It was a rare moment for the tiny Central American nation, and the authorities touted the news: In one span of 24 hours, El Salvador saw no killings.
National Civil Police Commissioner Howard Cotto made the announcement at a news conference Thursday, saying that the previous day, the country “closed with zero homicides.”
In the nation of 6 million people, the last time a day occurred with no known killings was nearly two years ago, on Jan. 22, 2015, according to records kept by The Associated Press. A slaying-free day also happened once in 2013 and on two days the previous year.
Cotto said that although the authorities recorded one person dead Wednesday, the victim was killed two days earlier, meaning that no killings occurred during Wednesday’s 24-hour span.
The momentous occasion was celebrated on local news outlets and on social media, allowing Salvadorans to “breathe peace” for one day, as one local reporter said on Twitter. But hours later, the bloodshed would continue in the gang-ridden country that has earned the unfortunate title of the hemisphere’s murder capital and one of the world’s deadliest.
In the first 11 days on 2017, 99 homicides have been reported, averaging nine violent deaths a day, Cotto said. Last year the country averaged roughly 14 murders a day. Cotto pointed out that by this date last year, El Salvador had recorded more than 250 slayings in a country smaller in size than the state of Massachusetts.
Authorities claim that the government’s fierce crackdown on gangs has led to a reduction in violent deaths. In 2016, the country recorded 20 percent fewer homicides than the previous year, when killings peaked at 104 per 100,000 residents, the highest rate for any nation not in open war that year.
After a truce between El Salvador’s two most powerful street gangs – Mara Salvatrucha and the 18th Street gang – crumbled in 2014, the death toll has spiked to the highest levels since the country’s civil war ended in 1992, prompting what some Salvadorans refer to as a new civil war. The violence is one of the main reasons migration from El Salvador to the U.S. has surged. Since the start of 2014, nearly a quarter-million Salvadorans have been apprehended in transit by U.S. and Mexican immigration officials.
“We want there to be no more death, that our youth stop being beleaguered by gangs and by the authorities, who we know sometimes come here to beat and to kill,” he said.
In response to the police crackdown, the gangs have begun targeting law enforcement, killing more than 60 police officers in 2015, nearly double the total of the year before. The attorney general’s office recently accused Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13, of planning to assemble a 500-man unit of trained gang members to attack security forces.
On Thursday, a day after the country’s brief respite from violent deaths, a police officer was killed in the department of San Salvador, the second agent killed so far this year, the attorney general’s office said. According to authorities, the officer was off duty and had left the house to pay a cable receipt, when two subjects on a motorcycle shot him, local media outlets reported.
Vice President Oscar Ortiz promised to lead a “frontal fight” against crime, with efforts to reduce average daily homicide numbers to single digits.
“A criminal group cannot compete with the state,” Ortiz said. “This year we will deepen the blows to criminal structures.”
While some leaders and citizens touted Wednesday’s brief reprieve on social media, others expressed far less optimism.
“The country is so bad that one day without homicide causes news,” one tweet read.
“And the missing?” said another. “And the undetermined deaths?”
Featured Image: AP
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