El Salvador Mass Graves Put Pressure on Gang Truce

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Authorities in El Salvador have recovered 19 bodies from secret graves, adding weight to fears that a drop in murders following the country’s gang truce was partly due to criminals hiding the bodies of victims more carefully.

The remains were found buried on a property near the town of Colon, on the outskirts of capital city San Salvador, reported La Prensa Grafica. Investigations have indicated there may be at least another 25 bodies in more graves in the same area.

According to La Prensa Grafica, the graves have been attributed to the Barrio 18 gang, one of El Salvador’s two principal street gangs, which entered a truce with rival Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) in March 2012.

Other bodies were exhumed near Colon in May, including the remains of a police officer. According to statistics from the Institute of Legal Medicine, 97 bodies were recovered from secret graves between August 2012 and August 2013 — 15 of them in Colon.

InSight Crime Analysis

There was great optimism for the truce following a dramatic drop in El Salvador’s murder rate during the year after the two gangs entered their pact. However an apparent concurrent rise in disappearances led critics to argue murders had not actually gone down as dramatically as it appeared; they were just being better hidden. According to police statistics released earlier this year there was a significant rise in both disappearances and clandestine grave discoveries after the start of the truce.

SEE ALSO: El Salvador’s Gang Truce: Positives and Negatives

Notwithstanding that figures on disappearances in El Salvador are problematic, the digging up of dozens of bodies from shallow graves indicates that gang violence has continued apace. That has been compounded by a steadily rising murder rate during the truce’s second year — November was the most violent month of 2013 and there were 54 murders during the first week of December.

Add to that a reported rise in extortion, assassinations in supposed “peace zones,” a lack of federal funding for violence prevention schemes and political infighting over the truce’s value, and it becomes very hard to see how this initiative can survive.

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