Gang Crackdown Sets Off Bloodiest Week in El Salvador’s History

Street gangs in El Salvador have retaliated against the government over alleged abuses.
Salvadoran street gangs have retaliated against the government over alleged abuses by the police. (El Nuevo Diario)

EspañolStreet gangs in El Salvador murdered 125 people in the span of three days, marking the bloodiest week in the history of the Central American nation.

Authorities say that the murders took place between August 16 and August 18, as a consequence of the war the Salvadoran government is waging against street gangs, such as Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18. By the end of the week on Friday, the number of homicides jumped to 220.

On August 24, following the burst of violence, the Salvadoran Supreme Court declared all gangs to be terrorist organizations, a game-changing decision that authorities claim will allow the government to deploy better tools to combat gang-related violence.

“El Salvador is on track to become the most violent country in the world. According to the number of murders in 2015, the homicide rate this year could reach 92 homicides per 100,000 people. That’s the highest in El Salvador’s history, and would be the highest in the world,” said Janeth Aguilar, director of the Institute of Public Opinion at José Simeón Cañas University.

According to the Salvadoran Forensic Institute, clashes between government forces and gang members have produced 3,603 casualties, an average of 14 murders per day, as of August 11.

“The surge in homicides is the consequence of gang radicalization. It is a retaliation against the government, which the gangs claim has killed, persecuted, and committed abuses against their members. It is the outcome of the state’s violent and arbitrary response,” Aguilar told the PanAm Post. 

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Under Salvadoran law, a terrorist is someone who triggers mass panic, “significantly attacks physical or legal assets,” or potentially damages “the democratic system, the security of the state, or international peace.”

Power Behind the Bars

Aguilar says Salvadoran authorities do acknowledge the increase in homicides, but they argue it is a result of the government’s fight against the gangs.

“Even though these people are criminals, the government should stick to the law. The dilemma is that jailing them is not a solution, because prisons are overcrowded. So when they are imprisoned, they tend to consolidate their power and continue to run their criminal activities from jail,” she said.

Before the Supreme Court ruled to designate street gangs as terrorists, members of Barrio 18 and Mara Salvatrucha brought the nation’s public-transportation system to a standstill for four days in July. Gang members attacked and killed nine drivers in protest of police brutality.

Translated by Adam Dubove.

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