Police in El Salvador

El Salvador's police reportedly killed 346 gang members in violent confrontations so far this year, once again raising concerns that the country's bellicose security strategy is leading to widespread human rights abuses.

Howard Cotto, director of El Salvador's National Civil Police (Policía Nacional Civil - PNC), said police supported by soldiers killed the 346 suspected gang members in an equal number of confrontations since the beginning of 2016, reported El Mundo. That averages out to 2.2 confrontations -- and slain gang members -- per day.

Cotto did not specify how many members of the security forces died in those confrontations. However other reports indicate that suspected gang members had killed a total of 16 police officers by April 12 of this year, and many of those officers were killed while off duty, outside of the operations referenced by the police director. 

The number of confrontations have increased in recent weeks following the deployment of combined police and military forces in a special unit tasked with hunting down gang members who have reportedly moved to rural areas to avoid tightened security in major cities. Most of the confrontations Cotto referred to have taken place in rural areas, El Mundo reported.

InSight Crime Analysis

The large number of gang members killed and the disproportionately low number of officers being shot in those operations raises serious questions about the circumstances in which the deaths occurred. Across Latin America, from Mexico to Venezuela and Brazil, the term "confrontation" is used to explain lopsided body counts and cover up human rights abuses by the security forces. 

The government's ongoing crackdown has raised similar concerns about El Salvador, where there are already well-documented cases of extrajudicial killings by police officers. In a March 2015 case, PNC officers reported having killed eight criminals in an exchange of gunfire at a coffee farm known as San Blas. An investigation by Salvadoran news outlet El Faro found that the "criminals," who included a woman and two minors, had been summarily executed and that their bodies had been repositioned to support the police's version of events. 

SEE ALSO: El Salvador News and Profiles

Salvadoran officials' militarization of the fight against gangs, both materially and rhetorically, may be contributing to more aggressive action by an emboldened public force. In January 2015, for example, then-PNC Director -- and current Security minister -- Mauricio Ramirez Landaverde told his officers they should feel "complete confidence" when using their weapons against criminals. 

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
Prev Next

Counting Firearms in Honduras

Counting Firearms in Honduras

Estimates vary widely as to how many legal and illegal weapons are circulating in Honduras. There are many reasons for this. The government does not have a centralized database that tracks arms seizures, purchases, sales and other matters concerning arms possession, availability and merchandising. The laws surrounding...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

  The Bajo Cauca Franchise BACRIM-Land Armed Power Dynamics The BACRIM in places like the region of Bajo Cauca are a typical manifestation of Colombia's underworld today: a semi-autonomous local cell that is part of a powerful national network.

Closing the Gaps on Firearms Trafficking in Honduras

Closing the Gaps on Firearms Trafficking in Honduras

As set out in this report, the legal structure around Honduras' arms trade is deeply flawed. The legislation is inconsistent and unclear as to the roles of different institutions, while the regulatory system is insufficiently funded, anachronistic and administered by officials who are overworked or susceptible to...

Trafficking Firearms in Honduras

Trafficking Firearms in Honduras

The weapons trade within Honduras is difficult to monitor. This is largely because the military, the country's sole importer, and the Armory, the sole salesmen of weapons, do not release information to the public. The lack of transparency extends to private security companies, which do not have...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

  Life of a Sicario Anatomy of a Hit   The BACRIM's control over territories such as the north Colombian region of Bajo Cauca comes at the point of a gun, and death is a constant price of their power.

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

When violence surged in early 2015 in Guatemala, then-President Otto Pérez Molina knew how to handle the situation: Blame the street gangs. 

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

  Drugs Extortion Criminal Cash Flows Millions of dollars in dirty money circulate constantly around Bajo Cauca, flowing upwards and outwards from a broad range of criminal activities. The BACRIM are the chief regulators and beneficiaries of this shadow economy.

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

The department of Nariño in southwest Colombia is the main coca-producing area in the country and in the world. It is a place scarred by poverty and years of armed conflict between guerrillas, the state and paramilitary groups. Perhaps nowhere else in the country are the challenges...

Trafficking Firearms Into Honduras

Trafficking Firearms Into Honduras

Honduras does not produce weapons,[1] but weapons are trafficked into the country in numerous ways. These vary depending on weapon availability in neighboring countries, demand in Honduras, government controls and other factors. They do not appear to obey a single strategic logic, other than that of evading...