El Salvador Govt, Gangs Locked in Deadly Game of Chicken

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A gang-enforced transportation strike in El Salvador has now left seven bus drivers dead, raising doubts about how long the government can refuse to meet the demands of the street gangs, in what has become an increasingly deadly game of chicken.

On July 29, a seventh bus driver was killed for attempting to disobey the public transportation strike that gangs have imposed on capital city San Salvador, reported La Vanguardia. The rising death toll and general chaos the strike has generated has pushed President Salvador Sanchez Ceren to order that an additional 600 military troops be readied for deployment. These troops would supplement the 300 soldiers who are already supporting police as they try to protect public transportation drivers and users throughout the city. 

The strike is reportedly being used to put pressure on the government to reconsider its position on the now-defunct gang truce that was first signed in 2012. However, the Salvadoran government has shown no sign of backing down; in fact, El Salvador’s Attorney General, Luis Martinez, recently called for legal reforms that would allow gang members to be prosecuted as terrorists. 

The strike comes amid historic levels of violence in the Central American nation. El Salvador’s Attorney General’s Office recently warned that 2015 could be the deadliest year of the 21st century

InSight Crime Analysis 

The shutdown marks a new phase in the gangs’ effort to force the government’s hand in restarting negotiations that could lead to a truce. The gangs have attempted to change the government’s position by increasing levels of violence and attacks on security forces, and now it appears they are targeting the public transportation sector.   

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As violence continues to rise, it is unclear how long the Salvadoran government will be able to stick to its current stance of refusing to negotiate. The gangs can keep up the high levels of violence seemingly indefinitely, but the government will likely come under increasing pressure to find a solution that brings down the murder rate. 

In many ways, it is unsurprising the gangs would choose to target the public transportation sector. Gangs in Central America’s Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala) have long used violent means to earn extortion payments from public transport operators, which has made being a bus driver in the region arguably the most dangerous job in the world

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