Surge in Disappearances Reflects Gang Violence in El Salvador

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El Salvador saw a huge number of disappearances in 2011, with capital San Salvador alone registering more than 2,000 missing people, in a sign of growing gang violence.

In the capital, some 2,007 people were registered as missing with the government forensics office (IML) between January 1 and December 19, 2011, reports El Diario de Hoy.

Miguel Velasquez, an official at the IML, told the newspaper that local gangs, or “maras,” were likely involved in three-quarters of the cases.

Young people, aged 15-35, are far more likely to go missing than any other age group, representing up to 60 percent of cases, while about three-quarters of the victims are men.

InSight Crime’s Analysis

The figure of more than 2,000 missing would represent an enormous leap in cases in the last few years, as according to figures quoted in the press the police received only in the region of 1,200 reports of disappearances in the two-year period of 2007-08.

If the vast majority of those missing are now dead, as El Diario de Hoy reports, then this would increase the country’s murder rate, which stood at 65 per 100,000 in 2011, by one-third. This would bring it into line with neighboring Honduras, which has a rate of over 80 per 100,000 — the highest in the world.

Much of these murders, and the disappearances, are due to clashes between gangs, often related to fights over territory, as El Faro documented in a recent photo essay. The fact that these gangs are apparently often choosing to hide their victims’ bodies rather than leaving them on display, as is often seen in mass killings in Mexico, suggests that they are more concerned to conceal their crime and avoid punishment than to make a public point and spread fear.

The most prominent street gangs in El Salvador are the Mara Salvatrucha 13 (MS-13) and Barrio 18.

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