Officials in El Salvador agreed to extend special anti-gang measures

Officials in El Salvador agreed to extend "extraordinary measures" to fight organized crime despite doubts about their effectiveness and alleged threats to citizens' rights, raising questions about the motives for the government's decision.

The Commission for Public Security and the Fight against Drug-Trafficking (Comisión de Seguridad Pública y Combate a la Narcoactividad) agreed to extend the tough anti-gang measures until 2018, after receiving the support of four political parties, including the ruling Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional - FMLN). The coalition will provide the amount of votes necessary for Congress to approve the policy's extension during a plenary meeting scheduled for February 9.

The extraordinary measures were first instituted in April 2016 and implemented in some of the country's penitentiaries in an effort to cut contact between imprisoned gang members and the outside world. The policies, whose second phase of implementation began in August 2016, include provisions for the transfer of dangerous inmates to more restrictive jail conditions, the suspension of inmates' transfers to legal proceedings, stricter restrictions on visits, obligatory participation in reeducation and work skills programs, and the blocking of electronic communication traffic inside and around prisons. 

InSight Crime Analysis

Governments tend to extend their policies when they yield the expected results, or when the public strongly supports them. But as far as El Salvador's extraordinary measures are concerned, neither of the two conditions seems to hold true.

Salvadoran officials have attributed the steep decline in homicide rates to the extraordinary measures instituted to fight gang members. Yet the causal relationship between the two remains unclear, as the gangs themselves have taken credit for the drop in violence after allegedly ordering their rank-and-file members to stop killings at the end of March 2016.

SEE ALSO: El Salvador News and Profiles

And despite the decline in violence, citizens in El Salvador seem to have little faith in the effectiveness of the heavy-handed anti-gang policies. Recent polls have shown that a great majority of them believe the measures are not producing good results. Moreover, the policy is perceived as a threat to the rights and liberties of law-abiding citizens. 

Seen in this light, it is difficult to understand why Salvadoran authorities would agree to extend these controversial policies. But there is at least one possible explanation.

Earlier this year, two of the country's largest gangs, the MS13 and the Barrio 18, called for negotiations with El Salvador's government. However, authorities so far have refused to assent to public talks with the gangs, and InSight Crime believes they are unlikely to do so.

Nevertheless, government officials have previously held secret negotiations with the gangs, and it is possible that they may do so again. Thus, the extraordinary measures could potentially be used by the government as a bargaining chip that they could use to extract concessions from the gangs. 

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