EL SALVADOR: Gangs May Be Scapegoat for Soaring Murder Rate

  •  san salvador
  • Inter Press Service

This lack of agreement matters, because it prevents the implementation of effective measures against the deadly violence, according to civil society organisations.

According to the Institute of Legal Medicine (IML), whose forensic scientists have the job of removing the bodies from the crime scene, gangs may be responsible for about 10 percent of the killings, with another 18 percent committed by common criminals, and the rest by a range of other agents.

Among these may be drug traffickers, organised crime, rogue death squads, state security forces and domestic violence. But the security minister, General David Munguía, attributes 90 percent of violent deaths to the 'maras', while the National Civil Police (PNC) blames the gangs for 30 percent of the homicides.

'This shows that the country has no policy to produce (accurate and) unified statistics to give us a more objective view of the phenomenon,' Jeannette Aguilar, head of the Uni versity Institute for Public Opinion (IUDOP) at the catholic José Simeón Cañas Central American University (UCA), told IPS.

IML's official report for 2011 states that a total of 4,374 murders were committed in El Salvador last year, equivalent to a homicide rate of 70 per 100,000 population, one of the highest in the world according to several international studies. Eighty-five percent of the murder victims were male, and 83 percent of the crimes were committed in the central department (province) of San Salvador, where the capital city is located, the IML report says.

Media coverage of the situation of skyrocketing public insecurity creates the perception that the 'maras' are behind the majority of the killings. The PNC, IML and the Attorney General's Office which directs criminal investigations set up a tripartite board intended to reach consensus on the statistics, but there are frequent spats when one or another body refuses to accept the figures agreed by the board.

Discrepancies between the statistics include the most basic of all: the body count. The PNC reports 4,354 murders last year, 20 fewer than the IML. 'There should at least be basic agreement about the number of homicides, but we don't even have that,' said UCA's Aguilar. El Salvador, together with Honduras and Guatemala, face an acute and serious crime problem caused by 'mara' activities. In El Salvador alone, with its 6.6 million people, some 29,000 youngsters have been recruited as 'mara' members, according to police calculations. The largest gangs are Mara Salvatrucha (MS- 13), and Mara 18, police say.

© Inter Press Service (2012) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service