El Salvador’s ‘Plan Seguro’ Failing to Make Communities Safe: Report

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The unceasing drumbeat of deadly violence in notoriously rough Ciudad Delgado highlights the failure of the government’s “Plan El Salvador Seguro” to provide quick relief to the country’s security woes.

In an extensive, thoughtful report, La Prensa Gráfica notes that eight months since the plan’s onset it has brought residents no relief from homicides, extortion and other crimes attributed to the gangs active in Ciudad Delgado.

Police and coroner’s office data indicate that Ciudad Delgado saw 115 murders between August 2015 and mid-March 2016, while 95 people were killed there in the six months preceding Plan Seguro, La Prensa reported.

Another 9 people were “disappeared” since August, two minors were sexually assaulted and four people a month received death threats.

The insecurity marches on despite a heavy and militarized police presence, mass arrests of suspected gang members and official talk of government agencies working in coordination to produce holistic solutions.

InSight Crime Analysis

Ciudad Delgado, a huge, densely populated and largely marginalized municipality abutting the capital, San Salvador, was the flagship of the government security plan (pdf), which was rolled out in July 2015 amid much fanfare and one of the world’s highest peacetime homicide rates.

Then minister of Security and Justice Benito Lara promised residents that “in short order the lives of the people of Ciudad Delgado will be changed, and this municipality will be a model for all of El Salvador to follow.” 

However, instead of being the beacon of hope, it has become the example of government futility. To be sure, Cuidad Delgado illustrates the illusory nature of the heavy, militarized police presence amid a continued lack of territorial control by the state and absence of effective, long-term social, economic and educational programs. 

What’s more, an uptick in homicides so far in 2016, has seen officials consider additional and extreme measures, such as declaring a state of emergency in areas like Ciudad Delgado — which would curtail constitutionally guaranteed rights — and imposing sanctions on people who submit to extortion demands delivered with the threat of deadly violence.

These measures appear even more drastic considering that military and police installations in the area are like islands in a sea of effective gang control. The Plan’s emphasis on prevention has also been undermined by a lack of funding. The strategic architecture and political support required to address a problem as complex as violence in El Salvador have not materialized.

“Scratching his head like someone searching for the best answer (Ciudad Delgado Police Chief Hugo Salinas) finally calculates that the city under his command will need another eight years to achieve fewer killings and fewer youths involved in gangs,” La Prensa reported. 

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