Crime in El Salvador

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Organized crime in El Salvador is a serious problem. Sufficient efforts to understand or deal with this phenomenon in this small Central American country have not been made.[1]

There are an estimated 25,000 gang members at large in El Salvador with another 9,000 in prison.[2] The most well-known gangs, called maras in colloquial Salvadoran Spanish, are Mara Salvatrucha and their rivals Calle 18; maras are hunted by death squads including Sombra Negra. Newer rivals also include the rising mara, The Rebels 13.[3] Criminal youth gangs run lives in El Salvador with an estimation of at least 60,000 young people belonging to gangs.[4] Today, El Salvador experiences some of the highest murder rates in the Latin America; it is also considered an epicenter of the gang crisis, along with Guatemala and Honduras.[5]

Gang member
MS-13 gang member with tattoo of gang name on his back

As of March 2012, El Salvador has seen a 40% drop in crime due to what the Salvadoran government called a gang truce. In early 2012, there were on average of 16 killings per day but in late March that number dropped to fewer than five per day and on April 14, 2012 for the first time in over three years there were no killings in the country.[6] Overall, there were 411 killings in the month of January 2012 but in March the number was 188, more than a 40% reduction in crime.[7] All of this happening while crime in neighboring Honduras has risen to an all time high.[8]

Violence[edit]

Today, El Salvador experiences some of the highest murder rates in the Latin America; it is also considered an epicenter of the gang crisis, along with Guatemala and Honduras.[5] In response to this, the government has set up numerous programs to try to guide the youth away from gang membership; so far its efforts have not produced any quick results. One of the government programs was a gang reform called Super Mano Dura ("Super Firm Hand"). Super Mano Dura had little success, and was highly criticized by the UN. It saw temporary success in 2004, but then saw a rise in crime after 2005. In 2004, the rate of intentional homicides per 100,000 citizens was 41, with 60% of the homicides committed being gang-related.[5]

The Salvadoran government reported that the Super Mano Dura gang legislation led to a 14% drop in murders in 2004. However, El Salvador currently has 65 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, more than triple the current rate of Mexico.[2][9] There are an estimated 25,000 gangmembers at large in El Salvador with another 9,000 in prison.[2] The well most known gangs, called maras in colloquial Salvadoran Spanish, are Mara Salvatrucha and their rivals Calle 18; maras are hunted by death squads including Sombra Negra. New rivals also include the rising mara, The Rebels 13.[3]

Gangs[edit]

M-18 and MS-13 are the largest and most known gangs in El Salvador. They are also known as 18th Street, and M-18 was formed in the 1960s by Mexican-American youth in the Rampart neighborhood of Los Angeles, California."[10] The 18th Street gang, originating in Los Angeles, California, has proliferated in San Salvador. The Mara Salvatrucha is a rival gang.

Gangs and violence[edit]

Gangs contribute to the generally high levels of social violence in El Salvador. They engage in different serious criminal acts which terrorize and paralyze society. Homicide and extortion are the most publicized crimes, along with now reporting gangs that are contributing with Mexican dmg that has been spreading throughout Central America.[10] There are different forms of violence constructed in El Salvador such as political, everyday, gender, and structural violence. The post-war in El Salvador constructs with the political violence El Salvador must have everyday.[clarification needed] Women and children have been particular targets of violence, torture and abuse.[11] [12]

MS-13 presence – light-red indicates territories with a lighter presence, dark-red indicates territories with a strong presence

Reasons for joining gangs[edit]

Salvadoran young men decide to join a gang for several reasons. Sometimes this is understood as a choice, but also because of feeling neglect and abandonment from family or as they don't belong anywhere except where violence occurs. Juan Fogelbach argues that General risk factors associated with gang membership include: poverty, family disintegration or separation, neglect, violent domestic environments, unemployment, scarcity of educational and developmental opportunities, and family membership in gangs. The presence of one or more of these factors may compel an adolescent or child to turn to gangs in hope of finding a familial environment, social status, and economic opportunities.[10]

Links to drug trafficking[edit]

MS-13 and M-18 have an unknown relationship with drug traffickers. El Salvador police report that traffickers are cultivating ties and building alliances with gangs that would eventually be about to help them mature into international syndicates. The drug business has been growing with more gangs becoming involved with them and now disputing over territory with the drug traffickers.[10] The United States is made up of 10,000 members of the MS-13 gang, who are involved with the transnational criminal networks of drugs, weapons, and violent gang culture.[13]

Impact on youth[edit]

Some criminal gang members are "jumped in" or have to prove their loyalty by committing acts such as theft or violence. Youth gangs are a major source of concern for society.[12] Targeting the youth constructs a circle of violence, where fear becomes a legitimizing agent for increased repression and puts all the attention on the youth, and away from other types of embedded violence.[12]

Reducing violence[edit]

