El Salvador Security Minister Benito Lara's recent criticism of "iron fist" security policies is an abrupt change in rhetoric for an administration that has implemented a militarized approach to combating the country's deadly street gangs. 

At a recent conference in Madrid, Lara said El Salvador's "Mano Dura" (Iron Fist) initiatives "have not provided results" in lowering the country's homicide rate and improving security, reported Spanish news agency EFE

These hardline policies have failed to solve the "profound structural problems" driving violence in El Salvador, such as social exclusion, Lara said. The minister added that education is "key" to preventing youths from joining gangs.

Lara praised the efforts of President Salvador Sanchez Ceren's administration, and said the country's current security crisis "has been politically manipulated." Violence levels are at their highest since the end of El Salvador's bloody civil war in the early 1990s, and the country is now widely considered the world's most violent. 

Lara also lauded the government's "Secure El Salvador" plan, launched earlier this year. The key objectives of the plan include an increased focus on El Salvador's 50 most violent municipalities. However the plan is contingent on legislative approval of security budget proposals, including a controversial telecommunications tax.  

Comments by El Salvador Security Minister Benito Lara in Madrid

InSight Crime Analysis

It is hard to accept the sincerity of Lara's criticism of iron fist policies considering the Sanchez Ceren administration's own actions have largely been an extension of them. Despite shying away from the term "iron fist," the government has taken an increasingly tough security approach by labeling gang members as "terrorists," deploying special forces to urban areas, and giving police the green light to shoot at suspected criminals.

SEE ALSO: El Salvador News and Profile

On the other hand, Lara's comments may signal a philosophical shift within the government. The administration has previously shown signs of advocating a softer approach, including proposing a gang rehabilitation law that would be the first of its kind in El Salvador. "Secure El Salvador" also emphasizes crime prevention and reforms to the criminal justice system. 

Giving the country's deterioritating security situation, it would be understandable if the Sanchez Ceren administration is looking for an alternative to the militarized strategy. Gangs have launched a record number of attacks on security forces and even paralyzed public transportation in San Salvador for days earlier this year. At the same time soldiers have expressed dissatifaction with their increased policing role and have been accused of arming the gangs.  

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
Prev Next

'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 Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

José Adán Salazar Umaña is the only Salvadoran citizen currently on the US government's Kingpin List. But in his defense, Salazar Umaña claims is he is an honorable businessman who started his career by exchanging money along the borders between Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. He does...

Guatemala's Mafia State and the Case of Mauricio López Bonilla

Guatemala's Mafia State and the Case of Mauricio López Bonilla

Former Guatemalan Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla -- a decorated war hero and a longtime US ally -- finds himself treading water amidst a flurry of accusations about corruption and his connections to drug traffickers. López Bonilla is not the most well-known suspect in the cases against...

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

Local police and justice officials are convinced that the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) has strengthened its presence along the East Coast of the United States. The alarm follows a recent spate of violence -- of the type not seen in a decade -- which included dismembered bodies and...

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

Throughout the continent, the debate on whether or not the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang is working with or for drug traffickers continues. In this investigation, journalist Carlos García tells the story of how a member of the MS13 entered the methamphetamine distribution business under the powerful auspices...

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

In July 2011, members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) attended a meeting organized in California by a criminal known as "Bad Boy." Among the invitees was José Juan Rodríguez Juárez, known as "Dreamer," who had gone to the meeting hoping to better understand what was beginning to...