Violence – El Salvador’s Achilles heel
Since the peace agreements, violence and crime have been one of the biggest challenges in El Salvador. Criminal and violent youth gangs, the so-called maras, dominated by Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18, has been designated by many as the main responsible for the country’s soaring murder rates and crime rates. Although El Salvador’s crime problem is more complex than can only be understood in light of the gang problem, gangs have evolved to become increasingly professional and violent throughout the 2000s. In 2012, a ceasefire was entered into between the two largest gangs, which led to a sharp reduction in the number of killings, from about 4,000 a year to about 2,500 in 2012. The ceasefire was highly contested and the government’s role in it has never fully emerged. It weathered throughout 2014, and by the end of the year, the country was back at about 4,000 kills a year.
With 13 kills a day and 68.6 kills per 100,000 population, El Salvador is again the second most violent country in Latin America, following neighboring Honduras. However, the image of violence is complex. In addition to the gang problem, drug traffic, other forms of organized crime and ordinary social violence are also part of a complex crime and violence picture that characterizes Salvadoran society.
The new government has emphasized the importance of preventive work to bring about a lasting decline in the level of violence. This means better services for youth in vulnerable areas, more dialogue and contact between police and local communities, measures that can lead to more jobs for youth, and rehabilitation of gang members. At the same time, several measures are needed to strengthen the justice system and the prison system. The opposition has criticized the government for its inability to reduce the level of violence in the country. Not least, dialogue with gang leaders is highly controversial. To increase its popularity, the new government will have to show results in the short term.
Like the electoral council, the justice system in El Salvador is characterized by party political interests. The members of the Supreme Court are appointed by Parliament, and the appointments are often the result of horse trading between the parties. Not least, the appointment of the Attorney General was disputed and criticized by civil society organizations. The new Attorney General was appointed after several weeks of negotiations and part of a package in which other important positions within the justice system were distributed.
Important equality laws
In recent years there have been important changes in the equality policy in El Salvador. In 2011, the country’s first equality law was passed, and the country has also been given a law against violence against women. It has also been more systematically invested in building a well-functioning state institution that is responsible for the preparation and implementation of plans for implementation of the legislation. Ciudad mujer, “The Women’s Village”, has become the FMLN government’s showcase for gender equality policy. In five centers in different parts of countries, different ministries and government institutions work together to offer a comprehensive service to women. They have a particular focus on strengthening women’s financial rights, preventing violence, improving health care and offering women who are victims of violence. But much remains to be done. El Salvador has a total ban on abortion. Several young women are imprisoned for spontaneous abortions, suspected of provoking abortion. Conservative forces on both political sides, and both the Catholic and Evangelical Church’s strong position in El Salvador, are preventing the abolition of abortion laws.
El Salvador is among the most vulnerable countries to climate change. This is linked to over-utilization of natural resources, and many years of absence with measures to safeguard the environment. Only two percent of the country’s territory is covered by forests, but El Salvador has in recent years worked to put in place a strategy for reduced deforestation through the REDD + program. In 2013, the Ministry of the Environment presented a strategy to meet climate change. Several civil society organizations are now actively working to put in place a national climate law to secure statutory measures and state policies to reduce the effects of climate change.
The previous government took important steps to prevent further deterioration of El Salvador’s already very depleted natural resources. New licenses for foreign mining companies were stopped. However, they were criticized by environmental organizations for not stopping two major steam projects, which will have consequences for nearby villages. In the agricultural sector, sugar production continues to occupy important areas at the expense of food production. Development of tourist complexes, residential complexes or other commercial activities increases the pressure on natural resources. With the exception of mining, it is mainly national investors and businessmen who are behind the development projects or plantation operations.
Good international relations
According to Countryaah.com, El Salvador is very dependent on the world around it. The country is completely dependent on money transfers from the 2-3 million Salvadoran residents living abroad, the vast majority in the United States. The money transfers make up about 15 percent of the gross domestic product, amounting to about $ 25,000 million. It is therefore important for the Salvadoran government to maintain a good relationship with the United States, so that they can also strengthen the relations and rights of Salvadoran immigrants in the United States. The FMLN has shamed the right-wing divisions and has a good relationship with the Obama administration and has secured new deals that allow several Salvadorans to stay legally. At the same time, the government has been working actively to build good government relations with Cuba and the countries in the ALBA trade cooperation. El Salvador is not a member of ALBA, but has a close partnership. Together with the other Central American countries, El Salvador signed a cooperation agreement with the EU (Acuerdo de Asociación). The cooperation agreement is mainly to increase economic cooperation between the EU and Central America, but also involves the intention of increased political cooperation and assistance from the EU to the region. In 2014, El Salvador established commercial relations with China, but the country still has diplomatic cooperation with Taiwan.
Norway’s cooperation with El Salvador was strengthened in the period 2009-2013. But after the change of government in Norway, El Salvador is now one of the countries removed from the list of Norway’s official aid countries. Norwegian People’s Aid and Caritas are among the few Norwegian organizations that support projects in El Salvador. The Socialist Left Party has long had a party collaboration with FMLN.
Capital: San Salvador
Population: 6.16 million (2016)
Life expectancy: 74.7 years (2016)
Infant mortality: 17.3 per 1,000 (2016)
GDP per capita (pp): US $ 8,900 (2016)
Religion: Catholicism 57, 1%, Protestantism 21.2%, other 4.9%
Official languages: Spanish
Currency: US Dollar
Export items: Equipment for the offshore industry, coffee, sugar, clothing and textiles, gold, ethanol, chemicals, electricity, iron and steel products.
Regional relations: Member of CAFTA-DR, CELAC, OAS and Union Latina.