Recent efforts by mayor Norman Quijano to restore public safety have been somewhat successful. Security measures in San Salvador's most troubled Districts (5 and 6, which border Soyapango, and are home to many gangs) included safety campaigns and recreational activities to keep youth from joining gangs. The mayor also initiated a security camera program so the police can monitor the most heavily trafficked areas of the city. The project was launched in the historic downtown and will expand throughout the entire city.[14] The government has set up countless programs to try to guide the youth away from gang membership; so far its efforts have not produced any quick results. One of the government programs was a gang reform called Super Mano Dura ("Super Firm Hand"). Super Mano Dura had little success, and was highly criticized by the UN. It saw temporary success in 2004, but then saw a rise in crime after 2005. In 2004, the rate of intentional homicides per 100,000 citizens was 41, with 60% of the homicides committed being gang-related.[5]

Region specific[edit]

San Salvador[edit]

Concerns about public safety in the capital San Salvador increased in the late 1980s due to the civil war. Although it was fought primarily in the countryside, during the latter years of the war, guerrillas started attacking the capital city. San Salvador recovered quickly after the cessation of hostilities, but gang ("mara") violence became a problem.

The 18th Street gang, originating in Los Angeles, California, has proliferated in San Salvador. The Mara Salvatrucha is a rival gang. In 2002 crime rates skyrocketed and the municipal government was unable to combat the rise. Recent efforts by mayor Norman Quijano to restore public safety have been somewhat successful. Security measures in San Salvador's most troubled Districts (5 and 6, which border Soyapango, and are home to many gangs) included safety campaigns and recreational activities to keep youth from joining gangs. The mayor also initiated a security camera program so the police can monitor the most heavily trafficked areas of the city. The project was launched in the historic downtown and will expand throughout the entire city.[14]

As of 2011 San Salvador had managed to reduce its crime rate, and reduce its murder rate to a level lower than that of Haiti, Venezuela,[15] Mexico, Guatemala, or Honduras,[16] although at over 90 murders per 100,000 residents, the per capita rate was more than 10 times higher than major cities such as New York or London.[17] Also according to a UN Development report, San Salvador has a relatively low robbery rate of 90 per 100,000,[18] compared to San José, the capital of Costa Rica, which has 524 robberies per 100,000.[19]

Districts 3 and 4[20] are the safest in the country, their crime rates are comparable to those of European cities. Districts 1 and 2 have a slightly higher crime rate than 3 or 4, while District 5, bordering San Marcos, and District 6, bordering Soyapango, have the highest crime rates.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Crime and Violence: Regional Case Studies: El Salvador
  2. ^ a b c Guillermoprieto, Alma. "In the New Gangland of El Salvador," The New York Review of Books, 10 November 2011.
  3. ^ a b "Número de Víctimas y Tasas de Homicidios Dolosos en El Salvador (1999–2006)" (PDF) (in Spanish). Observatorio Centroamericano sobre Violencia. Retrieved 2007-12-26. 
  4. ^ "Criminal Youth Gangs Band Together to End Violence in El Salvador." Catholic Online. 27 December 2012.
  5. ^ a b c d Ribando, Clare (2005-05-10). "Gangs in Central America" (PDF). Congressional Research Service (The Library of Congress). Retrieved 2007-06-30. 
  6. ^ "El Salvador celebrates murder-free day". ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). 2012-04-16. Retrieved 2013-12-17. 
  7. ^ Archibold, Randal C. (2012-03-24). "Homicides in El Salvador Drop, and Questions Arise". The New York Times. 
  8. ^ "Honduras among world's most dangerous places". Jamaica Observer. 2012-04-10. Retrieved 2013-12-17. 
  9. ^ Bresnahan, Ryann (2006-07-21). "El Salvador Dispatches Additional Contingent to Iraq:Domestic Issues Overrule Anxiety over War". Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA). Retrieved 2007-06-30. 
  10. ^ a b c d Fogelbach, Juan J. “Gangs, Violence, And Victims in El Salvador, Guatemala, And Honduras.” San Diego International Law Journal 12.2 (2011): 417-462.
  11. ^ "Mothers/Fighters/Citizens: Violence And Disillusionment In Post-War El Salvador." Gender & History 16.3 (2004): 561-587
  12. ^ a b c "‘(Young) Men With Big Guns’: Reflexive Encounters With Violence And Youth In El Salvador." Bulletin Of Latin American Research 26.4 (2007): 480-496.
  13. ^ "In fighting gangs, US should look to El Salvador." Christian Science Monitor 28 Dec. 2012: N.PAG
  14. ^ a b García, Enrique (21 September 2011). "Sistema de cámaras ya vigila San Salvador". Diario El Mundo. 
  15. ^ "International Human Development Indicators – Venezuela". United Nations Development Programme. Retrieved February 24, 2012. 
  16. ^ "International Human Development Indicators – Honduras". United Nations Development Programme. Retrieved February 24, 2012. 
  17. ^ "Who, What, Why: What happened to crime in New York City?". BBC News Magazine. Retrieved November 29, 2012. 
  18. ^ "International Human Development Indicators – San Salvador". United Nations Development Programme. Retrieved February 24, 2012. 
  19. ^ "International Human Development Indicators – Costa Rica". United Nations Development Programme. January 29, 2010. Retrieved February 24, 2012. 
  20. ^ "Bienvenidos a elsalvador.com, el portal de noticias de El Salvador, San Salvador". ElSalvador.com. Retrieved February 24, 2012.