Crime in El Salvador

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Organized crime in El Salvador is a serious problem that has brought tragedy to many places. 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 has been happening while crime in neighboring Honduras has risen to an all-time high.[8]

History of violence in El Salvador[edit]

The Salvadoran Civil War, which lasted from 1979 to 1992,[9] took the lives of approximately 80,000 soldiers and civilians in El Salvador. Throughout the war, nearly half of the country's population fled from violence and poverty, and children were recruited as soldiers by both the military-run government and the guerrilla group Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN),[10] with hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans relocating in Los Angeles, California in the United States.[11] This conflict ended with the Chapultepec Peace Accords,[12] but the violence in El Salvador has not stopped since.

Many of those who had relocated to Los Angeles during the war as refugees had gotten involved in gang violence. During this time, the U.S. War on Drugs and anti-immigrant politics had been popularized. Following these sentiments, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 was passed, which called for deportation of "immigrants--documented or undocumented--with criminal records at the end of their jail sentences".[11] Throughout the years following, thousands of Salvadorans had been deported back to El Salvador. Gangs that had originated in Los Angeles, namely Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18, were spread transnationally through this process.[13]

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] There are an estimated 25,000 gangmembers 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. New rivals also include the rising mara, The Rebels 13.[3] Maras have a history of being hunted by death squads, including Sombra Negra.[3]

Gangs[edit]

Marasalvatrucha13arrest

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."[14] 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.[14] 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 every day.[clarification needed] Women and children have been particular targets of violence, torture and abuse.[15][16]

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.[14]

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.[14] 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.[17]

Efforts to Reduce Violence[edit]

Government Policy[edit]

The government has set up numerous programs to try to guide the youth away from gang membership. La Mano Dura was a form of zero tolerance policy, a strategy that had flowed into El Salvador from Los Angeles, which called for "the immediate imprisonment of a gang member simply for having gang-related tattoos or flashing gang signs in public."[18] Before this policy was ruled unconstitutional, it put tens of thousands of gang members as young as twelve years old in jail between 2003 and 2004.[18]

Following La Mano Dura was a government program called Super Mano Dura ("Super Firm Hand"). Super Mano Dura was highly criticized by the UN.[5] According to the Salvadoran government, it saw temporary success in 2004 with a 14% drop in murders. This success dwindled beginning in the next year, and currently El Salvador has 65 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, more than triple the current rate of Mexico.[2][19]

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.[20]

Gang Truce[edit]

In March 2012, two of El Salvador’s largest gangs MS-13 and Barrio 18 established a truce. This truce was established as collaborative effort with the El Salvadoran government to attempt to reduce the number of gang related homicides.[21] This truce has received criticisms because it has been seen as the El Salvadoran government as forfeiting sovereignty to these gangs. In March 2015, 481 people were murdered—roughly 16 people a day—as the gang truce collapsed.[22] This murder rate was 52% higher than that of the same time period last year.

Non-Government Groups[edit]

In 1996,[23] Homies Unidos was formed to prevent violence and gang-membership among youth in El Salvador. With a base in Los Angeles as well as within El Salvador, the organization also provides a link for deportees and for those with family split between the two areas.[13] The organization helps navigate the complicated and dangerous gang geography of El Salvador for deportees[13] and also provides programming and care for young people in both locations. The organization encourages employment, education, and physical and mental health and provides tools and resources for achieving these things, such as tattoo removal and job connections.[23]

Impact on youth[edit]

During the War[edit]

During the violent Salvadoran Civil War, children joined the fight for many reasons. Some were kidnapped and forced into the army, or joined for the economic benefits while the country struggled through high rates of poverty. Family members had been killed or had fled the country, leaving the children alone with few other options other than joining the war efforts. Even those who were not soldiers witnessed the brutal violence. Exposure to these traumatic events and the dislocation of families[11] caused damaging psychological side effects from these traumatic exposures.[10]

Gang Involvement[edit]

Salvadoran youths join gangs for many reasons. Sometimes this is understood as a choice, but it can also be attributed to a feeling of neglect and abandonment from family as well as a normalization of violence in society. 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.[14] These young people are often unable to find respect or validation in other forms, such as within families, community, work, or schools, and turn to violence to gain respect on the streets.[10] Some of these young people grew up in Los Angeles as the children of war refugees, and experienced gang involvement there. Sent to El Salvador as deportees, these people now find community and protection in the familiar groups that have been brought to El Salvador from the U.S., like Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18.[13]

Gang members are "jumped in," an initiation process through which they have to prove their loyalty by committing criminal acts such as theft or violence. This can also involve being beaten by several other gang members at once.[24] Youth gangs are a major source of concern for society.[16]

Women in Gangs[edit]

Though gangs are primarily male-dominated, young women in El Salvador are also involved. Being initiated into the gangs for young women often involves group beatings, like it does for males, but can also involve sexual assault from several of the male gang members.[24] Mo Hume explains that "Because gangs believe women are less suspicious in the eyes of authorities, they are also often tasked with acting as drug 'mules,' smuggling illicit goods into jails, gathering intelligence on rival gangs, and carrying arms in public spaces".[24]

Unaccompanied Minors Fleeing El Salvador[edit]

Young people are fleeing El Salvador to the United States, fearful of gang violence. .[25] Since the breakdown of the gang peace agreement in 2012, the number of these Unaccompanied Alien Children (UACs) encountered in the U.S. has risen dramatically. Between 2009 and 2012, less than 2,000 UACs were encountered annually. In the 2014 fiscal year, over 16,000 were encountered. The fiscal years 2012 through 2016 saw an average of nearly 8,000.[26]

