El Salvador gets 'tough' amid worsening crime
President Mauricio Funes has appointed career military personnel to head the police and national security. Many fear a return to failed policies of the past, writes guest blogger Hanna Stone.
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His task, he added, would be to remove bottlenecks in the system, “to put the criminals where they should be, and take them off the streets.” If necessary, Munguia told El Faro, he is prepared to lock up an additional 10,000 gang members.Skip to next paragraph
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This is one of Munguia's many dangerous ideas. According to police figures (in Spanish), there are just under 18,000 gang members in the country, and another 10,000 already locked up. The addition of another 10,000, quite aside from its social consequences, would have a disastrous impact on the country’s overcrowded penal facilities.
For Munguia, though, gangs are not only the biggest security challenge in El Salvador, they are the only one. He claims that groups like the Mara Salvatrucha 13 (MS-13) and Barrio 18 are responsible for 90 percent of all murders. But this is far from clear. The government forensic institute (IML) says gangs are responsible for 10 percent all the murders; the police say they are responsible for 20 percent.
What's more, Munguia's approach ignores the presence of groups like the Perrones and the Texis Cartel, which organize much of the transport of drugs, weapons and migrants through the country, acting as go-betweens for larger groups based in Mexico and Colombia. And although the Salvadoran groups are far less violent then their counterparts in these countries, the fact remains that blaming El Salvador’s entire security crisis on gangs is not only inaccurate but means the government will not focus on tackling these other types of violence.
In the end, the military men at the helm of El Salvador’s security strategy do not seem to be bringing any innovative ideas with them. Instead, they are appealing to a well-rehearsed narrative in which wild gangs terrorize the country, and can only be tamed by ever-stronger shows of might and higher rates of incarceration, two policies that have already failed to give the results Funes says he wants.
–– Hannah Stone is a writer for Insight – Organized Crime in the Americas, which provides research, analysis, and investigation of the criminal world throughout the region. Find all of her research here.
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