Attorney General Douglas Melendez announcing charges in the San Blas case

El Salvador’s attorney general has accused several police officers of participating in a high-profile case of extrajudicial killings, signaling a desire to reign in heavy-handed anti-gang tactics that have been linked to increases in violence and human rights abuses.

In a July 8 press conference, Attorney General Douglas Meléndez announced that his office had ordered the arrest of seven members of the national police in connection with the March 26, 2015, killing of eight people at the San Blas farm in San Jose Villanueva.

Meléndez also said that a total of 22 suspects, including police officers and business owners, had been ordered detained on charges that they belonged to a criminal structure that carried out murders for hire.

“I said it a few days ago. We cannot allow our country to turn into the Wild West,” Melendez said, referencing earlier comments. “This case is a demonstration of that, where we have indications that there were summary executions of people who did not even have a criminal record.”

The police stood by their version that eight members of a “criminal structure” were killed at San Blas in a shootout with officers. National Civil Police Director Howard Cotto also held a press conference on July 8, telling reporters “we are absolutely sure that we acted within the framework of the law.”

However, an investigation published last year by the news outlet El Faro concluded “that those killed were summarily executed and arranged to appear as if they died in a shootout.” More recently, El Salvador’s inspector general for human rights came to similar conclusions.

InSight Crime Analysis

The arrest orders, combined with Meléndez’s statements, strongly suggest that the attorney general is attempting to send a message that police must act lawfully when carrying out operations against the country’s powerful gangs. Other government officials have supported aggressive police tactics. Vice President Óscar Ortiz said last year that police who feel threatened should use deadly force against gang members “without any fear of suffering consequences.”

Meléndez’s office has brought charges against officials suspected of collaborating with the country’s powerful gangs, including mayors and political figures linked to a controversial, government-brokered 2012 truce. The charges in the San Blas case signal that his office will not turn a blind eye to misconduct on the part of the police.

SEE ALSO: El Salvador News and Profiles

It remains to be seen, however, whether the attorney general’s actions will lead to a change in policing policies. The Salvadoran government appears to be committed to continuing its “iron fist” approach to the gangs, despite the fact that a majority of citizens believe that the “extraordinary measures” have shown poor results thus far.

Investigations

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

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. 

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...

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...

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.

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...

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...

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. The BACRIM's roots lie in the demobilized paramilitary umbrella group the United Self-Defense...

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. Unlike their paramilitary and drug cartel predecessors, the BACRIM maintain a diversified...

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...

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Olfato. It is a term used quite often in law enforcement and judicial circles in Central America (and other parts of the world as well). It refers to the sixth sense they have as they see a crime scene, investigate a murder or plow through the paperwork...