Many Salvadorians are fleeing the country in droves as gang violence spins out of control, according to Reuters. El Salvador has over 70,000 gangs that regularly engage in turf wars, armed conflicts with police, and extortion schemes. El Salvador is officially the murder capital of the world due to gang prominence.
Vice President Oscar Ortiz has pledged that new security measures will cripple gang operations within a year, but experts remain skeptical. The state has failed numerous times while maintaining a corrupt system that allows criminality to thrive. Soldiers have been caught selling weapons to gang members and drug cartels, and the nation’s police force has cozy ties to criminal enterprises.
Moreover, several key officials have been caught in the past facilitating a truce between Barrio 18 and MS-13, two of the most notorious gangs in the country. The truce occurred under previous leadership, and while it reduced homicide rates in 2012, the officials involved were arrested for dealing with criminals.
Most people do not believe that authorities can stop the rampant lawlessness, and many Salvadorians are heading north in search of a better life. The United States is their primary destination, but they are often caught in Mexico and deported back to El Salvador. According to a recent survey, 42% of respondents said they left their country because of rising violence.
Extortion is one among many reasons why people are leaving in large numbers. People of all classes must pay extortion money in some form, including the nation’s top elite. Daily life in El Salvador is very stressful for the average citizen, with many fearing they could become a victim of violent crime at any moment, and the police are of little help. With that, the poor suffer the most at the hands of criminals.
El Salvador has a bloody history of war and eradication of indigenous people, but the gang violence started when many American gang members were deported back to the poor country. Salvadorians came to Los Angeles in the 1980s when civil war broke out in their homeland, notes NPR.
Many gangs arose from Salvadorian communities, but violence grew out of control during the 1990s, causing U.S. officials to deport many gang affiliates back to El Salvador. The civil war ended in 1992, and with no special services or opportunities to help the arriving young men, they established criminal operations in a post-war society, which did not have the resources to deal with crime.
Impact on Economy
Gang activity has hampered the business community, and many business owners do not have faith that the government will properly protect them. Businesses tend to shut down, with many owners leaving altogether.
The unstable climate prevents businesses from expanding, stifling job creation in the process. El Salvador has made certain economic gains throughout the decades, but the government relies on foreign aid and remittance income from the United States as primary cash sources.