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Column 041414 Brewer

Monday, April 14, 2014

Governance in Central America and Criminality in El Salvador

By Jerry Brewer

With the most recent estimates of homicides reported by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (the latest data being for the year 2012), the northern cone of Central America continues to lead and set records for intentional deaths.

Honduras has the world’s highest rate of murder, with 90.4 per 100,000. Guatemala’s numbers were 39.9; El Salvador had 41.2 per 100,000; and, surprisingly, Belize homicides were reported at 44.7. All of which must alarm Mexico's political leaders (where the rate per 100,000 intentional deaths was 21.5) as their southern borders, seemingly, continue to be elbow to elbow in violence, death and misery, with little progress showing from professed efforts to actively fight crime.

In the United States, the 2012 intentional homicide rate per 100,000 population was 4.7.

This report graphically and boisterously shows that the Americas' homicide rates have been five to eight times higher than those of Europe and Asia since the mid-1950s, describing the phenomenon as "the legacy of decades of political and crime-related violence."

El Salvador is a case study within this region, having a crime culture that has evolved and been nurtured by a myriad of cultural, political, and transnational circumstances and facilitations at the highest levels.  It is simply about power, corruption, and wealth.

What about enforcement and the rule of law? Where are they? And why are arrests so few and far between, with unsuccessful investigations that are not leading to successful prosecutions and convictions?

El Salvador’s murder rate is reported at 41.2. 

Focusing on El Salvador is necessary to see the strategic implications of geographical issues; political situations; that homeland’s state of readiness to defend against gangs and domestic and transnational organized crime; and the significance of the threats that are felt by its neighbors and even across the U.S. border and into major U.S. cities. El Salvador's gang and criminal networks know the U.S. system of criminal justice, as well as the criminal operating networks within. Thousands of Salvadoran's have served prison and jail terms in the U.S., and many have assimilated with other domestic crime networks, plus there are those who have been suspected and/or reported to have ties to international terrorist organizations.

Remarkably, El Salvador is the smallest and the most densely populated country in Central America. It borders the Pacific Ocean, and the countries of Guatemala and Honduras. The importance of El Salvador, to serve as a domestic and TCO deterrent in this region, is critically necessary for the security of the entire hemisphere.

Proactive and strategic policing and law enforcement is a major facet that is required by all nations within these regions, especially El Salvador.

In the history of traditional policing, it is hard to fathom that the need to evolve into paramilitary strategies and war-like engagement would become necessary as it has in Mexico and Central America.  Regardless of some public opinion and other pundit conjecture on policing methodology, the rule of law must prevail within a homeland to safeguard human life and property, and provide a harmonious quality of life. Military versus traditional policing continues to be debated passionately. However, it is clear to those of us that have administered and led law enforcement organizations in violent areas that superior armament and tactics by criminal combatants is a game changer, and this requires enhance skills, knowledge and abilities to survive -- as well as to protect and serve.

Traditional police were never designed, created and deployed to face the overwhelming superiority of firepower, weaponry, and tactics being used by transnational organized criminals to confront and effectively ambush and kill military and police officials at the highest levels as we have seen in Mexico and Central America.

The caveat that violent drug gangs are the primary prolific nemesis of democratic governments within the hemisphere is also misleading. Logistically speaking, these organized criminal insurgents need weapons, as well as the means to launder money, facilitate movements, a market to corrupt officials, and regimes that will overlook their actions for unspecified remuneration.

El Salvador is being hit hard by the regional expansion of transnational criminal organizations (TCO), with the TCO's attempting to find, gain and hold more permissive operating environments. With this we see assimilation in many instances with the El Salvadoran Mara gangs, who know the proverbial terrain and playing fields to criminal markets to the north.

The two principal Mara gangs in Guatemala, the Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18, continue to grow and strategically reorganize under more centralized leadership. With this, political power is inherent.

Furthermore, the ad nausea (so-called) truce efforts by the Colombian guerrilla group FARC in Cuba recently, as well as the El Salvadoran Mara's truce (failures), are significantly telegraphing serious threats ahead to the hemisphere, as do the growing tentacles of criminal organization at powerful levels.

El Salvador's president-elect, Salvador Sanchez Ceren, assumes the presidency in June. His political ideology derives from various democratic and revolutionary (i.e. leftist) organizations that he has been a member of over the years. He now belongs to the Farabundo Marti National Liberation (FMLN), a left-wing political party that prior to 1992 was a coalition of five guerrilla organizations.

What is clear is that El Salvador’s political leadership, at government levels, must not be influenced and managed through corruption, impunity, threat and intimidation.

As well, the U.S. leadership must not continue to lose focus on the bigger picture regarding the southern border, where too many matters are clearly out of focus and pose significant threats.


Jerry Brewer is C.E.O. of Criminal Justice International Associates, a global threat mitigation firm headquartered in northern Virginia.  His website is located at

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