The limited good news from El Salvador

A recent article in Americas Quarterly is  titled "The Good News About El Salvador,"  and was written by researchers Robert Muggah and Katherine Aguirre.   Muggah is the co-founder of a Brazilian think tank named the  the Igarapé Institute which is hosting a conference on urban security and violence prevention in San Salvador next week. 

The researchers described the "good news" they found in El Salvador:
But today, 26 years since the signing of the Chapultepec Peace Accords, El Salvador has reason to be hopeful: After years of sustained investment in security and violence prevention, the country's murder rate is on its way down. The same is true of violence-plagued neighbors Honduras and Guatemala, where murder rates have fallen dramatically in recent years. This regional turnaround can offer lessons to policymakers from Brasília to Mexico City.  
That’s not to say that all is well; violence in the so-called Northern Triangle is still tragically commonplace. But for a region that has at times seemed out of ideas for stopping violence, the drop is an encouraging sign. The question now is whether the region's politicians will double down on prevention strategies that work, or revert to heavy-handed measures that do not. 
El Salvador is perhaps the most instructive example. It ranked as the world's most violent country in 2016, but since then has seen a marked drop in lethal violence.
The shortcoming of this article is its focus on a single statistic, the homicide rate, to proclaim there is good news for public security in El Salvador.  Although the article was written for a data oriented seminar on urban security, the failure to consider any other indicators regarding public security presents a picture which is incomplete at best.

The article points to the government's "Plan El Salvador Seguro", which is a good plan on its face, but which has scarcely been implemented in areas of prevention and gang re-insertion and instead has focused heavily on heavy handed police tactics including the recent deployment of troops in public spaces in San Salvador.

The article fails to talk about the "exceptional measures" which the government currently touts as the reason the homicide rate is dropping, but which have been accompanied by a growing level of human rights violations from grossly inhumane prison conditions, extra-judicial killings, and aggressive round-ups of young people in marginalized communities.  And contrary to the article's suggestion, El Salvador's government does want to "double down" on these exceptional measures and keep them in place going forward.

The population which suffers as the victims of crime and violence in El Salvador doesn't believe there is any good news.   Their perceptions that the situation is not improving is a data point overlooked by the authors.

Yes, a drop in homicides is good news.   But it is a simplistic headline which fails to recognize the ongoing failures of the Salvadoran government to address violence on a comprehensive basis.


I recently explained to an attorney, "Would Hell be OK if they turned down the heat by 25%?"