Homicides in El Salvador surge in past two weeks

There has been a dramatic surge in homicides in El Salvador in the past two weeks. 

Source -- tweeted statistics from National Civilian Police (@PNC_SV)

Until September 20, homicide rates were running below 10 homicides a day in September, with some days tallying as few as 3 or 4 homicides.    Yet something appeared to change on September 21.   The number of daily murders across El Salvador jumped above 20, including a high of 40 on September 23.    The average in the 12 days since September 21 has been 26 daily murders.   (Note -- the daily totals for September 17 and 30 were not available in what Salvadoran police have published).

Authorities in El Salvador have advanced various explanations for this lethal increase.    One theory, advanced by Howard Cotto, director of the PNC, was that the rise in homicides was due to an internal struggle between factions of MS-13 in the country.    That theory, however, would seem to be undercut from statistics published by his own agency which labels only a small portion of the victims as "presumed gang members."

 More recently, Cotto has claimed that the increase in killings is a strategy by the gangs to pressure legislators not to extend the "exceptional measures" being used to combat the gangs.  But it seems strange that the gangs would amp up the level of violence to get the government to reduce the measures it uses to combat that violence.     Presumably Cotto expects the gangs to make an offer to lower the level of violence in the future in return for changes in policy.   There seems to be little evidence to support this theory, however.

What this surge in violence does show, however, is that the reduction in the murder rate from its heights in early 2016, is fragile at best.    The government has not yet been able to bring a lasting improvement in the security of Salvadorans living in zones afflicted by gang violence.