According to a report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, "Given the fundamental role played by the family in the protection, physical care and emotional well-being of its members, separation from families is particularly devastating for refugee children.[27]

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.[20]

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,[28] Mexico, Guatemala, or Honduras,[29] 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.[30] Also according to a UN Development report, San Salvador has a relatively low robbery rate of 90 per 100,000,[31] compared to San José, the capital of Costa Rica, which has 524 robberies per 100,000.[32]

Districts 3 and 4[33] 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 c "Número de Víctimas y Tasas de Homicidios Dolosos en El Salvador (1999–2006)" (PDF) (in Spanish). Observatorio Centroamericano sobre Violencia. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 28, 2008. 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 Ribando, Clare (2005-05-10). "Gangs in Central America" (PDF). Congressional Research Service. The Library of Congress. Retrieved 2007-06-30.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "FAS" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  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. ^ Wood, Elizabeth (2003). Insurgent Collective Action and Civil War in El Salvador. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  10. ^ a b c Dickson-Gomez, Julia (December 2002). "Growing Up in Guerrilla Camp: The long-Term Impact of Being a Child Soldier in El Salvador's Civil War". Ethos. 30 (4): 327–356. doi:10.1525/eth.2002.30.4.327. 
  11. ^ a b c Zilberg, Elana; Venkatesh, Sudhir; Kassimir, Ronald (2007). Youth, Globalization, and the Law. Stanford University Press. pp. 61–68. 
  12. ^ Uppsala Conflict Data Program Conflict Encyclopedia, El Salvador, In Depth: Negotiating a settlement to the conflict, http://www.ucdp.uu.se/gpdatabase/gpcountry.php?id=51&regionSelect=4-Central_Americas#, viewed on December 11, 2015
  13. ^ a b c d Zilberg, Elana (2004). "Fools Banished from the Kingdom: Remapping Geographies of Gang Violence between the Americas (Los Angeles and San Salvador)". American Quarterly. 56 (3): 759–779. doi:10.1353/aq.2004.0048. 
  14. ^ a b c d e Fogelbach, Juan J. “Gangs, Violence, And Victims in El Salvador, Guatemala, And Honduras.” San Diego International Law Journal 12.2 (2011): 417-462.
  15. ^ "Mothers/Fighters/Citizens: Violence And Disillusionment In Post-War El Salvador." Gender & History 16.3 (2004): 561-587
  16. ^ a b "‘(Young) Men With Big Guns’: Reflexive Encounters With Violence And Youth In El Salvador." Bulletin Of Latin American Research 26.4 (2007): 480-496.
  17. ^ "In fighting gangs, US should look to El Salvador." Christian Science Monitor 28 Dec. 2012: N.PAG
  18. ^ a b Rodgers, Dennis (September 2009). "Slum Wars of the 21st Century: Gangs, Mano Dura, and the New Urban Geography of Conflict in Central America". Development and Change. 40 (5): 949–976. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7660.2009.01590.x. 
  19. ^ 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. 
  20. ^ a b García, Enrique (21 September 2011). "Sistema de cámaras ya vigila San Salvador". Diario El Mundo. 
  21. ^ Dudley, Steven. "El Salvador's Gang Truce: Positives and Negatives". Insightcrime. Retrieved 23 April 2015. 
  22. ^ Lakhani, Nina. "El Salvador sees most deadly month in 10 years as violence overwhelms nation". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 April 2015. 
  23. ^ a b McLeod, Allegra (2008). Exporting U.S. Criminal Justice: Crime, Development, and Empire after the Cold War. Stanford University. pp. 266–270. 
  24. ^ a b c Hume, M. (October 1, 2004). ""It's as if you don't know, because you don't do anything about it": gender and violence in El Salvador". Environment and Urbanization. 16 (2): 63–72. doi:10.1177/095624780401600223. 
  25. ^ Bhabha, Jacqueline.; Schmidt, Susan, Master of Science. (2007). "Seeking Asylum Alone: Unaccompanied and Separated Children and Refugee Protection in the U.S.". The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth. 1 (1): 126–138. doi:10.1353/hcy.2008.0007. 
  26. ^ "Southwest Border Unaccompanied Alien Children Statistics FY 2016". U.S. Customs and Border Protection. U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Retrieved December 10, 2015. 
  27. ^ United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Refugee Children Coordination Unit. Summary Update of Machel Study Follow-up Activities in 2001-2002.
  28. ^ "International Human Development Indicators – Venezuela". United Nations Development Programme. Retrieved February 24, 2012. 
  29. ^ "International Human Development Indicators – Honduras". United Nations Development Programme. Retrieved February 24, 2012. 
  30. ^ "Who, What, Why: What happened to crime in New York City?". BBC News Magazine. Retrieved November 29, 2012. 
  31. ^ "International Human Development Indicators – San Salvador". United Nations Development Programme. Retrieved February 24, 2012. 
  32. ^ "International Human Development Indicators – Costa Rica". United Nations Development Programme. January 29, 2010. Retrieved February 24, 2012. 
  33. ^ "Bienvenidos a elsalvador.com, el portal de noticias de El Salvador, San Salvador". ElSalvador.com. Retrieved February 24, 2012. 

External links[edit]