By most measures, 2015 was a dismal year for El Salvador. The country’s economy, in tatters, continued to stall. Women’s reproductive health remained a focal point of government repression. Tens of thousands of Salvadorans, many of them children, fled north to escape insecurity and poor prospects for survival. Crime ran rampant, and violence surged. By year’s end, El Salvador’s murder rate had risen by 70 percent, making the tiny Central American country the most dangerous place in the world outside a war zone.
While official statistics have not yet been released, the best estimates put the final murder tallies well north of 6,000 people, or more than 100 citizens killed out of every 100,000. Who was murdering whom, for what reasons, and how, were hotly contested questions for government agencies and regional analysts. Though important on their own merits, these debates contributed noticeably little to broader considerations of the best remedies to El Salvador’s blossoming public security crisis. As 2015 drew to a close, there were no indications that the country’s spiraling violence would subside anytime soon.
New Year’s Day visited more violence and death across the country. The facts are still messy and subject to revision. But according to TeleSUR English,
A group of suspected hitmen armed with assault rifles stormed into two homes hosting New Year’s parties, killing five, including a five-year-old, in the city of San Miguel. The men, dressed in military fatigues, are said to be gang-involved.
The Associated Press reports that “at least 29 people were slain,” with “the worst attack [coming] when armed men in military-type raided an evening party of suspected gang members and killed six in the two of El Zapote…It followed a pre-dawn slaying of five people in Los Cerritos.” In addition, the national police announced that “they killed five presumed gang members in another clash.” Salvadoran media is reporting that thirty-five people were killed by the end of the day.
Salvadoran President Salvador Sánchez Cerén counseled patience. He promised that his government would continue “ensuring the safety and security of communities” and equipping the national police and armed forces with the resources necessary to stem the rising tide of violent crime across the country. Hollow words, to be sure. Despite initiating progress on other sociopolitical fronts, Sánchez Cerén’s record in the realm of security and confronting the country’s growing problem with gangs—which has come to fall largely under the umbrella of his El Salvador Seguro—has been singularly abysmal, as the past year unequivocally demonstrated. Still, the president seems confident. “We continue to vigorously and firmly implement El Salvador Seguro,” Sánchez Cerén announced.
That the president believes doubling down on failed approaches offers the best way forward suggests that El Salvador is in for another rough year ahead.
Michael Busch is Senior Editor at Warscapes. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelkbusch.