Statistics from El Salvador's National Civil Police (PNC) continue to contradict government assertions that the majority of the nation's homicide victims are gang members, raising concerns authorities may be prioritizing their own political standing above security and justice. 

Citing police statistics, Spanish news agency EFE reported 27.8 percent of murder victims in El Salvador during the first eight months of 2015 were gang members. Similarly, El Diario de Hoy recently found that police identified just 24 percent of all homicide victims during the second half of August as either gang members or associated with gangs. 

These figures run counter to the government narrative that the majority of El Salvador's murders are gang-related. High-level security officials have said that about 85 percent of all homicide victims in August were gang members. 

"They're killing each other off," Deputy Security Minister Juan Javier Martinez was quoted by EFE as saying. He went on to say deaths should be expected as security forces confront the gangs. 

This is not the first time police data on homicides has contradicted government assertions. In July, police reports obtained by El Faro said 30 percent of murder victims were gang members, yet Security Minister Benito Lara stated the percentage of gang-related deaths was double the police figure.  

InSight Crime Analysis

Properly identifying murder victims is a difficult and resource-intensive process. Labeling the majority of murders as gang-related is politically expedient, since it implies that the victims were involved in criminal activity and thus partly to blame for their own deaths.

However, there are a number of risks involved with this. By writing off killings as gang-on-gang violence, the government is let off the hook from conducting a proper murder investigation, decreasing the likelihood that perpetrators will ever be brought to justice and fomenting an environment of lawlessness.

SEE ALSO: El Salvador News and Profiles

Additionally, saying gang members are the overwhelming victims -- and victimizers -- of violent crime fosters greater acceptance of militarized crime-fighting strategies. Salvadoran security officials have taken an increasingly hardline approach to combating the gangs, as clashes between security forces and criminals continue to rise. While the gangs are undoubtedly principal drivers of the violence, this emphasis by authorities draws attention away from other security concerns affecting the general population.

Finally, labeling victims as gang members carries a huge social stigma that is difficult to shake once it has been applied. Mano Dura ("Iron Fist") security policies have previously led to the mass incarceration of gang members in not only El Salvador, but Guatemala and Honduras as well. 

Investigations

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

Elites and Organized Crime: Conceptual Framework - Organized Crime

Elites and Organized Crime: Conceptual Framework - Organized Crime

This project defines organized crime as: a structured group of people that associate on a regular and prolonged basis to benefit from illicit activities and illegal markets. This group can be local, national or transnational in nature, and its existence is maintained using violence and threats; corruption...

The FARC and the Drug Trade: Siamese Twins?

The FARC and the Drug Trade: Siamese Twins?

The FARC have always had a love-hate relationship with drugs. They love the money it brings, funds which have allowed them to survive and even threaten to topple the state at the end of the 1990s. They hate the corruption and stigma narcotics have also brought to...

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Don Berna'

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Don Berna'

By the end of 1993, Pablo Escobar was cornered. The cocaine king -- known as "El Patrón" -- was running out of money and options. His top assassins were either dead or had turned themselves in. Almost all of the senior members of the Medellín Cartel were...

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: The Cachiros

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: The Cachiros

As it tends to happen in Honduras, the news began as a well-heeled rumor: Javier Rivera Maradiaga, the oldest of the three Rivera Maradiaga brothers still alive and leader of the feared and powerful Honduran drug trafficking group known as the Cachiros, had handed himself in to...

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Jorge 40'

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Jorge 40'

Rodrigo Tovar Pupo never imagined it would come to this: dressed in an orange jumpsuit in a Washington DC courtroom and standing in front of a United States federal judge, the grandson of a wealthy Colombian cattle rancher and nephew to a governor was facing a possible...

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros

On the morning of April 5, 1988, Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros left his palatial Tegucigalpa estate for a jog. Matta Ballesteros was wanted for murder, drug trafficking and other crimes in several countries, but in Honduras he felt safe. He regularly hosted parties for high-level officials at...

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Guatemala is Central America’s most populous country and its largest economy. But an intransigent elite, an ambitious military and a weak state has opened the way for organized crime to flourish, especially since the return of democracy.

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The CICIG

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The CICIG

Like any arm of the justice system, the United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala - CICIG) had its battles with elites who used their charm and their muscle to try to influence what and who the celebrated commission...

Elites and Organized Crime: Preface

Elites and Organized Crime: Preface

Organized crime is not an abstract concept for me. I grew up in Oak Park, a leafy suburb of Chicago with a population of about 60,000. In general, it was a very low crime city, which is perhaps why many mobsters made their homes there, among them...

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The 'Huistas'

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The 'Huistas'

In the northwest corner of Guatemala, a little known criminal organization known as the "Huistas" dominates the underworld, in large part due its ties with businessmen, law enforcement officials and politicians.