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. 

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

When someone is murdered in Guatemala, police, forensic doctors and government prosecutors start making their way to the crime scene and a creaky, antiquated 20th century bureaucratic machine kicks into gear. Calls are made. Forms are filled out by hand, or typed into computers, or both. Some...

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

In the last decade, homicides in Guatemala have obeyed a fairly steady pattern. Guatemala City and some of its surrounding municipalities have the greatest sheer number of homicides. Other states, particularly along the eastern border have the highest homicide rates. Among these are the departments of Escuintla...

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

In San Pedro Sula's jailhouse, chaos reigns. The inmates, trapped in their collective misery, battle for control over every inch of their tight quarters. Farm animals and guard dogs roam free and feed off scraps, which can include a human heart. Every day is visitors' day, and...

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's prisons are a reflection of the multiple conflicts that have plagued the country for the last half-century. Paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug trafficking groups have vied for control of the jails where they can continue to manage their operations on the outside. Instead of corralling these forces...

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. 

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador's prison system is the headquarters of the country's largest gangs. It is also where one of these gangs, the MS13, is fighting amongst itself for control of the organization.

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The prison system in Latin America and the Caribbean has become a prime incubator for organized crime. This overview -- the first of six reports on prison systems that we produced after a year-long investigation -- traces the origins and maps the consequences of the problem, including...

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

Special Agent David LeValley headed the criminal division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Washington office until last November 8. While in office, he witnessed the rise of the MS13, the Barrio 18 (18th Street) and other smaller gangs in the District of Columbia as well...

The Fixer and El Salvador's Missed Opportunity

The Fixer and El Salvador's Missed Opportunity

In the photograph, they are both smiling. In the foreground, on the left hand side, a man in a short-sleeved buttoned white shirt, jeans and a metal watch, holds a bottle of water in his right hand. He laughs heartily. He is Herbert Saca. On the right...

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Following Guatemala's long and brutal civil war, members of the military were charged, faced trial and sentenced to jail time. Even some members of a powerful elite unit known as the Kaibil were put behind bars. Among these prisoners, none were more emblematic than Captain Byron Lima...