The figures are striking: 2,594 murders in El Salvador, with a daily average murder rate of 7.11 in 2012. Since the announcement of a peace agreement between the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang and Barrio 18 gangs, the murder rate has fallen slightly to 2,492 murders in 2013, only to rise once again. In December 2013, the number of murders rose to 208 compared to 168 murders in 2012.

What are some of the reasons behind this gang violence in El Salvador? After having a notoriously high murder rate in recent years, the government of El Salvador started a risky peace agreement after years of repressive anti-gang policies. The truce brokered by the government not only promised a halt in recruiting youth from schools but also promised to establish a “peace zone” within 11 municipalities in the country.

Many people have questioned the efficacy of the peace agreement, claiming that by not cracking down on the gangs they are only going to come back stronger. Furthermore, the gangs have stated that if the peace agreement fails they would begin to kill more people. This kind of pressure from the gangs against the government has only served to fuel more resentment from the public who fear the new negotiating power of the gangs.

The peace deal is also facing opposition from both sides of the political spectrum. President-elect Salvador Sanchez Cerén purposefully remained silent on the truce during the presidential elections for fear that promoting it would weaken his support-base. His opponent in the elections, Norman Quijano of the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), had stated he would dismantle the agreement if he won the presidency.

Amidst this surge in crime, Church leaders in El Salvador have called on the government to renew the gang truce. Catholic Bishop Fabio Colindres has stated his desire for action on behalf of Church officials in calling for a new peace deal.

– Jeff Meyer

Sources: The Economist (1), The Economist (2), Federation of American Scientists

2014 Presidential Election in El Salvador
The recent Presidential election in El Salvador failed to draw in enough votes to avoid a runoff election in March. There were two main contenders in El Salvador: Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the left-leaning Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) and Norman Quijano of the right-leaning Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA.)

Sánchez Ceren won 48.9 percent of the vote, just shy of the 50 percent mark needed to avoid another election. On the other hand, Quijano won 38.95 percent of the vote. A distant third candidate, former President Antonio Saca, won only 11.4 percent support.

The FMLN formed following the end of the El Salvadorian civil war in 1992 and first gained power in 2009. The FMLN has been popular because of its welfare policies, including free school supplies and pensions. Quijano and ARENA promise to increase security by deploying the army to fight the gangs wreaking havoc in the region.

El Salvador remains impoverished and crime-ridden, with remittances from the United States totaling about 20 percent of its gross domestic product.  Sánchez Ceren says he will fight to increase economic growth by introducing tax incentives to increase investment in important areas such as energy and to improve the country’s hard infrastructure to increase the ease of transportation for goods such as ports.

Sánchez Ceren has also said he would seek to join Venezuela’s Petrocaribe oil bloc, which gives allies, mostly other leftist countries, with cheap energy. This Salvadoran reliance upon Venezuelan oil will create a bigger economic and political tie with the left-wing country; it may also increase further cooperation across other areas.

Both candidates come from very different backgrounds: Sánchez Ceren is a former guerilla commander and current Vice President who has promised to expand welfare programs and benefits. Quijano is the former mayor of San Salvador and has been critical of the wary truce between gangs achieved under the administration of current President Mauricio Funes of the FMLN.

– Jeff Meyer

Sources: The New York Times, Reuters, Aljazeera
Photo: El Tiempo Latino