El Salvador says murders fell by 70% after state of emergency, crackdown on gangs

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — The number of homicides in El Salvador dropped nearly 70% during 2023, the Central American country’s security authorities said on Wednesday, crediting a prolonged state of emergency declared by the government of President Nayib Bukele to fight crime gangs.

Justice and Security Minister Gustavo Villatoro said 154 murders were committed last year, down from 495 the year before.

That implies a homicide rate of 2.4 per every 100,000 people, which Villatoro said was the lowest in the Americas apart from Canada.

More than 1,000 people were killed in El Salvador in 2021 and 2020, and over 2,000 in 2019, according to official data.

Bukele’s crackdown has been broadly popular with Salvadorans weary of years of gang violence, extortion and drug dealing.

But human rights groups have said the crackdown has included abuses such as torture, deaths in custody and arbitrary detentions.

The state of emergency declared in early 2022 allows police to swiftly arrest and jail suspected gang members, while suspending their right to a lawyer and court approval of preliminary detention.

Since it went into effect, security forces have arrested nearly 75,000 suspected gang members and released 7,000, according to official data.

Human rights groups have reported 190 deaths and over 5,000 abuses related to the crackdown.

The Central American University’s Observatory of Human Rights has in the past criticized official data, saying violent deaths are “highly underreported” and government figures “not truthful.”

The data does not include suspected gang members who become casualties of confrontations with security officials, nor people who die in state custody.


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