{"code":"24664","sect":"El Salvador","sect_slug":"el-salvador","hits":"819","link":"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/en\/202007\/el_salvador\/24664","link_edit":"","name":"Crisis Group Dissects El Salvador\u2019s Historic Dip in Homicides","slug":"crisis-group-dissects-el-salvador-rsquo-s-historic-dip-in-homicides","info":"The reasons for the broad reduction in homicides across El Salvador during Nayib Bukele\u2019s first year in office are \u201ccomplex and often unclear,\u201d summarized the International Crisis Group in a security policy analysis, arguing that the drop is likely not attributable to Bukele\u2019s flagship security plan, as the president has claimed. To sustain the decline, though, the researchers argued that the administration should push socioeconomic, prison, and policing reforms it believes will open up the politically fraught path to disarmament and reintegration with El Salvador\u2019s gangs. But with a pivotal national election season approaching, Bukele has leaned instead on mano dura, or iron-fist, rhetoric and policies that play well with the electorate but have fueled hardline anti-gang measures for decades.","mtag":"Gangs","noun":{"html":"\u003Cspan class='tint-text--dark' data_href='\/user\/profile\/rgressier'\u003E Roman Gressier\u003C\/span\u003E","data":{"roman-gressier":{"sort":"rgressier","slug":"roman-gressier","path":"roman_gressier","name":"Roman Gressier","edge":"0","init":"0"}}},"view":"819","pict":{"cms-image-000034143-png":{"feat":"1","sort":"34143","name":"cms-image-000034143.png","link":"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/images\/cms-image-000034143.png","path":"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/images\/cms-image-000034143.png","back":"","slug":"cms-image-000034143-png","text":"<p dir=\"ltr\">Source: Crisis Group Latin America Report N\u00b081, 8 July 2020<\/p>","capt":"\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003ESource: Crisis Group Latin America Report N\u00b081, 8 July 2020\u003C\/p\u003E"}},"pict_main__sort":34143,"date":{"live":"2020\/07\/24"},"data_post_dateLive_YY":"2020","data_post_dateLive_MM":"07","data_post_dateLive_DD":"24","text":"\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EPresident Nayib Bukele and senior administration officials have made repeated claims\u2014some \u003Ca href=\"https:\/\/twitter.com\/nayibbukele\/status\/1267339447391137793\"\u003Ethinly-veiled\u003C\/a\u003E and others \u003Ca href=\"https:\/\/www.youtube.com\/watch?v=QGBAf289GoA\"\u003Eexplicit\u003C\/a\u003E\u2014that the 60 percent reduction in annual homicides across El Salvador in the administration\u2019s first year is directly attributable to the Territorial Control Plan (PCT), the pricey cornerstone of Bukele\u2019s domestic policy agenda. To the president\u2019s allies, his signature plan has become a rallying cry of violence reduction; to skeptics, it has come to embody a grab for executive power and a blow to the pillars of institutionality.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EA report from the International Crisis Group, a Belgium-based think tank, attributed the downward trend to quiet, informal understandings between the state and the gangs, rather than the president\u2019s security plan. Crisis Group\u2019s analysis comes within a year of the 2021 legislative and municipal elections in which Bukele hopes to consolidate a political coalition and at a moment when Bukele has employed deeply popular, hardline anti-gang rhetoric in public while endorsing a more measured, and at times conciliatory, approach in private. To sustain the downward trend, Crisis Group recommends authorities address the causes of gang violence through a dual track: moving away from hardline mano dura policies and rhetoric while supporting the social and economic reintegration of gang members; and implementing modest prison and policing reforms while equipping police with stronger investigative technology to lower impunity\u2014moves that, they argue, will foster increased procedural justice.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EBut from now until the February 2021 elections, Bukele\u2019s public-facing mano dura rhetoric will likely continue to differ from the administration\u2019s internal security policy deliberations, according to Tiziano Breda, co-author of the report and Central America analyst for Crisis Group. \u201cBukele could be in the position over the next year to change tack, but it\u2019s surely unlikely to think that these abrupt changes in the framing of the security issue, and the implementation of some reforms, could happen in the very short term,\u201d he told me.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003E\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u003Cstrong\u003EMurky Causality\u003C\/strong\u003E\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EExperts generally agree that overall levels of violence\u2014with homicides the chief barometer\u2014are closely associated with gangs, whether from internecine gang fighting, gang violence against civilians, gang violence toward security forces, or security force violence against actual or suspected gang members. When experts refer to gangs in El Salvador, they are generally referring to three broad, historically rivaling gangs with a diversity of interests and motivations: the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13; and the two factions of Barrio 18, the Sure\u00f1os and Revolucionarios.