El Salvador’s Murder Rate on the RiseAugust 20, 2015 in El Salvador
In a country already convulsed by violence, El Salvador’s murder rate has begun to increase dramatically, with 125 murders reported since Sunday, August 16. National Police Chief Mauricio Ramirez has confirmed that 40 people were killed on Sunday, 42 on Monday and 43 on Tuesday. It is believed that the majority of these deaths were gang related. These figures appear to be in keeping with the murder rates recorded over the first five months of the year, which saw a 50% increase in violent deaths (2192 in total) during the same period last year.
While El Salvador has long been plagued by violence, the levels which it is now being forced to endure have not been seen since the civil war in the 1980s. Murder rates have escalated rapidly and the government has struggled to rein in the powerful street gangs which control entire neighbourhoods in many of the Central American country’s towns and cities. In attempting to explain this trend, authorities say that gang leaders are using violence as a means of pressuring the government into a weakened negotiating position. “They want to exert some pressure and for the government to grant some of the things they are asking for,” said Justice and Public Safety Minister Benito Lara. This year alone, around 50 soldiers and police officers were killed by gang violence, despite the launch of a bold new offensive into the neighbourhoods were the gangs are known to operate.
At the centre of this conflict are the principal criminal groups that hold sway in El Salvador; Mara Salvatrucha, otherwise known as MS-13, and two independent factions of Barrio 18. They emerged after the 1992 peace agreement brought an end to the war between the US backed military and leftist guerrillas and their presence can be felt throughout the country, as drug dealers and extortionists; a damning indictment of successive failed attempts by police to curb the gangs’ growth and operational effectiveness.