A model for progress against crime?
A recent article from the Miami Herald looks at the progress against crime made by the city of San Martin by controlling guns:
Fed up with violence that made this bustling city of about 150,000 among the most dangerous in this Central American nation - with an average of seven homicides per month - municipal leaders joined police in a program that outlawed weapons in public spaces such as parks, sports facilities and restaurants.
A year after the Libres de Armas (free of weapons) program was launched, San Martin has seen a significant reduction in the homicides and other violent crimes of the kind that are bedeviling El Salvador 15 years after peace accords ended a brutal civil war that left an estimated 75,000 dead.
"Things are much better," said Henriquez. "You can go out on the street now. You don't see dead bodies all over the place anymore.".....
The Libres de Armas program in San Martin is just one small initiative that has made a difference. The program, the only one of its kind in Central America, was launched in late 2005 with funds from the United Nations Development Programme to help pay for equipment, computers, software and literature.
A new city ordinance prohibits weapons in 31 public spaces. Police increased their presence in hot spots and set up inspection sites on main roadways to confiscate unregistered weapons. A public awareness campaign declares that "less arms equals more peace."
Other municipalities are now looking at launching a similar program.
But there are flaws. For starters, the ban on weapons in public places is aimed at registered weapons, while the majority of crimes are committed with illegal arms, said Avila, the police director.
Politics also has hampered efforts. The program was launched while the municipality was ruled by the conservative ARENA party. But now that the leftist FMLN party is in control, cooperation has dwindled.
"The police are divorced from us completely. Public security also is divorced from us," said David Canas, an FMLN member of San Martin's commission for security, who accused the previous ARENA administration of being "contributors to the delinquency."
Police officers stationed in San Martin, meanwhile, are struggling with a smaller force, cut from 106 to 82 officers, and fewer resources because of security needs elsewhere.
"Nonetheless, we are doing our job," said Eric Hernandez, an officer involved with the program. "We need the commitment of the institutions involved to retake control of this project. We need the support of the community. We need to work together."
Suri de Hernandez, a mother of two girls, cringes at the thought of a return to the days when "guys would shoot at each other on the streets all the time."
"We lived in constant fear," said Hernandez, 28, a pinata seller. "Violence is still a problem, but it's not as bad. The situation must continue to get better for the sake of our children."