The month of August 2015 has closed as the most violent since the end of the civil war in 1992. There were 911 homicides, a staggering number which exceeded the prior record of 670 set in June of this year, according to the Institute of Legal Medicine ("IML" for its initials in Spanish), which is a branch of El Salvador's Supreme Court.
The IML released a set of statistics today about the homicides in August. Here's what we know about those who died:
- There were 911 homicides. 565 more homicides than in August 2014. So many that the IML is running out of body bags.
- Victims were overwhelmingly male: 92.3%
- Victims were young 53.4% between ages 15-30, more than 76% younger than 40, more than 10% of the victims (93 deaths) were ages 15-17.
- Usually killed by firearms 84.7%
- The departments with the highest murder rates per 100,000 residents were Cuscatlan and Usulutan, while the department of San Salvador had the highest total number of murders with 311.
The president's communications secretary, Eugenio Chicas, asserted that 85% of those killed were members of gangs. Chicas' obvious purpose is to suggest that the country should be less concerned about the total because the victims are the bad guys. But the 85% figure simply can't be true. When you look at the daily news stories from El Salvador about that day's tally of murders, like this one or this one, you see that many of the victims are probably not gang members but are described as a fruit vendor, or an agricultural worker, a bus driver, or a seller of scrap metal. (It might, however, be the case that 85% of the homicides are related to gangs -- where either the perpetrator or the victim was a gang member or connected to a gang member somehow). The director of the IML cautioned that sufficient investigation had not been done to identify with any certainty which victims of violence had been gang members.
The Minister of Public Security said that the spike in homicides was due to an internal rivalry in he gangs and increased confrontations between police and gangs.
The Minister of Defense, David Munguía Payés, said that what was happening in the streets was a struggle for control of the gangs whose leaders were imprisoned.
A statistic we have not seen is how many of these violent deaths are subjects killed by police or the armed forces. (Someone with more time than I have might be able to try and tablulate all the daily news reports and get a general idea). Equally important, but unlikely to emerge, is the tally of vigilante death squad killings of suspected gang members.