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EAccording to figures from the National Civil Police (PNC), homicides have fallen starkly under Bukele\u2019s tenure, but in keeping with a longstanding downward trend since the 2014\u201319 administration of president Salvador S\u00e1nchez Cer\u00e9n. In 2015, El Salvador registered a staggering 103 homicides per 100,000 residents, overtaking Honduras as the most deadly country in the world among those not officially at war. By the close of the S\u00e1nchez Cer\u00e9n administration at the end of May 2019, though, that rate had fallen to 51 per 100,000\u2014or 9.2 total homicides per day, according to independent journalist Roberto Valencia, based on PNC figures.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EBy the end of May 2020, PNC figures showed that the country had registered the lowest daily homicide rate\u20144.3 per 100,000\u2014in the first year of the past four administrations, including those of S\u00e1nchez Cer\u00e9n, Mauricio Funes, and Antonio Saca. Police also reported 64 homicides this May, the lowest recorded monthly total since the end of the civil war in 1992\u2014not, as Bukele had claimed, for the entirety of Salvadoran history, during which there was shoddy data collection for large periods of time.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EWhile it is true that homicides have declined in the past year, it is unclear to what extent the administration\u2019s security agenda is responsible, according to Luis Enrique Amaya, a Salvadoran international consultant and public safety researcher. He listed three dominant hypotheses about the decline, but argued that it isn\u2019t yet clear which is closest to the truth:\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp style=\"padding-left: 30px;\" dir=\"ltr\"\u003EFirst, it was said, primarily by the administration, that it was attributable to Nayib Bukele\u2019s Territorial Control Plan. Second, it was said that it was not a result of the plan, but rather a pact between the administration and the gangs. Third, it was said that it wasn\u2019t a pact between the administration and gangs, but rather the gangs\u2019 unilateral decision as a show of good faith, a holding pattern, without direct negotiation with the administration [...], to make room for the administration to work and later be able to negotiate something that is still unknown to us based on that expression of good faith.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EThe PCT, a multiphase proposal which the administration indicated would cost $575 million over three fiscal years, received significant scrutiny from the Legislative Assembly due to lack of clarity on proposed expenditures and questions of corruption in the procurement of outside contracts, prompting parliamentary leaders to announce that they wouldn\u2019t take up the third phase for a vote until additional clarity was provided. Under the PCT Bukele has so far deployed the armed forces in roles traditionally reserved for the civilian police force and claimed to have cut off communication between gangs outside and inside of prison. Historically, gangs\u2019 leadership have directed their organizations from inside prison.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EThen, on February 9, Bukele led a militarized standoff with the Legislative Assembly in an attempt to coerce the deputies into approving the third phase, which would largely finance security equipment acquisitions. Shortly after, Bukele instituted a preemptive nationwide stay-at-home order beginning March 14 as the pandemic spread to the region. The third phase of the plan itself fell into limbo, but Bukele\u2019s claims that his security policy has brought down the homicide rate continue unabated.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u201cIn reality, they haven\u2019t carried out a rigorous evaluation,\u201d said Amaya of the administration\u2019s statements on the PCT. \u201cRather, they\u2019re expressing preconceived, ideological positions rather than the results of a technically sound and serious evaluation.\u201d\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EIn its report, Crisis Group coincided with Amaya in that the reduction is not definitively attributable to the administration\u2019s security policy, but more explicitly proposed an alternate theory.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u201cThe collapsing homicide rate may stem not only from the government\u2019s public security policies, but also from the gangs\u2019 own decision to curb bloodshed, possibly due to a fragile non-aggression deal with authorities,\u201d wrote Crisis Group. \u201cStatistical studies show that the Territorial Control Plan is most likely not the sole cause; specific local falls in murder rates do not correspond precisely to those areas where the plan has been implemented. Instead, in large part, gangs appear to have themselves decided to scale back their use of lethal violence,\u201d the researchers wrote.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EIn its own analysis, Crisis Group found no significant difference between the decline in homicides in the 22 municipalities prioritized under the PCT and its control group of like municipalities.