The online periodical El Faro reports this week that El Salvador's police authorities believe they are seeing the start of an improvement in El Salvador's tragically high murder rate. According to the report, July 2010, with 9.4 homicides per day, had the lowest monthly daily average recorded since the 8.5 murders per day in December 2008, the last time the homcide figure was below double digits. In the first two weeks of August 2010, according to police sources cited by El Faro, the average increased to 10.1 homicides, but the numbers were down between 6% and 40% over August 2009 in five departments: San Vicente, Santa Ana, Usulután, San Salvador and Sonsonate.
July marked a turning point in the fight against the killings, believes the Minister of Justice and Public Safety, Manuel Melgar, who was cautious in forecasting whether or not this marks a trend for the crime rate. 'We have noticed a decrease in killings and are working to make this a trend. You have to see how it behaves (this phenomenon) in the coming days ... I am no fortune teller to know how it will behave, "he said.
El Salvador's security officials believe the improvements are the product of changes they began to make in March of this year, with a greater effort at recovering at risk communities, more police availability, more arrests, as well as the presence of the armed forces in various areas of the country. Melgar also pointed to greater cooperation among various governmental institutions including the Attorney General, the PNC, the Bureau of Prisons, the immigration authority, and the armed forces, who are now working from a single policy.
While the murder rate may be starting to trend down, violence in El Salvador can still shock the country. The BBC News quotes San Salvador's archbishop after a particularly gruesome murder:
The Catholic Church in El Salvador has asked the authorities to step up their fight against a spate of violent murders in the country. Archbishop of San Salvador Jose Luis Escobar Alas said he thought the security forces were well-meaning, but needed to do more.
He was speaking four days after a six-year old girl was found decapitated. Monsignor Escobar Alas said her murder was a symbol of how barbaric things had become in the Central American nation.
"A girl of six, murdered on her way to school, how can that be?", he asked.
He said he had held a meeting with the security forces after the murder and thought they deserved the trust of the Salvadoran people. But, he said, they needed to do more to "purge the bad elements in the police, the armed forces and the prison system".
The same day that the archbishop spoke, a father with his two daughters were massacred in El Divisadero, a village located about 18 kilometers (some 11 miles) south of San Salvador, by at least five men who burst into the family’s dwelling.
It is too early to tell whether El Salvador has turned the corner on violent crime and murder. And even if the statistics are improving, there is a long, long way to go. We can all hope and pray that this is a trend, and not a statistical fluke. We can all say "NO to violence, YES to Life."