Rise in Murders Could Indicate Cracks in El Salvador Gang Truce

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The director of El Salvador’s National Forensic Institute (IML) announced that the number of murders had risen sharply in the first days of August, saying it was an indication that a truce between the country’s two main gangs was breaking down.

Miguel Fortin, director of the IML, told reporters that cracks in the truce were revealed by an analysis of the trends in the homicide rate, reported La Prensa Grafica.

According to the IML, there were 58 murders in the first week of August, an average of eight per day. By comparison, in July, the IML reported there were 181 murders, or nearly six per day. Nonetheless, even the higher rates in August are markedly lower than the 413 murders, or more than 13 per day, in January, two months before the truce

Minister of Security David Mungiua Payes admitted the rates for August thus far were “slightly higher” and said that most of the 45 crimes committed by August 6 were related to the gangs, as Prensa Grafica reported.

Fortin cited the recent murder of five students in central El Salvador as evidence that the truce was fracturing.

InSight Crime Analysis

The truce between El Salvador’s two largest gangs, the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18, was confirmed in March. The murder rate in the country dropped almost immediately, and remained some 60 percent lower for the following four months.

The National Police (PNC) have reported statistics which seem to corroborate the IML’s suggestion that homicides are on the rise this month. According to La Prensa Grafica, one deputy director of the PNC counted 32 murders in the first five days of August, seven fewer than the same period in 2011. There are contradictions in the El Salvadoran press as to the exact number, however: another deputy director told El Mundo that there had been 42 murders through August 5.

It is possible, however, that the week was an outlier in an otherwise peaceful few months, especially considering the gangs’ interest in maintaining the status quo. Their current relationship with the government is rumored to be garnering them important concessions: the government’s recent decision to scale back gang-busting operations came soon after gangs presented them with a list of demands.

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