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\t\t\u003Cfigure class=\"pict pict_land pict_move_posc 0 cs_img cs_img--curr rule--ss_c\" data-shot=\"pict\" data-hint=\"pict\"\u003E\u003Cdiv class=\"pict__pobj text-overflow\"\u003E\u003Cimg src=\"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/get_img?ImageWidth=760&ImageHeight=394&ImageId=34143\" class=\"pobj\" style=\"max-width: 100%\" rel=\"resizable\" alt=\"Source: Crisis Group Latin America Report N\u00b081, 8 July 2020\" \/\u003E\u003C\/div\u003E\u003Cdiv class=\"pict__line block edge--ss_lax edge--ss_rax padd--ss_l0x padd--ss_r0x line--ss_s0b lineh rule--ss_c\"\u003E\u003Cspan class=\"block-inline full-width align-middle lineh__rect tint-back--nake\"\u003E\u003Cspan\u003E\u00a0\u003C\/span\u003E\u003C\/span\u003E\u003C\/div\u003E\u003Cfigcaption class=\"pict__text cs_img_caption folk_content typo_buttons line--ss_s0c line--ss_s0c--auto block full-width text-overflow rule--ss_l relative\"\u003E\u003Cdiv class=\"__content block-inline full-width align-top tint-text--idle relative\"\u003ESource: Crisis Group Latin America Report N\u00b081, 8 July 2020\u003C\/div\u003E\u003C\/figcaption\u003E\u003C\/figure\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003ECrisis Group listed other factors that it argues belie the administration\u2019s cut-and-dry analysis. \u201cUnassailable control over communities, declining gang rivalry and increasingly autonomous gang leadership outside jails may explain this decision more than the Territorial Control Plan,\u201d the researchers postulated.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u003Cstrong\u003EUnilateral Movements or Signs of a Pact?\u003C\/strong\u003E\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EWhile experts tend to agree that the gangs wield considerable sway over El Salvador\u2019s politically influential homicide rate, historical evidence suggests the gangs sometimes cut back on violence due to their own internal deliberations. In 2016, for example, the gangs unilaterally negotiated a ceasefire to avoid extraordinary measures from the administration of president Salvador S\u00e1nchez Cer\u00e9n.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u201cThe available data indicates that, regardless of what motivates a truce, major reductions in homicides have been associated with the gangs\u2019 decision to keep the rates low. In other words, past experience shows that government policies reduce murder rates only when they can change the gangs\u2019 own calculations,\u201d wrote Crisis Group.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003ECrisis Group also noted important, potentially unilateral, moves within the administration to implement a policy of d\u00e9tente toward the gangs, even as Bukele publicly called for a harsh police and prison crackdown after a five-day spike in murders at the end of April.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EA commissioner within the National Civil Police (PNC), for example, told Crisis Group of an informal non-aggression order authorized by Bukele to rein in their fighting with the gangs. \u201cThis testimony was also substantiated by the figures that we received through the Unit for Access to Public Information of the police, through which they shared with us the latest figures on clashes between security forces and gangs and related deaths, which if not as stark as the overall drops in homicides, also showed that there was a real downward trend in clashes between security forces and gangs and related deaths in these clashes,\u201d Breda said.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EEven as Bukele has publicly lambasted the gangs and the opposition parties Arena and FMLN for their past dealings with gangs, including the negotiation of votes in the 2009 and 2014 national elections, he has summarily shrugged off evidence of his own past negotiations. For example, El Faro published \u003Ca href=\"\/es\/202007\/el_salvador\/24612\/Nueva-informaci%C3%B3n-de-la-reuni%C3%B3n-entre-Mario-Dur%C3%A1n-y-Renuente-de-la-MS-13.htm\"\u003Ephoto and audio evidence\u003C\/a\u003E last week that his current minister of government, Mario Dur\u00e1n, had served as a liaison in a 2015 meeting with senior leaders of MS-13 during Bukele\u2019s tenure as mayor of San Salvador. And it\u2019s not the first time that accusations surface of a prominent Salvadoran politician denying having maintained covert backchannels with gang leadership. The last sustained, major dip in homicides occurred from March 2012 to June the next year, after the administration of then-president Mauricio Funes had negotiated a reduction in homicides despite months of public denials.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EAmaya asserts that, with the current evidence, it is unclear whether Bukele is currently covertly negotiating with gangs. He says, though, that negotiations with gang members are simply an unpalatable reality of politics, particularly on a local level where gangs often exert more control than the state.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u201cDialogue with the gangs is a fact. I\u2019m not saying whether it should be done. But to me, the first thing we must accept is that, like it or not, and beyond whether it should happen, it does happen, and sometimes by necessity. Some municipalities implement social development projects that require dialogue with the gangs for the entry of certain services and development initiatives,\u201d said Amaya. \u201cThe question is the content of the dialogue and what the method is. That is, not only the technique of the communication but also the transparency,\u201d he continued.