- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating is associate editor at Foreign Policy and the editor of the Passport blog. He has worked as a researcher, editorial assistant, and deputy Web editor since joining the FP staff in 2007. In addition to being featured in Foreign Policy, his writing has been published by the Washington Post, Newsweek International, Radio Prague, the Center for Defense Information, and Romania's Adevarul newspaper. He has appeared as a commentator on CNN International, C-Span, ABC News, Al Jazeera, NPR, BBC radio, and others. A native of Brooklyn, New York, he studied comparative politics at Oberlin College.
With the world’s second-highest homicide rate, (around 66 per 100,000 people) it’s not surprising that El Salvador might take drastic measures to stop the killing. But a sudden drop in homicides is raising questions about just what the infamous MS-13 gang is getting in return:
An intelligence report prepared in February and provided by the government official asserts that top members of the ministry “offered, if it is necessary, to make deals or negotiate with subjects who have power inside organized crime structures to reduce homicides.”
There is no dispute that, in an unprecedented move, 30 of the top leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 criminal gangs were transferred on March 8 and 9 from a maximum-security prison, where many had been for over a decade, to prisons with perks including family visits.
In the ensuing days, killings in El Salvador dropped to five a day, and sometimes even fewer, from the typical 14. All told, homicides nationwide dropped to 186 in the first 21 days of March from 411 in January and 402 in February.
Zero-tolerance crime fighting strategies generally seem to be going out of favor in the region. Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina, who had vowed on the campaign trail to crush the cartels, was in the news last week for hosting a regional conference on drug legalization.