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

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...

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...

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...

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

When someone is murdered in Guatemala, police, forensic doctors and government prosecutors start making their way to the crime scene and a creaky, antiquated 20th century bureaucratic machine kicks into gear. Calls are made. Forms are filled out by hand, or typed into computers, or both. Some...

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: 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...

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. In rural sectors, uniformed BACRIM armed with assault rifles still patrol in...

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...

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...