El Salvador’s president has announced the deployment of military brigades to contain the country’s street gangs, a measure that will likely prove an unsustainable solution to the current security crisis and could even exacerbate the bloodshed.
On May 7, President Salvador Sanchez Ceren announced that he will send three battalions of special forces into major cities to aid police in combatting the country’s gangs sometime “in the coming days,” reported La Prensa. According to Defense Minister David Munguia Payes, each battalion will have around 200 soldiers, most of whom will be from the military’s elite units. Sanchez Ceren originally announced the creation of special crime-fighting battalions on April 18, and stated that these forces would be deployed to “guarantee our people the indispensable environment for a safe life.”
El Salvador currently has 7,000 soldiers deployed on the streets to aid police and monitor prisons and border areas.
InSight Crime Analysis
The current security crisis in El Salvador appears to be devolving into low intensity warfare between criminal groups and security forces, and this latest measure provides further indication that the government intends to escalate its assault on the gangs.
One of the country’s most powerful street gangs, the MS13, allegedly launched a campaign to assassinate police in April, while a top security official stated earlier this year that police were “at war” with the gangs. Meanwhile, in March El Salvador saw its most violent month in 10 years, registering an average of 16 murders per day.
Unfortunately, there is little evidence that the military will be able to provide the policing functions the country desperately needs. In Mexico, for instance, the increasing use of the army and navy to combat organized crime has been accompanied by soaring human rights complaints, without noticeable reductions in violence.
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Adding more armed actors to the conflict will likely exacerbate the violence, especially as it is unclear which groups are actually fighting each other. In April, police said the country’s two largest gangs, the Barrio 18 and MS13 — bitter rivals who have historically engaged in a mutual extermination campaign — had teamed up to launch an assault on security forces. However, one top level police source contacted by InSight Crime said there was no way this could be true.