Thursday, April 21, 2016

San Salvador, the most violent city in the world

In its March 30, 2016 survey of the world's most violent cities, the Economist reported that El Salvador now topped the charts, overtaking Honduras. San Salvador, the capital, is reportedly the most violent city with 188 murders per 100,000 people (San Salvador has a population of approximately 1.9 million.) It is estimated that there are 70,000 gang members in El Salvador, the most notorious are members of Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18, the two biggest gangs. They have been at war with each other for decades and the ending of a 15 month truce between the government and the gangs has led to the bloody escalation of violence.

Members of a Salvadoran new special force attend the official launching of their unit at the Armed ForcesThe gangs originated in Los Angeles. When El Salvador's civil war ended in 1992, thousands of illegal migrants were deported by the US back to their home country. They brought back the violent street culture that they had developed in California. Commentators note however that in financial and political terms these gangs are disorganized small fry compared to the mafia or the narco-cartels of Colombia and Mexico.

The government now has sought to respond with a new 1,000 strong special force equipped with helicopters, armored cars and assault weapons. They will target gang leaders in the cities and those who fled the cities for the countryside because of the government crack down. Some gang leaders run their operations from prison. Last month President Salvador Sanchez Ceren declared a state of emergency in seven prisons and transferred 299 high ranking gang members to other prisons. The government pressure has led gang leaders to call for negotiations but the government has refused.

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