El Salvador Spends on Security, Not Social Welfare: World Bank

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A study commissioned by the World Bank shows El Salvador spends a greater portion of government money on security and defense than other countries in Central America, but overall its social spending is among the lowest in the region, a huge obstacle if the country wants to escape its gang quagmire.

In 2011, El Salvador spent 2.8 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on security and justice, said the report, which was released May 24, compared to 2.4 percent in 2010. That year, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama spent 2.3 percent, Honduras 2 percent and Guatemala, 1.7 percent, the report said.

However, in terms of overall public investment, El Salvador ranked among the lowest in the region: government spending represents 22 percent of GDP, compared to the Latin American average of 28 percent.

The report, which studied the period between June 2011 and March 2012, also found that there was a lack of coordination between security and justice institutions, and that institutional weakness could be contributing to impunity, which stood at an overall rate of 88 percent for all crimes. It highlighted the need for coordinated action and a strong long term financial plan to deal with security challenges, including making a more concerted effort to support social and economic programs.

InSight Crime Analysis

The failure of El Salvador’s government to bolster its security and justice aims by spending more on social programs will be a huge hurdle going forward, especially as the country tries to take advantage of a negotiated truce between its two primary gangs, Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18. The truce dropped homicide rates by half, but other crimes, such as extortion, remain a mainstay for members’ income.

Without serious investment and access to work alternatives and education for former members, the truce is unlikely to be sustainable. El Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes recently announced $22.3 million for social reintegration, but it is questionable whether this will really suffice for the estimated 65,000 gang members, and it is not clear how much of that money has been released or is contingent on further developments in the truce itself. 

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