Over the last few years, El Salvador’s reputation for gang violence and corruption has gained national attention. In 2015, San Salvador, the country’s capital and largest city, had one of the highest murder rates in the entire world, at 108.5 murders for every 100,000 people. In 2016, homicide across the country fell by 20 percent, but there were still 5,278 murders for the year, Reuters reported. The country has also seen a spike in the number of corruption cases levied against those who hold power in the highest offices of the country.
In an effort to help curb the violence, the U.S. has sent $98 million in aid to El Salvador’s government, Reuters reports.
The $98 million, which was approved by the U.S. Congress in 2015, is part of a larger plan — the Alliance for Prosperity Plan in the Northern Triangle of Central America — designed to reduce gang crime and corruption in El Salvador and Central America. According to White House archives, the money will fund programs that will “better address the needs of those threatened by criminal gang violence and domestic violence, human rights defenders who have been targeted, and others.” However, U.S. intervention in Central America’s affairs is based on domestic concerns as much as it is in humanitarian interests in El Salvador.
Over the last few years, the U.S. has seen a surge of immigration from those looking to escape gang violence in El Salvador.
In El Salvador, violence between gangs, including MS13 and Barrio 18 — which were founded in the U.S. — has affected much of the country. Families of gang members can find themselves targets of retaliation and bystanders can find themselves caught up in the violence as well, leading to countless deaths.
To escape these conditions, many citizens have fled the country, often to the U.S, the New York Times reports. In some cases, gang members tired of the continual violence in El Salvador have also fled to the U.S. Part of Congress’s approved plan, according to the White House archives, is to develop “cooperation between the United States and Central America to ensure that fewer migrants embark on the dangerous journey to the United States.”
Attorney General Douglas Meléndez is leading the charge against El Salvador’s political corruption, the Washington Post reports.
The money granted to El Salvador was also designated to combat corruption in the nation’s government, which plagued the previous administration. Current Attorney General Douglas Meléndez has filed corruption cases against many officials, including a case against former Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes. Meléndez’s attempts to crackdown on corruption are in stark contrast to previous Attorney General Luís Martínez, who facilitated fraudulent and corrupt behavior among Salvadoran politicians and elites.
To combat gangs, police forces in El Salvador have been given freedom to use excessive force, Reuters reports.
In 2012 and 2013, the gangs in El Salvador declared a truce, leading to a dramatic reduction in the number of murders in the country. The truce “dissolved” in 2013, according to the Associated Press, and those officials responsible are now facing charges, saying the pact led to “illicit negotiations” between government officials and gang members. The terms of the truce may have led to less murders, but it also gave gangs more power in the long run, the New York Times reported.
By 2014, gang violence resumed in El Salvador, but this time, according to Reuters, the Salvadoran police were allowed to attack gangs “without any fear of suffering consequences.” This approach led to countless deaths among citizens at the hands of brutal authorities. Juanita Ortega, whose son who was killed by police, told the Guardian in February, “I tell you sincerely, we fear the soldiers more than we ever feared the gangsters.”
Whether or not the Northern Triangle’s Alliance for Prosperity Plan succeeds, one thing is for sure: El Salvador needs help.
This past January, The Guardian reported that El Salvador experienced a dubious distinction: it had its first day without a murder in two years. Though the country is fighting back against both corruption and violence, we’re still a long way from finding out the impact this $98 million will have in the fight for the country’s future.