Government figures indicate a significant decrease in El Salvador’s homicide rate this year, but the conflict between gangs and security forces appears to be intensifying.
Data from El Salvador’s National Police shows there were 4,585 homicides in El Salvador between January and October 2016, according to El Faro. This represents an 18 percent decrease in comparison with the first 10 months of 2015, the most murderous year for the country in the 21st Century.
Authorities say that the homicide figure should reach approximately 5,300 for 2016, in the absence of a major or unusual event during November or December. This would position the national homicide rate at approximately 80 per 100,000, a roughly 20 percent decrease in comparison to last year’s 103 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.
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But the 2016 homicide rate will still be extremely high, and perhaps the highest of any country in the world not at war. For comparison, neighboring Honduras is expected to register a homicide rate of 58 per 100,000 inhabitants.
Commenting on these figures, Vice President Óscar Ortiz praised the government’s tough security policies, saying that “the extraordinary measures […] have dealt severe blows to criminal structures,” a reference to a series of police and penitentiary measures implemented by the government this year in an attempt to tackle the country’s powerful street gangs.
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While the homicide rate indicates a statistical decrease in violence, El Salvador is still suffering from the ongoing low-level conflict between security forces and gangs, most notably the MS-13 and the two factions of the Barrio 18. In fact, there are signs that the conflict has recently intensified.
A recent police intelligence report said that the gangs are now specifically targeting members of the security forces in what appears to be a joint effort by the rival groups. This, along with concerns that the MS-13 attempted to create and deploy an elite unit aimed at attacking public and private institutions earlier this year, would suggest that both the gangs and security forces are carrying out increasingly coordinated campaigns against the other side.
El Salvador’s Security and Justice Minister Mauricio Ramírez Landaverde told La Prensa Gráfica that the authorities have yet to corroborate the police intelligence report detailing the gangs’ “war against the system.” Nonetheless, six police officers and one soldier have been killed in just the first nine days of November, a worrying indication that the gangs are indeed stepping up their attacks against the security forces.