El Salvador struggles against homicide epidemic

As measured by its murder rate, El Salvador is the most violent country in Latin America. The United Nations Development Program effort to combat violence in El Salvador called Sociedad Sin Violencia notes that more than 10,000 persons were murdered in El Salvador between 2001 and 2004 compared with 75,000 deaths during the civil war. June 2005 had the highest number of murders yet this year, rising by 10% to 330 murders. The country averaged 11 murders per day in June. Murders for the year are up more than 20% above the same period in 2004.

The government is struggling to find a way to tackle the problem. This week it created a national Consulting Council on Security to come up with ideas for dealing with crime. The council is made up of representatives from the government, business, churches, nongovernmental organizations, and other sectors of society. The council has formed two working groups which will focus on gangs and homicides respectively.

There appears to be a tragic downwards spiral. The level of crime has overwhelmed the meager resources of the national police. Few murders result in arrests, and fewer still in punishment. As a result, some persons are taking the law into their own hands. Recent weeks have seen murders which the police have characterized as vigilante or vengeance killings carried out by the relatives of prior murder victims.

A multitude of ideas have been advanced to confront the problem: special teams of prosecutors focusing on homicides, gun control, treating certain homicides as terrorism, tougher measures against gangs, job programs, preventive intervention with troubled youth, more police in the worst neighborhoods, etc. We can only hope and pray that some combination of these can begin to create a society without violence.