El Salvador Families Displaced by Gangs

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Three families from Soyapango, a municipality on the edge of El Salvador’s capital, San Salvador, have been forced from their homes by gangs, in another indication of the challenges of maintaining the 15-month old gang truce in that country.

Some residents of Soyapango’s Jardines de Monte Blanco neighborhood were threatened by gangs for refusing to provide access to the neighborhood for the storage of illicit goods; another woman was given 24 hours to leave because her daughters had friends in a neighborhood controlled by a rival gang, reported La Prensa Grafica.

The families were displaced over the course of 15 days, with gang members apparently telling them to hand over their keys before leaving. However, police did not verify the accounts.

The two areas of the neighborhood most affected by gang violence are those used as corridors by members of the rival Barrio 18 and Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gangs, say residents. Security conditions in the neighborhood — where La Prensa Grafica says police presence is minimal — also forced 18 students to leave school in the fall, and a shootout earlier in June led to the injury of one girl. 

InSight Crime Analysis

Displacement by gangs is not a new phenomenon in El Salvador, but the complexity and hushed nature of the gang-related cases have made the level of displacement unmeasurable, as reported in an InSight Crime special investigation in 2012. Gang motives for pushing residents out include territorial expansion, extortion and micro-trafficking, a phenomenon similar to that seen in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

In Soyapango, residents were displaced from the El Guaje neighborhood in 2010 as gangs sought control over recreational space which served as a place for them to congregate.

The difference between then and now is the gang truce, brokered by the government and the Catholic Church in spring 2012, in which the Barrio 18 and the MS-13 pledged to end violence and extortion. Though homicides dropped sharply following the truce, reports of rising extortion and disappearances have raised questions about the sustainability of the truce and whether the gangs are truly making good on their promises.

The latest report of displacements provides a further indication of the troubles keeping a lid on gang violence, while the government, the international community and non-governmental organizations try to implement the next phase of the truce, namely social, educational and vocational programs.

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