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u003Cstrong\u003EA Fork in the Road\u003C\/strong\u003E\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003ESalvadoran administrations over the past two decades have shown varying degrees of interest in broaching what they see as the root social and economic causes of gang violence in El Salvador. During the gang truce under the Funes administration, for example, there was considerable public discourse about reintegration of gang members into educational and economic activities. But as the 2012 gang truce became increasingly unpopular in public opinion and the Funes administration began to replace its early negotiators, \u003Ca href=\"\/es\/201504\/opinion\/16835\/Obituario-de-la-Tregua.htm\"\u003Ecracks began to form\u003C\/a\u003E in the coalitions of non-governmental organizations, academics, human rights groups, and suppliers of international aid who had initially called for reintegration.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EOther preventative and rehabilitative efforts of past administrations, including proposals for state-funded soccer camps, vocational training and scholarships, and community-based anti-violence centers known as \u201ccubes\u201d didn\u2019t have the desired impact, due in part to lack of funding. They also cite the discrimination former gang members experience in educational institutions and labor markets and the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has particularly harmed the roughly 70 percent of the Salvador population that works in the informal economy. In that context, they argue the administration should prioritize public-private partnerships through the Unit for the Reconstruction of the Social Fabric to invest in education, health, and employment in localities outside of major city centers with long histories of state abandonment.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003ECrisis Group also argued that the administration should \u201cbe more cautious about harsh confinement measures in jails,\u201d in part a reference to Bukele\u2019s hardline rhetoric about the use of force by the police and military and a prison crackdown against gangs at the beginning of May. The researchers also point to high levels of overcrowding, the absence of sanitary measures amid COOVID-19, and lack of sunlight.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EPrison policy has been at the heart of mano dura politics for two decades. When asked about whether these incremental reforms go far enough in shifting course, Breda responded: \u201cFocusing on confinement in jails and expanding pre-existing programs previously not applied to gang members to rehabilitate and reintegrate them once they\u2019re out could trigger a positive cycle of prevention of recruitment, lower gang membership levels, and try to provide a longer-term solution that so far has been absent from government policies\u2014not only under Bukele but also under the previous administrations.\u201d\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EThe researchers also argued that the PNC should focus on increasing its investigative capabilities through the acquisition of enhanced technology and expanding their use of wiretaps in conjunction with the Attorney General\u2019s Office. This, they believe, will allow the PNC to close more cases and thereby reduce the levels of impunity due to unsolved cases.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u201cThe buildup and improvement of the investigative capacity of the police could also force an effect in terms of the way in which the police operate and the impunity levels...which we believe are tied to the levels of violence,\u201d Breda said. \u201cBut of course, in the specific case of drones or cameras, like anywhere else in the world, the issue of strict regulation and accountability for the misuse of these tools would be crucial in terms of containing or limiting the possible boomerang effect that this could have on civil liberties.\u201d\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EBukele has \u003Ca href=\"\/en\/202003\/el_salvador\/24115\/Bukele%E2%80%99s-International-Credit-Line-The-Next-Step-toward-Militarizing-Public-Safety.htm\"\u003Eproposed the acquisition of surveillance-related and other equipment through the PCT\u003C\/a\u003E. Meanwhile, El Salvador signed agreements with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2019 that would grant the department access to sensitive information about Salvadoran nationals, from biographical information to biometrics such as iris scans, fingerprints, and facial identification, El Faro reported.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u201cIf you ask who needs more technology, who will say they don\u2019t? Of course the police have a need\u2014not only for more, but better technology,\u201d quipped Amaya, who has extensive knowledge of the inner workings of the PNC. \u201cBut the question is: for what purpose?\u201d\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003ECrisis Group\u2019s full report can be accessed \u003Ca href=\"https:\/\/www.crisisgroup.org\/latin-america-caribbean\/central-america\/el-salvador\/81-miracle-or-mirage-gangs-and-plunging-violence-el-salvador\"\u003Eon its website\u003C\/a\u003E.\u003C\/p\u003E"}