More perspectives on gangs in El Salvador

The law enforcement conference on gangs last week in El Salvador has prompted a round of news stories looking more closely at gang culture in the country.

The Christian Science Monitor has a story describing the difficulty for Salvadoran law enforcement in securing convictions of the thousands of gang members they arrest under the Super Firm Hand Policy:
The problem, say officials, is that the police are unable to make proper cases against the arrested gangsters, and they quickly end up back on the streets, increasingly defiant and violent. Of the 4,000 young men arrested, less than 40 have been prosecuted, says Ms. Polanco. Similarly, under former President Francisco Flores's 2003 "hard hand" plan, the precursor to the current program, 19,275 gang members were arrested, with less than 1,000 of them jailed....

At a joint US-Salvadoran conference here last week to discuss combating the gangs, several reasons were put forward to explain the difficulties in getting convictions: Individuals and communities are afraid to testify against the violent gang members. Forensics work is weak due to lack of training and money (there are, for example, only eight fingerprint experts in the entire country and 30 homicide detectives). And intelligence sharing - among different authorities within El Salvador, as well as between Central American countries and the US - is insufficient.

Traci Carl of AP writes that gang members are removing tattoos in response to police pressure:
As Central American officials fight increasingly violent gangs, many current and former members are responding by hiding their tattooed insignia, getting rid of them or discouraging recruits from getting visible body art....

Salvadoran police say newer gang leaders are forgoing body art altogether to avoid drawing attention. Those still with tattoos complain of being refused jobs or school admission.

Meanwhile Reuters reports that the Central American countries are planning to create a joint rapid force to confront gangs, drug traffickers and terrorists.

Thanks to Boz for the tip.