Nearly 70 percent of murder victims in El Salvador have no connection to gangs, according to a new police study, undermining the official narrative that skyrocketing violence in the country principally affects the criminals themselves.
Homicide statistics recorded by the police show that of the 8,150 murder victims in El Salvador from the start of 2014 to mid-September 2015, only 32 percent had established links to gangs such as the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and Barrio 18, reported El Diario de Hoy.
Over 80 percent of the murders were carried out with firearms and nearly 54 percent took place in rural areas. The motives behind the killings remain a mystery in over 97 percent of cases, but among those that are known, confrontations between gangs and police, which led to 197 murders, and robberies, which led to 185, are the most common reasons, according to El Diario de Hoy.
Of the murders recorded in the report, 4,599 took place in 2015, equal to nearly 18 murders per day.
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Violence in El Salvador has spiralled out of control in 2015, and the country has seen killings on a scale not witnessed since the end of its civil war in 1992.
The conventional narrative is that behind this violence is gang hostilities renewed since the collapse of the truce between the MS13 and Barrio 18 that was in place between 2012 and 2014. However, the new figures show violence patterns to be more complex than simple warfare between rival gangs and the state — although it should be noted, the figures offer little clarity on how many murders gang members carried out.
The figures from the new report directly contradict previous statements made by the Salvadoran police, which earlier this year claimed that the majority of murder victims and perpetrators are connected to gangs.
Dismissing murder victims as criminals can be a rhetorical tactic used by authorities to downplay the gravity of the situation by claiming violence does not affect ordinary people.
However, as these new figures suggest, this is rarely the case. The civilian population can get caught up in criminal violence for numerous reasons, such as being targeted for extortion or being labelled as “enemy collaborators.”