A spike in police slayings have El Salvador's officers on edge as some called on social media for extrajudicial executions of suspected members of the street gangs, an issue that will be front and center for the country’s newly elected President Nayib Bukele.
The use of protected witnesses by El Salvador’s Attorney General’s Office increased by 15 times in the last 11 years. The case of a young woman accused by her boyfriend of collaborating with the Barrio 18 Sureños gang, and later acquitted by the courts, illustrates the excessive use of questionable testimonies.
The citizens of El Salvador are set to elect a new president on February 3 amid an uptick in deadly violence in January, which has thrust the country’s security situation back into the spotlight.
The homicide rate in El Salvador has spiked after authorities in the Central American nation saw a substantial reduction in homicides in 2018, raising important questions about the role of the country’s gangs in the electoral process and the government’s strategies to combat them.
El Salvador ended 2018 on a good note, according to official homicide statistics, but a recent uptick in homicides has thrust the MS13 back into the national conversation.
Welcome to InSight Crime’s Criminal GameChangers 2018, where we highlight the most important trends in organized crime in the Americas over the course of the year. From a rise in illicit drug availability and resurgence of monolithic criminal groups to the weakening of anti-corruption efforts and a swell in militarized responses to crime, 2018 was a year in which political issues were still often framed as left or right, but the only ideology that mattered was organized crime.
The first MS13 and Barrio 18 gang members to arrive in El Salvador were deported from the United States in the late 1980s. Some even fought in the civil war, which did not end until 1992. In El Salvador they found fertile territory for their organizations to flourish, recruiting a generation of adolescents and teens for whom the Cold War had no relevance and the future held no promise. They put down deep roots among those already marginalized by society and soon controlled streets, squares and entire neighborhoods.
With migrants fleeing murder and violence in caravans and the evident flop of repressive policies in the Northern Triangle, gang prevention and rehabilitation programs shine evermore appealing. But their impact will continue to be limited unless governments invest time and resources in more effective strategies.
Even under the best of circumstances, there are few incentives to become a cooperating witness in an extortion case in El Salvador. And, as one witness has found out, participation is no guarantee that anything will change.