Stumbling Towards a Security Policy in El Salvador

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El Salvador’s two main political parties are scrambling to respond to the nation’s historically high homicide rate, but neither appears to be proposing any novel security strategies. 

The government said it will prioritize dismantling the leadership structure of El Salvador’s violent street gangs while also attacking their finances, Vice President Óscar Ortiz said in an interview on TV station Canal 12

Violence between rival gangs like the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and Barrio 18, as well as with security forces are the driving factors behind El Salvador’s dubious new title as the Western Hemisphere’s bloodiest nation

In response authorities are rallying to contain gang-related violence, Ortiz said. “We’ve never had this level of prosecution and strategy deployed to strike and dismantle crime, like we do now. But it’s going to take some time,” the Vice President said.

Meanwhile a group of legislators from FMLN’s conservative rival ARENA plan to introduce a gang member registration bill within the week, El Diario de Hoy reported. 

The bill would create a list of alleged gang members and their collaborators, making it easier for judges to apply harsher sentencing under a new law that labels gang members as terrorists. The list would also allow gang members without criminal records to participate in a rehabilitation and reintegration program currently being discussed by congress, proponents were quoted as saying. 

InSight Crime Analysis 

El Salvador’s record high 2015 murder figures have made security the major political issue and attracted scrutiny from the international community. Despite this added pressure both parties appear content to continue El Salvador’s failed repressive security policies. 

Ortiz’s idea is nothing new. Attacking gang leadership structures and finances is something authorities should already be doing, and a vague promise to do that means little in terms of new security solutions. 

In the same vein, the ARENA legislators’ gang registry bill boils down to ensuring gang members are labeled as terrorists and punished more harshly. This type of response seems all too reminiscent of Central America’s “Mano Dura” (Iron Fist) initiatives, which have failed to improve El Salvador’s security situation in the past. 

What’s telling is that both parties are equally concerned with shifting blame away from themselves. ARENA legislator René Portillo Cuadra blamed the Security Ministry for El Salvador’s current predicament and called on President Salvador Sánchez Cerén to replace his security cabinet. Likewise Ortiz blamed past administrations for 15 years of “no public policies to confront or contain [gang] expansion.”

However with no real change in security policy and President Cerén’s adamant stance to not renew controversial talks with gang leaders, it seems likely El Salvador will see a continuation of the record violence that plagued it in 2015. 

Vice President Óscar Ortiz’ interview with Canal 12

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