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El Salvador Takes ‘Extraordinary Measures’ to Tackle Gang Violence

LADB Article ID: 79988
Category/Department: El Salvador
Date: 2016-05-26
By: Benjamin Witte-Lebhar

The government of El Salvador is hailing a recent decline in murder numbers as evidence that its gloves-off crackdown on criminal street gangs, known locally as “maras” or “pandillas,” is working. But others say the maras themselves are responsible for the homicide dip, and worry that without better safeguards in place, authorities could end up exacerbating the tiny country’s massive security problem. An explosion of violence resulted in more than 6,600 killings last year, pushing El Salvador’s per capita murder rate to nearly 104 per 100,000 inhabitants, presumably the highest of any country in the world not technically involved in an armed conflict (NotiCen, Jan. 21, 2016). The terrible tally—a post-civil war (1980-1992) milestone for the troubled nation—marked a 70% increase over the 2014 total of 3,912 homicides, itself a staggering number for a country of just 6.4 million people. By way of comparison, New York City, with a larger population than El Salvador, had fewer than 350 murders in 2015. The killings have continued apace so far this year, with 2,460 murders as of May 9, the Policía Nacional Civil (PNC) reported. If the current rate (19 per day, on average) holds up, El Salvador could finish 2016 with an even longer list of victims than it had last year.

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