A member of El Salvador's special forces

El Salvador's president has announced the deployment of military brigades to contain the country's street gangs, a measure that will likely prove an unsustainable solution to the current security crisis and could even exacerbate the bloodshed.  

On May 7, President Salvador Sanchez Ceren announced that he will send three battalions of special forces into major cities to aid police in combatting the country's gangs sometime "in the coming days," reported La Prensa. According to Defense Minister David Munguia Payes, each battalion will have around 200 soldiers, most of whom will be from the military's elite units. Sanchez Ceren originally announced the creation of special crime-fighting battalions on April 18, and stated that these forces would be deployed to "guarantee our people the indispensable environment for a safe life."

El Salvador currently has 7,000 soldiers deployed on the streets to aid police and monitor prisons and border areas.

InSight Crime Analysis

The current security crisis in El Salvador appears to be devolving into low intensity warfare between criminal groups and security forces, and this latest measure provides further indication that the government intends to escalate its assault on the gangs. 

One of the country's most powerful street gangs, the MS13, allegedly launched a campaign to assassinate police in April, while a top security official stated earlier this year that police were "at war" with the gangs. Meanwhile, in March El Salvador saw its most violent month in 10 years, registering an average of 16 murders per day. 

Unfortunately, there is little evidence that the military will be able to provide the policing functions the country desperately needs. In Mexico, for instance, the increasing use of the army and navy to combat organized crime has been accompanied by soaring human rights complaints, without noticeable reductions in violence.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of El Salvador's Gang Truce

Adding more armed actors to the conflict will likely exacerbate the violence, especially as it is unclear which groups are actually fighting each other. In April, police said the country's two largest gangs, the Barrio 18 and MS13 -- bitter rivals who have historically engaged in a mutual extermination campaign -- had teamed up to launch an assault on security forces. However, one top level police source contacted by InSight Crime said there was no way this could be true. 

Investigations

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

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...

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...

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 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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...