June Replaces May as Most Violent Month in El Salvador Since War

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El Salvador has once again registered the highest number of homicides since the end of the country’s civil war, raising doubts about the government’s short-term security strategy.

The Director of El Salvador’s Institute of Forensic Medicine (Instituto de Medicina Legal – IML), Miguel Fortin Magana, announced there were 677 homicides during the month of June, reported the Associated Press. The homicides in June slightly exceeded the 641 murders IML registered in May, which had previously been the most violent month since the end of El Salvador’s civil war in 1992. 

The first half of 2015 has produced 2,965 homicides in El Salvador, a 61 percent increase from the 1,840 murders recorded from January to June of 2014. Due to the increasing levels of violence, beginning next week the IML will be conducting autopsies 24 hours a day, according to El Salvador.com.

InSight Crime Analysis

The Salvador Sanchez Ceren administration has advocated a hardline policy towards the country’s gangs, and has repeatedly refused to entertain a revival of a truce between the two main factions, the Barrio 18 and the MS13. The truce significantly lowered homicides after it was signed in 2012, but began to break down in mid-2013 and was criticized for giving the gangs more political and social standing.

However, the government has also proposed the first ever gang rehabilitation law, and in January released an ambitious plan to reduce violence that focused on crime prevention efforts. 

The two-pronged approach that combines Mano Dura (“Iron Fist”) with so-called “soft” security strategies has yet to yield any significant results in the short term; the first year of the Sanchez Ceren presidency was reportedly El Salvador’s most violent 12-month stretch since the country’s civil war.

Seemingly ignoring results on the ground, a top member of Sanchez Ceren’s security cabinet said last month that there would be no changes to the government’s security policies, since the country is “headed in the right direction.”

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In order to determine which security policies are working and which are not, Salvadoran authorities must first clarify who is responsible for the killings. Government officials have blamed gang-on-gang violence for increased murder rates, but there are reasons to believe authorities are overstating the role this dynamic plays as part of the country’s overall violence levels.

In fact, it was Sanchez Ceren himself who recently said security forced engaged in shootouts with alleged gang members are responsible for a significant percentage of El Salvador’s homicides. A third layer of violence might also be vigilante in nature.

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