For the 8th year in a row, the murder rate in El Salvador has dropped. 2023 in El Salvador saw a mere 154 murders throughout the year, with a daily average of 0.4 murders, and a homicide rate of 2.4 per 100,000 people. With a homicide rate of 2.4, Salvadoran Justice and Security Minister Gustavo Villatoro said was the second lowest in the Americas after Canada, who has a homicide rate of 2.25 (which is on an upward trend). The 154 recorded murders in 2023 is a whopping 70% drop from the 495 murders the year before.
El 2023 fue el año más seguro en la historia de El Salvador:
– Homicidios en el año: 154
– Tasa de homicidios por cada 100 mil habitantes: 2.4
– Promedio diario de homicidios: 0.4
– El 94.8% de homicidios está resuelto.
— PNC El Salvador (@PNCSV) January 3, 2024
The 2023 statistics were released as Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele is presently campaigning for re-election in the 2024 Presidential election, to be held on February 4th. While technically re-election is not allowed in El Salvador, the Supreme Court (filled with judges picked by his allies) cleared him for re-election.
Reason for the Drop, and the Controversies Behind it
While Bukele was elected in 2019 and the homicide rate has been dropping since 2015, the most drastic drops have been seen under his leadership. Many attribute this to his heavy handed response to the large gangs that operated within El Salvador, the primary forces behind what made El Salvador the most dangerous country in the world just a few years ago.
Initially Bukele had increased the capabilities of the nations’ police forces, purchasing them new weapons, defensive equipment, vehicles, and more. He began using the police in order to directly combat the gangs. In the first year he was in office, after first taking office on June 1st, 2019, El Salvador saw a 30% drop from a homicide rate of 51 in 2018 (highest in the world at the time), to 36 in 2019.
Tactics changed in 2022, however, when Bukele declared a state of emergency after a wave of gang attacks killed 76 people in 2 days. The declaration of emergency suspended a number of rights, and namely allowed police to arrest people without a warrant, suspends the right to a lawyer, and also suspends certain gatherings. Since the declaration of the state of emergency, which is still ongoing, El Salvador’s police have arrested close to 75,000 people, around 7,000 of which were released afterwards.
Human Rights Organizations and varying foreign bodies have raised issue with the aggressiveness of his approach. While effective, 190 people have died and over 5,000 abuses of varying kinds have been reported as a result of the government crackdown. Many of the groups have also raised issue with the amount of arbitrary detentions having taken place in the crackdown.
Initially, the state of emergency was to last 30 days after it was established in March of 2022. It has subsequently been extended each month. Presently, after having been renewed in December of 2023, it is set to end on January 11th, 2024. However, it is likely to simply just be extended once again.
Bukele has also drawn accusations of authoritarian practices, having made a series of moves to establish control over varying aspects of the government. On one occasion, Bukele brought the military into El Salvador’s parliament when seeking to pass a bill to bolster the nations’ military, which many saw as an intimidation tactic against opposition leaders.
Nayib Bukele maintains an immensely high popularity among Salvadorans, oftentimes scoring in the 80’s-90’s% range for approval ratings. It is likely he will win re-election.