The fight against organised crime: success and failure in El Salvador

Feb 22, 2024 | Institutional geopolitics, Publications |

Érika Rodríguez Pinzón and Thiago Rodrigues.

Latin America and the Caribbean is a region characterised by high levels of insecurity and violence, representing just 9 per cent of the global population but accounting for more than a third of all violent deaths worldwide. Among the most prominent cases is El Salvador, a country that has experienced some of the highest homicide rates and, as of 2015, ranked third globally in terms of child murders.

In the report “Fighting organised crime: success and failure in El Salvador”, Erika Rodríguez Pinzón looks at the problems of crime in El Salvador, as evidenced in particular by the presence of the maras. These criminal organisations are characterised by their hierarchical structure, standardised procedures and a marked division and specialisation of labour. Their main activities include extortion and the sale of narcotics at the local level, without ruling out their involvement in transnational crimes such as human trafficking and drug smuggling.

The influence of the maras extends over 90 % of the Salvadoran territory, seriously affecting the daily development of life by influencing all aspects of society. This is reflected in the education system through a deterioration in the quality of education, school dropouts and forced migration of families. Communities also experience a limitation of their fundamental rights and live under regimes of fear, with particularly severe impacts on women, exacerbated by the use of sexual violence.

Faced with this reality, El Salvador’s governments have implemented various strategies in recent decades, including mano dura policies, to combat this situation. The trajectory, evolution and results of these policies, especially with the arrival to power of President Nayib Bukele, are crucial to understand the current state of the country. Although these measures have achieved a notable reduction in gang activity, benefiting the population, they have also led to a weakening of the rule of law and an erosion of the quality of democracy.


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