One of El Salvador's many murder scenes

A perfect storm of gang atomization, internal clashes, and vigilantism made El Salvador the Western Hemisphere's bloodiest nation in 2015.

El Salvador ended the year with at least 6,640 murders, reported La Prensa Gráfica.

The grisly statistic represents close to a 70 percent increase over 2014 homicides and gives the country a homicide rate of 104.2 per 100,000 inhabitants, the report said. 

El Salvador makes up 13.6 percent of Central America's population, yet represents 35.3 percent of Central America's homicides, the report added. 

Speaking with Reuters, El Salvador's Forensic Medicine Director Miguel Fortín Magaña described national homicide figures as "truly pandemic." 

InSight Crime Analysis

Some authorities have been quick to blame homicides on violent competition between street gangs. And while gangs -- particularly El Salvador's two largest groups, the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and the Barrio 18 -- are responsible for a significant portion of the violence, the situation is more complicated

To begin with, the gang violence is multi-layered, and in some ways the recent spike is related to a failed gang truce, initiated in 2012, between the MS13 and the two factions of the Barrio 18 -- the Revolucionarios and the Sureños. Initally, the truce led to falling murder rates. However, as is evident now, that may have been more about coercion than acceptance amongst the gangs' rank and file.  

SEE ALSO: El Salvador's Gang Truce: Positives and Negatives

After the truce unraveled, authorities moved imprisoned gang leaders who were mediating the talks back to maximum security prison, impeding their ability to command and creating an opening for mid-level gang members who were upset by the truce.

Following this shift, gangs appear to be fracturing into smaller, competing units and internal purges within the ranks have become a regular occurrence.

Gang cells, or cliques as they are known, are also making their own their decisions with regards to killings rivals and coordinating attacks against security forces, rather than waiting for the proverbial "green light" from the leadership in jail. 

Security forces have responded to the violence with heavy-handed tactics. The more extreme incidents have included reports of summary executions of suspected gang members, as well as allegations of security forces' participation in death squads

In a recent report, El Salvador's ombudsman said that security forces were linked to 90 percent of human rights abuse complaints and that a "ends justify the means" mentality exists within the police ranks.

Unfortunately the situation will likely continue for the foreseeable future. Citing police statistics, La Prensa Gráfica reported 72 murders within the first three days of 2016, including separate multiple homicides, and attacks on security forces and their families. 

Investigations

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

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

The power of Colombia's elites is founded upon one of the most unequal divisions of land in the world. As of the early 21st century, one percent of landowners own more than half the country's agricultural land.1  Under Spanish rule, Colombia's agriculture was organized on the hacienda...

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Honduras is currently one of the most violent countries on the planet that is not at war. The violence is carried out by transnational criminal organizations, local drug trafficking groups, gangs and corrupt security forces, among other actors. Violence is the focal point for the international aid...

Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Organized crime and the violence associated with it is the preeminent problem in Latin America and the Caribbean today. The region is currently home to six of the most violent countries in the world that are not at war. Four of those countries are in Central America...

Special Report: Gangs in Honduras

Special Report: Gangs in Honduras

In a new report based on extensive field research, InSight Crime and the Asociacion para una Sociedad mas Justa have traced how Honduras' two largest gangs, the MS13 and the Barrio 18, are evolving, and how their current modus operandi has resulted in staggering levels of violence...

Bolivia: the New Hub for Drug Trafficking in South America

Bolivia: the New Hub for Drug Trafficking in South America

Transnational organized crime likes opportunities and little resistance. Bolivia currently provides both and finds itself at the heart of a new criminal dynamic that threatens national and citizen security in this landlocked Andean nation.

Justice and the Creation of a Mafia State in Guatemala

Justice and the Creation of a Mafia State in Guatemala

As Guatemala's Congress gears up to select new Supreme Court Justices and appellate court judges, InSight Crime is investigating how organized crime influences the selection process. This story details the interests of one particular political bloc vying for control over the courts and what's at stake: millions...

The FARC 2002-Present: Decapitation and Rebirth

The FARC 2002-Present: Decapitation and Rebirth

In August 2002, the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) greeted Colombia's new president with a mortar attack that killed 14 people during his inauguration. The attack was intended as a warning to the fiercely anti-FARC newcomer. But it became the opening salvo of...

The Urabeños - The Criminal Hybrid

The Urabeños - The Criminal Hybrid

The mad scramble for criminal power in the aftermath of the demobilization of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) is over. The Urabeños, or as they prefer to call themselves, the "Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia," have won.

Mexico's Security Dilemma: The Battle for Michoacan

Mexico's Security Dilemma: The Battle for Michoacan

Faced with the government's failure to rein in the criminals, communities across crime-besieged Mexico have been trying for years to organize effective civic resistance. Michoacan's vigilantes express the most extreme response by society to date, but other efforts have been less belligerent. In battle-torn cities along the...

Uruguay's Marijuana Bill Faces Political, Economic Obstacles

Uruguay's Marijuana Bill Faces Political, Economic Obstacles

If Uruguay's proposal to regulate the production, sale and distribution of marijuana is properly implemented and overcomes political and economic hurdles, it could be the most important drug regulation experiment in decades.