El Salvador reacts to rise in homicides

Officers from the National Civil Police’s (PNC) Police Reaction Group (GRP) recently patrolled the Salvadoran municipality of Quezaltepeque, north of San Salvador. The government introduced the Medusa Plan in response to the increase in homicides in recent months. (Francisco Campos for Infosurhoy.com)

Officers from the National Civil Police’s (PNC) Police Reaction Group (GRP) recently patrolled the Salvadoran municipality of Quezaltepeque, north of San Salvador. The government introduced the Medusa Plan in response to the increase in homicides in recent months. (Francisco Campos for Infosurhoy.com)

September 9th, 2013 – SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (ISH) – The Ministry of Justice and Public Safety’s (MJSP) Medusa Plan recently deployed a larger contingent of officers from the National Civil Police (PNC) and the Armed Forces of El Salvador (FAES) in 27 municipalities that reported the highest increases in homicides between June and August.

“We cannot provide exact figures for security reasons,” Security Minister Ricardo Perdomo said of the deployment that started on July 12. “What we can say to the public is that the people can have full confidence in the authorities because we have decided to tackle crime head-on.”

After a slight increase in homicides in May, when 170 were recorded – three more compared to May 2012 – a total of 185 were documented in June, 19 more than in June 2012.

The increase continued in July, when 225 homicides were recorded, well exceeding the 173 in the same month in 2012. During the first 22 days of August, 179 homicides were registered, 50 more than in August 2012.

The rise in homicides is due to the expansion of “Los Revolucionarios” (The Revolutionaries), a Barrio 18 gang subgroup that refused to sign the truce declared between gangs in March of last year. Los Revolucionarios is making inroads into the territories held by the Mara Salvatrucha, a rival gang, according to Perdomo.

“We’re going into the areas where Los Revolucionarios has been most persistent because they’re the ones carrying out this expansion plan, which has logically provoked violent actions and reactions,” Perdomo told reporters on July 13.

Adam Blackwell, the secretary for Multidimensional Security with the Organization of American States (OAS), said the rise in homicides should be seen as “bad days,” part of a truce process that still needs support.

“[The truce] is a process with many risks and it is sad to see this series of murders,” he said. “We have to find a way to bring the rate down.”

PNC Director Rigoberto Pleitez said the rise in homicides is understandable.

“I don’t believe that the truce has gotten out of control,” he recently told the press. “There are always increases, but we hope that … on normal days [when nothing extraordinary is happening] the homicide rate will decrease.”

Between January and August 22, 2013, a total of 1,450 homicides were registered nationwide, compared with 1,873 during the same period in 2012, which has led authorities to be optimistic.

Honduras has the region’s highest homicide rate at 85.5, followed by El Salvador (69.2), Guatemala (38.5), Mexico (22.7), Panama (18) and Costa Rica (11.3), according to the governments of those countries.

Marcos Portillo, a 30-year-old factory employee in the municipality of San Marcos in the metropolitan area of San Salvador where the Medusa Plan is underway, celebrated the increased presence of officers and soldiers in the streets.

“The truth is that you feel safer when you see officers and soldiers,” he said. “Of course, this should be permanent. You can’t trust the gangs. There’s no reason for these patrols to disappear.”

María de los Ángeles Martínez, a 29-year-old mother of three who lives in the municipality of Colón in the department of La Libertad, agrees with Portillo.

“You can’t have blind faith in gang members, which is why I think this decision to put more police on the streets is the best decision,” she added. “You can’t trust anyone and the officers should search and detain anyone who has tattoos or looks suspicious.”

Cinthya Arévalo, a 35-year-old secretary who lives in the municipality of Ayutuxtepeque in the metropolitan area of San Salvador, said that even though there’s a truce, a higher level of surveillance must continue.

“You can believe that the truce has taken effect and they’re not going to kill each other, but there are always people who will ignore it,” she added. “Therefore, given that you can’t trust them all, it makes perfect sense that the police are everywhere. This way, the gang members will go away.”

In the coming weeks, the Ministry of Justice and Public Security will convene a National Commission for Dialogue and Security to discuss ideas and propose a national security plan.

“The government’s view is that the gangs and their organizations will disappear over time and that their members who have committed crimes will be subject to the penalties established by law, and those who have not committed crimes can reintegrate themselves into society,” Perdomo said.

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