Salvadorans witnessed a murderous weekend with the killings of two police officers, dozens of alleged gang members and the seizure of a million-dollar drug shipment dramatically illustrating the country’s deepening security crisis.
The Prensa Grafica reported that off-duty officer Samuel Arnoldo Medina was shot Saturday afternoon, and that the decapitated body of another police officer, José Edwin Castillo Chávez, was identified by family members on Saturday after they reported him missing on March 14.
The Public Ministry announced via Twitter that at least 10 alleged gang members were killed on Sunday. The ministry said four men and one women belonging to the Barrio 18 gang were killed in a home in the department of Cuscatlán, and authorities said another three gang members were killed in the city of San Miguel.
El Salvador also had to grapple with incidents related to transnational drug trafficking over the weekend. Authorities reported seizing a boat along the Pacific Coast of La Paz department containing 350 kilos of cocaine, valued at $8 million.
InSight Crime Analysis
Headlines announcing multiple police and gang homicides have become all-too-common in El Salvador, which this year has seen twice the number of homicides registered during the same time period in 2015.
Authorities blame this violence primarily on members of the Barrio 18 and MS13 gangs. Nevertheless, multiple reports have cast doubt on such assertions. According to Public Ministry figures, just over 26 percent of those convicted of murder in El Salvador in 2015 were gang members.
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These numbers should be taken with some skepticism, as high impunity rates make it impossible to say who is responsible in most murders. El Faro reported recently that the Public Ministry only took one in ten murder cases to court in 2015 — meaning that more than 6,000 murders were never prosecuted.
Others have raised concerns about alleged “death squads” that murder suspected gang members. In February 2016 police reported killing four alleged gang members in a shootout, but witnesses said the four were captured alive and executed; similar to another case documented in August 2015.
The authorities’ single-minded focus on the gangs as the source of El Salvador’s troubles may be making it easier for transnational drug traffickers to continue using the country’s coast as a key drug trafficking route.