El Salvador's gangs have been declared terrorist organizations

El Salvador's top court has reclassified the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and Barrio 18 street gangs as terrorist organizations, in what appears to be an official declaration of war and a green light for the further militarization of domestic security.

On August 24, El Salvador's Supreme Court declared the MS13 and Barrio 18 -- along with any other criminal organizations that violate the fundamental rights of the population or seek to usurp state power -- to be terrorist groups, reported the AP. The Supreme Court based its ruling on the gangs' systemic and organized use of violence, such as a recent gang-enforced transportation strike.

In the same ruling, the judges rejected multiple lawsuits seeking to declare elements of El Salvador's anti-terrorism laws as unconstitutional. The laws provide for harsher sentencing of MS13 and Barrio 18 members, including 10 to 15 year prison terms for gang leaders convicted under terrorism charges.

In addition to gang members, the court's ruling categorized gang "collaborators, apologists, and financiers" as terrorists, according to La Prensa Grafica

The move comes as El Salvador's security crisis continues to worsen and police-gang confrontations increase. August -- with 539 homicides through its first 20 days -- has a higher daily average homicide rate (almost 27) of any month so far in 2015. Furthermore, 44 police have been killed this year, eclipsing the 39 murdered in all of 2014.  

InSight Crime Analysis

While El Salvador's desperate security situation calls for creative solutions, the Supreme Court's de facto endorsement of a militarized response is likely to invite abuse, while improving little. 

SEE ALSO: El Salvador News and Profiles

Indeed, labeling gang members and their suspected associates as terrorists adds to the government's increasingly warlike rhetoric -- despite scant evidence that militarized security solutions reduce violence. This further lends itself to the possibility of human rights abuses by authorities.

The nation's security forces have already been accused of carrying out extrajudicial massacres and brutalizing suspected gang members, making little distinction between gang members and civilians in police round-ups. Salvadoran legislators have also considered giving authorities increased wiretapping powers, and in May President Salvador Sanchez Ceren announced heavily-armed military brigades would be deployed onto El Salvador's streets.

On top of increasing the potential for abuse, the new terrorist label may also backfire in other ways. For instance, NGOs and international organizations working with at-risk youth in El Salvador's gang-controlled areas or helping current gang members leave their criminal life may now potentially be labeled as terrorists, thereby inhibiting their important work.

Investigations

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

Trafficking Firearms in Honduras

Trafficking Firearms in Honduras

The weapons trade within Honduras is difficult to monitor. This is largely because the military, the country's sole importer, and the Armory, the sole salesmen of weapons, do not release information to the public. The lack of transparency extends to private security companies, which do not have...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

  Life of a Sicario Anatomy of a Hit   The BACRIM's control over territories such as the north Colombian region of Bajo Cauca comes at the point of a gun, and death is a constant price of their power.

Closing the Gaps on Firearms Trafficking in Honduras

Closing the Gaps on Firearms Trafficking in Honduras

As set out in this report, the legal structure around Honduras' arms trade is deeply flawed. The legislation is inconsistent and unclear as to the roles of different institutions, while the regulatory system is insufficiently funded, anachronistic and administered by officials who are overworked or susceptible to...

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.

Counting Firearms in Honduras

Counting Firearms in Honduras

Estimates vary widely as to how many legal and illegal weapons are circulating in Honduras. There are many reasons for this. The government does not have a centralized database that tracks arms seizures, purchases, sales and other matters concerning arms possession, availability and merchandising. The laws surrounding...

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.

Trafficking Firearms Into Honduras

Trafficking Firearms Into Honduras

Honduras does not produce weapons,[1] but weapons are trafficked into the country in numerous ways. These vary depending on weapon availability in neighboring countries, demand in Honduras, government controls and other factors. They do not appear to obey a single strategic logic, other than that of evading...

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...

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.