Authorities in El Salvador have launched a new offensive in retaliation to an alleged MS13 campaign to assassinate police officers, the latest show of state force amid an escalating government-gang conflict.
Vice President Oscar Ortiz said on November 18 that the plan was meant to “punish the gangs” and “prevent the threats and attacks” against elements of the security forces, reported El Mundo.
The government claimed last week that the powerful MS13 gang was targeting and killing police officers in response to an earlier operation against the criminal structure’s finances.
The vice president said that the plan would involve full coordination between the different government agencies, with better intelligence sharing between the police and the judiciary, and military support for police officers on the street.
According to El Mundo, there are four official pillars to the plan, dubbed “Nemesis”: hunting down the gang members responsible for attacks on police officers; violence prevention; improving the protection equipment for security forces; and assistance to victims. Ortiz insisted that prevention had always been a priority for this administration, pointing to the significant decrease in homicides this year as evidence of that claim.
Yet when asked how “Nemesis” differed from earlier tough-on-crime policies implemented by the government, the vice president responded that “it’s not about the difference, it’s about hitting crime hard.” He later added: “We will go through to the bitter end to provide safety for the Salvadoran family.”
InSight Crime Analysis
As InSight Crime predicted last week, the government is responding swiftly and unequivocally to the MS13’s alleged plan to kill police officers. The very name of the plan — borrowed from Greek mythology — speaks for itself. Nemesis was the goddess of retribution and vengeance against those who were arrogant before the gods.
The vice president’s comments regarding the plan are an ominous sign for potential human rights violations, especially considering El Salvador’s police force is already dogged by accusations of extrajudicial killings.
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While Ortiz may claim that the government is focused on prevention, the current administration has little to show to sustain that claim. Violence is indeed down this year, but gang-police clashes continue to occur on a daily basis. Moreover, the decrease in homicides may have more to do with the gangs’ decision to temporarily halt killings than with any security strategy put forward by the government.