Violence in El Salvador has reached its highest levels in decades, hearkening back to the bloodshed seen during the country’s brutal civil war in the 1980s, BBC reported Wednesday. The high murder and crime rates are due to an increase in clashes between street gangs and security forces, police said.
Gang violence, which is rampant in the Central American nation, has resulted in the deaths of 907 people in August, according to police statistics. El Salvador is believed to be home to more than 70,000 gang members. The country's Supreme Court declared street gangs to be terrorist groups in August.
In recent years, the government has launched an aggressive campaign aimed at tackling gang-related violence. President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, who has been scrutinized for his inability to stem the violence, has called in 7,000 army troops to assist police. National police chief Mauricio Ramirez said 47 police officers and 16 soldiers have been killed by gang members.
The murders have risen sharply with the faltering of a truce between two of the country’s main rival gangs, the Mara Savatrucha and the Barrio 18, which was brokered in 2012. The ceasefire led to a 40 percent drop in the murder rate.
Some have criticized Ceren, who has led the country since 2014, for his refusal to negotiate further with gangs. He has said a diplomatic solution would allow gangs to make excessive demands. He has instead relied on the deployment of security forces to areas with high levels of crime.
Gang leaders have repeatedly expressed a willingness to negotiate to end the violence, Al Jazeera reported. In one letter, they said they were ready to enter into “a serious process of searching for peace,” and in another, called on international observers to monitor talks.
Refusing to enter into negotiations, Ceren vowed in July: “We are going to pursue them, we are going to capture them and we’re going to bring them to justice.”
In the first six months of the year, 2,965 people were murdered in El Salvador. The United Nations has designated Central America one of the most violent regions in the world, with Honduras ranking as the most violent country ahead of El Salvador, Guatemala and Belize, the BBC reported.
The U.N. has said a child dies violently every five minutes in Central America.