Viewing cable 05SANSALVADOR2374
Title: EL SALVADOR: HOMICIDE RATE RISES TO WARTIME LEVELS

IdentifierCreatedReleasedClassificationOrigin
05SANSALVADOR23742005-08-25 18:08:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy San Salvador
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 SAN SALVADOR 002374 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: KCRM PGOV ES PREL
SUBJECT:  EL SALVADOR: HOMICIDE RATE RISES TO WARTIME LEVELS 
 
 
¶1. (U)  SUMMARY:  In recent months, El Salvador has 
experienced a significant increase in homicides, straining 
law enforcement authorities' ability to make arrests and 
prosecute those responsible.  However, polls indicate that 
Salvadorans do not perceive the rise in killings as a 
failure of the Saca administration, which continues to take 
measures to address the problem.  END SUMMARY. 
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HOMICIDE WAVE HEARKENS BACK TO DIFFICULT YEARS 
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¶2. (U)  BACKGROUND:  During El Salvador's civil war years 
(1980-1992), the nation's homicide rate hovered at around 60 
per 100,000 population per year.  After peaking at double 
that rate during the mid-1990s, it had slowly decreased to 
levels of 25-45 murders/100,000/year in recent years--still 
one of the Western Hemisphere's highest rates.  On August 2, 
the Civilian National Police (PNC) announced that from 
January through July of this year, some 2,040 homicides were 
committed in El Salvador, compared with 1,501 for the same 
period last year.  This homicide rate--approximately 10/day- 
-included a violent July that witnessed 375 murders.  Should 
this trend continue, 2005 will have the distinction of 
having surpassed the wartime rate of killings. 
¶3. (U)  For January through March of 2005, the Civilian 
National Police reported 902 homicides nationally, although 
the Office of the Attorney General (FGR) registered only 807 
for the same term.  Additionally, the FGR had no figures 
available outlining how many homicides had resulted in 
filing of charges; this ongoing lack of coordination between 
the PNC and FGR significantly hampers efficient arrest and 
prosecution of criminals. 
¶4. (U)  July's homicide victims were mostly men aged 19 to 
59 living in urban areas; eight of every ten murders were 
perpetrated with firearms.  Deputy PNC Director Pedro 
Gonzlez estimated that approximately 90 percent of murder 
victims were gang members, and related that one of the 
government's assumptions in drafting the "Very Firm Hand" 
anti-gang initiative was that gang-related violence was the 
leading cause of homicide.  For his part, the FGR's Chief of 
Criminal Investigation agreed that recent months' homicides 
were primarily related to gangs, as well as drugs. 
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NO CONSISTENT INVESTIGATION OR EVIDENTIARY PROCEDURES 
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¶5. (U)  According to the FGR's Chief of Criminal 
Investigation, only one prosecuting investigator is 
available at each FGR subregional office at night and over 
weekends.  A PNC investigator outlined that during weekends, 
when five or more murders often occur each night, only one 
PNC Technical-Scientific Unit is on duty to collect 
evidence, which often results in hasty, sloppy work.  He 
added that investigation of homicides in El Salvador is 
hamstrung by the lack of consistent investigation 
guidelines. 
¶6. (U)  Inasmuch as the Constitution stipulates that the FGR 
shall be responsible for directing criminal investigations, 
courts often exclude evidence collected by PNC officers 
without the FGR's authorization and oversight 
("Direccionamiento Fiscal").  In the absence of uniform 
national rules of evidence, this problem is exacerbated by 
judges' virtual autonomy in deciding the admissibility of 
evidence; two different judges can--and often do--rule 
differently on the admissibility of the very same evidence. 
¶7. (U)  Despite the problems faced by police, polls show 
that the PNC is the institution in which Salvadorans place 
their highest confidence.  According to a nationwide October 
2004 poll by the University of Central America's Institute 
of Public Opinion (IUDOP), some 77 percent of Salvadorans 
hold a positive view of the PNC, while only 6.4 percent 
characterized the PNC as "bad".  In striking contrast to 
citizens' positive perceptions of the police, the nation's 
judicial system ranks as the nation's least-respected 
democratic institution, with 37 percent of respondents 
holding a negative view of the judiciary, and only 38 
percent qualifying the courts' work as "good".  (Note: 
According to a February CID-GALLUP poll, seven of every ten 
Salvadorans identified at least one positive accomplishment 
resulting from the administration's "Very Firm Hand" anti- 
gang initiative.  End note.) 
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PUBLIC PERCEPTIONS OF THE PROBLEM 
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¶8. (U)  A May IUDOP poll revealed that only 3.2 percent of 
the population viewed the increase in homicides as a failure 
of the government.  Most Salvadorans were more concerned 
with economic problems; 37 percent saw the high cost of 
living as the administration's fault.  In August, civil 
organizations including the Catholic Church and the 
Salvadoran Foundation for Economic and Social Development 
(FUSADES) made public statements on the problem of crime; 
Monsignor Fernando Saenz Lacalle, Archbishop of El Salvador, 
urged the government and citizens to redouble efforts at 
deterring the violence El Salvador suffers.  FUSADES 
expressed its concerns to the Minister of Governance, and 
urged further reforms in firearms law. 
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CAFTA, ANTI-CRIME EFFORTS, AND UPCOMING ELECTIONS 
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¶9. (U)  On August 14, Minister of Governance Rene Figueroa 
announced that the government would strengthen evidence 
collection and homicide investigation, and implement an 
aggressive plan to arrest more than 150 murder suspects in 
coming weeks.  The plan includes the creation of the new PNC 
Homicide Investigation Unit (PNC/DIHO), in coordination with 
the FGR's elite investigation unit.  Additionally, 700 
soldiers will join 800 already deployed in a joint task 
force patrolling rural areas, and incarcerated gang leaders 
will be transferred to the nation's maximum security prison. 
¶10. (SBU)  COMMENT:  Recent passage of CAFTA has raised 
expectations for improved economic growth, but the nation's 
critical crime problem is widely viewed as a serious 
impediment to foreign direct investment.  Crime also holds 
political ramifications.  Municipal and Legislative Assembly 
elections will take place in March 2006; if past experience 
holds, these elections will serve as a referendum on the 
ruling party as voters look ahead to the 2009 presidential 
election.  Governance Minister Rene Figueroa, who oversees 
the PNC, is widely viewed as one of three possible ARENA 
presidential candidates; lack of progress in addressing the 
nation's staggering homicide rate could affect the viability 
of his candidacy.  END COMMENT.