Sunday, May 29, 2011

Three worthwhile articles on crime in El Salvador

Three recent articles offer insights into different aspects of the problem of violent crime in El Salvador. The first is a reflection written by the Rev. Brian Rude, titled Current Realities in Salvadoran Gang Cultures. Rude is a Lutheran pastor from Canada who has spent many years working with gang members and persons incarcerated in El Salvador's hellish prisons. His reflection on the Crispaz website, makes the point that we must get past the demonization of gang members and develop understanding of their lives and situations:

One could approach the current reality from a statistical perspective, though statistics are hard to come by, distressingly diverse, and often unreliable. How many gang members are there? The number of those in prison -- about 8,000, 1/3 of the total number of inmates in El Salvadoran prisons -- is perhaps the most reliable indicator here. More than double, or even triple, that number could be outside the prison walls. Harsher laws have led to greater mobility and flexibility on their part. They have largely abandoned their former passion for defending their "barrio" or neighborhoods. Their territory might now well be their clientele, rather than any particular geographical space.

A variant question might better be posed: how many potential gang members are living in Salvadoran barrios? What factors might affect whether or not young Salvadorans follow in the footsteps of their older siblings, their parents, their neighbours, who often serve as their models, even their heroes? As with those who have gone before, these potential recruits have few other options or opportunities to pursue. The reality which surrounds them easily draws them in.
One of the many troubling aspects of crime in El Salvador is the level of violence against women.  The scope of this problem is described in an article by Hannah Stone titled El Salvador Sees Epidemic of Violence Against Women which appeared on the website Insight:Organized Crime in the Americas.  She writes:
El Salvador has one of the highest murder rates in the world, with almost 70 per 100,000 people. This is mostly due to soaring gang violence, with the country an increasingly important transit location for drugs being trafficked into the U.S., and the local “maras” or gangs fighting over the business. Sexualized killings of women make up a relatively minor proportion of the many violent deaths -- of some 4,000 murders the police registered in 2010, 580 were identified as femicides.

What draws attention to the killings of women, and girls, is their brutality. The deputy head of the police force told the press recently that, while the victims of gang violence are as much men as women, the level of violence used against the women is higher. He said that the number of these attacks is rising “alarmingly.”

The reasons behind these killings are murky. El Salvador’s femicides have coincided with the growth of organized crime in recent years, but have outstripped even the booming murder rate. The country has seen a five-fold increase in femicides over the last decade, according to ORMUSA, while its murder rate has roughly doubled in the same period.
Most of the murders, of women or men, in El Salvador are commited with guns.   The Voices from El Salvador blog examines the easy accessibility of powerful weapons in the country in a post titled Gun Trafficking in El Salvador- Hard to Track, Harder to Stop.  As described in this post, there is a thriving black market in arms in the country, as well as several other channels by which guns end up in the hands of criminals:
El Salvador has an extensive and easily accessible black market where buyers can find firearms and explosives of all shapes, sizes and origins, with little interference from law enforcement. The black market is comprised of individual dealers who operate out of their homes, cars, or even the backrooms of local businesses. Most often, black market weapons come from international sources in the US or Europe and are trafficked through Mexico down to El Salvador, or they are stolen out of Salvadoran military or police arsenals. 
One of the biggest buyers of illegal weapons is El Salvador’s numerous security firms that protect private and government interests. Though they are legal entities, security firms prefer to purchase arms off the black market to avoid government scrutiny. Security companies have thrived over the years, making millions from Salvadorans who increasingly live in fear of being robbed or killed by the country’s notorious street gangs. These security firms also serve as a large source of weapons for thieves. In the past two years alone, more than 1,700 weapons have been reported missing by private security companies.
Follow the links to read the full text of these articles to gain a fuller understanding of a few of the dimensions of the violent crime plaguing El Salvador.

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