US Hopes to Replicate Salvador Gang Policies in Honduras, Guatemala

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    US Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield said that El Salvador’s anti-gang policies are the most successful currently in place, and that he hopes they will be exported to Guatemala and Honduras.

    In a video conference held from Washington, the assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement discussed his plans for his trip to the region, which begins in two weeks.

    Brownfield praised El Salvador’s effective anti-gang policies, and said his “vision” was to try to replicate the success of these programs in its neighbors in the “Northern Triangle,” reports La Prensa Grafica.

    Brownfield also said that he recognized the wish of leaders in the region for action not words in the fight against crime. Regarding Guatemala, he said that on his visit he planned to discuss setting up more model police stations, such as those in Mixco and Villa Nueva. For Honduras, he said the US would provide more helicopters.

    InSight Crime Analysis

    In 2003, El Salvador rolled out a new hardline policy against street gangs, known as the Plan Mano Dura (the Iron Fist Plan), followed in 2004 by the Plan Super Mano Dura. Both focused on repressive measures against gangs like the Mara Salvatrucha 13 (MS-13) and Barrio 18, criminalizing gang membership and locking up thousands of young people.

    It’s not clear what metric Brownfield is using to judge the success of these polices, as the iron fist approach seriously backfired in terms of reducing violence and cutting crime. The gangs, which had previously been loosely knit, locally-based groups, were forced together in prison, and formed stronger and more hierarchical leadership structures. They fought back against the police crackdown by becoming better armed and expanding their extortion networks. Since the plan began, El Salvador’s murder rate has almost doubled, from 36 to 70 per 100,000.

    Similar policies have been followed in Honduras and Guatemala. Guatemala’s new President Otto Perez ran his campaign last year on the promise of bringing an iron fist approach to crime.

    El Salvador is currently working on new anti-gang measures, including the development of a specialized unit of the police. InSight Crime has warned that the rhetoric used by Security Minister David Munguia Payes makes it sound like these could be a return to the failed iron fist policies.

    However, a recent report from El Faro that the government may have made a deal with gang leaders, granting them concessions in exchange for lowering violence, suggest that El Salvador could be taking a different approach.

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