Some thoughtful comments appeared in the International Herald Tribune today about the need for the international community to help El Salvador and other Central American countries address the root causes of gang violence. A different approach is needed other than "firm hand" law enforcement policies:
Both El Salvador and Honduras recently introduced new draconian measures - known as "mano dura," or "firm hand," policies - that severely crack down on the gangs. These campaigns have only distracted attention and resources from the fight against the underlying ills that feed the gangs in the first place: dysfunctional politics, rampant corruption, the drug trade, poverty and overpopulation.
Central American governments have also used their highly publicized crackdowns on gangs to avoid action on another urgent priority: strengthening local democratic institutions. Since the end of the Central American civil wars in the early 1990s, judicial, legislative, and social reforms have stalled amid partisan infighting, and local politics remains split along the same left-right fault lines that caused bloodshed two decades ago. To get out of this quagmire - and gain traction against the gangs - Central America needs to look in the mirror and address its underlying ills. The international community should help it in this effort.