Here’s why murders are down by 70% in 2023 in El Salvador

The drop is attributed to a prolonged state of emergency declared by the government to combat crime gangs.

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FILE PHOTO: El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele speaks during the inauguration of the Vijosa pharmaceutical plant in Santa Tecla, El Salvador November 20, 2023. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas/File Photo

El Salvador’s security authorities announced on Wednesday that there was a nearly 70% decrease in homicides during 2023. The drop is attributed to a prolonged state of emergency declared by President Nayib Bukele’s government to combat crime gangs.

According to Justice and Security Minister Gustavo Villatoro, there were 154 murders last year, a significant decrease from the 495 reported the previous year. This translates to a homicide rate of 2.4 per 100,000 people, which Villatoro highlighted as the lowest in the Americas, excluding Canada. Official data indicates that the number of homicides in El Salvador exceeded 1,000 in both 2021 and 2020, and surpassed 2,000 in 2019.

Bukele’s tough measures have gained widespread support among Salvadorans who are tired of enduring years of gang violence, extortion, and drug dealing.

However, human rights organizations have raised concerns, alleging that the crackdown has led to abuses such as torture, deaths in custody, and arbitrary detentions.

The state of emergency, declared in early 2022, empowers the police to swiftly arrest and detain suspected gang members without the usual rights to legal representation and court approval for preliminary detention.

Since its implementation, security forces have apprehended nearly 75,000 suspected gang members, releasing 7,000, as per official data. Human rights groups, on the other hand, have documented 190 deaths and over 5,000 abuses linked to the crackdown.

Critics, including the Central American University’s (UCA) Observatory of Human Rights, have questioned the accuracy of official data, asserting that violent deaths are significantly underreported, and government figures lack veracity. Also, the data excludes suspected gang members who may become casualties in clashes with security officials and individuals who die while in state custody.

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