Miracle or Mirage? Gangs and Plunging Violence in El Salvador

International Crisis Group
Content Type
Special Report
International Crisis Group
What’s new? In President Nayib Bukele’s first year in office, El Salvador has seen a sharp drop in what long were sky-high murder rates. While the public celebrates his well-known “iron fist” policies, the reasons for success might lie in quiet, informal understandings between gangs and the government. Why does it matter? It is a major feat to reduce killings by the three main gangs in one of the world’s most violent countries. But the precise causes of the decline are complex and often unclear. Recent outbreaks of gang violence and political mudslinging underline the fragility and reversibility of this achievement. What should be done? Sustaining violence reduction is key. The government should prioritise community-focused development, rehabilitation of jailed gang members and more sophisticated policing efforts, including internal checks on security forces. Should gangs keep violence down and cooperate with authorities during the pandemic, Bukele should consider opening channels for local dialogue with them.
Crime, Governance, Law Enforcement, Reform, Violence, Gangs
Political Geography
South America, El Salvador