meanwhile, Legislative Assembly 14 June approved state of exception’s fifteenth extension amid human rights concerns.
Judicial proceedings against former officials accused of corruption continued. Attorney General 6 June charged former President Alfredo Cristiani in connection with 1989 massacre of six Jesuit priests and two women. National Civilian Police director 6 June announced politicians and journalists involved in 2012 “gang truce” talks will face judicial proceedings. Attorney General 17 June announced money laundering charges against former Defence Minister David Munguía Payes, sentenced in May to 18 years in prison for having conducted truce negotiations with criminal groups in 2012.
In late March, El Salvador’s criminal gangs spearheaded a killing spree that left 87 people dead over a weekend. In response, President Nayib Bukele imposed a state of exception and launched a #WarOnGangs that has jailed over 53,000 alleged gang members in six months, elevating the country’s prison population rate to the world’s highest. Tiziano Breda, Crisis Group’s Analyst for Central America; Susan Cruz, Consultant; and Roberto Valencia, Journalist, discuss the consequences of this popular and controversial strategy.
El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele set in motion a massive crackdown on suspected gang members when he declared a state of emergency in March. In this photo essay, Crisis Group experts explain how the government's response to gangs affects women.
This week on Hold your Fire! Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh talk to Crisis Group experts Tiziano Breda and Ivan Briscoe about politics in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras and why Central Americans are leaving for the United States.
San Salvador’s millennial President Nayib Bukele simultaneously represents an opportunity to end gangs’ chokehold on his country and risks the disintegration of a fragile democracy carved out of the 1980s civil war. He needs to be more transparent, but deserves more support.
As the coronavirus rages in Mexico and the northerly Central American countries, criminal outfits have adapted, often enlarging their turf. To fight organised crime more effectively, governments should combine policing with programs to aid the vulnerable and create attractive alternatives to illegal economic activity.
Online Event to discuss International Crisis Group's report on the drop in homicide rates in El Salvador and the security policies of President Nayib Bukele.
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