El Salvador has witnessed nearly 100 gun fights between gangs and the country’s security forces since the start of year.
As reported by El Mundo last week, director of the country’s national police, Howard Cotto, said that the number of gun fights and the total number of people killed during the conflicts have both increased compared to the same period last year, when there were about two gun fights per day.
“We have seen three to four cases a day in the last two months,” Cotto said.
“Low-intensity civil war”
According to Insight Crime, with the number of conflicts between armed criminal groups and the security services similar to that of Colombia and Mexico, and the fact that the country has the highest homicide rate in the world, the situation in El Salvador “resembles a low-intensity civil war”.
The increased conflict between gangs and the country’s security forces has been attributed to the gangs’. Last year, for example, following the murder of policemen at the hands of gangs, La Prensa Grafica reported that authorities in El Salvador believed gangs in the country had received orders to kill members of the police force.
The article states the police obtained “specific information” from gang informants which pointed to “specific orders in a gang”. According to La Prensa Grafica, a police report stated that one of the objectives of the order was for “the police understand that the control is in the gang, and that they cannot kill gang members without retaliation”.
This week, AFP reported that the U.S. Treasury has in fact added two people in the country’s notorious MS-13 gang – Roberto Orellana and Romero García- to its sanctions blacklist, and is accusing them of organizing the murder of officials in El Salvador.
The acting director of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, John Smith, said in a press statement: “From leading local operations to orchestrating assassination campaigns for MS-13, Roberto Orellana and Romero García have sought to disrupt Salvadoran government efforts to combat MS-13 activity We will continue to undermine the reach and influence of MS-13 by constraining the financial resources of those who support it.”
However, it is not only the country’s gangs that have been accused of escalating El Salvador’s violence. Police and security services have also come under attack for their hard line approach to curbing endemic gang violence.
The circumstances surrounding the gun fight in Zaragoza, La Libertad, which left four people dead, have been criticized by a report in El Faro. Contrary to police reports claiming four gang members were killed during a shootout, two witnesses claim that the gang members had surrendered themselves. The witnesses also maintain that one of the men killed was not a gang member, and that he just happened to be in the house sleeping when the men being chased by police entered, looking for a place to escape.
Last November, an investigation carried out by El Diario de Hoy reported that 14 people had allegedly been killed by members of death squads claiming to be policemen, and that those targeted were not only gang members, but also teenagers who were not affiliated to any criminal group. The investigation also alleged that the Salvadoran authorities had, in the most part, failed to investigate the deaths.