In August 2015, El Salvador registered its bloodiest month since its 1980-1992 civil war. There were 907 murders, including 52 in a single day on August 27. The country is on track to end the year with over 6,000 murders in a population of just 6.4 million, making it the most violent country not at war in the world.
In March 2012, with the help of former guerilla leader Raul Mijano and archbishop Fabio Colindres, the Salvadoran government brokered a tenuous truce between El Salvador’s two principal gangs, Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 (B-18), later joined by smaller gangs such as Mao Mao, Mirada Loca, and La Maquina. The deal, in which the Salvadoran government’s role was initially covert, cut the country’s murder rate almost in half. However, under the truce, the gangs strengthened their organizations and continued criminal activities such as extortion. At the same time, they concealed the large number of people still being killed by burying them in hidden graves. The collapse of the truce, already unraveling with expanding violence throughout 2014, was confirmed at the start of 2015, with the declaration by Salvador’s new President Salvador Sanchez Ceren that his government would not negotiate with the gangs, followed by the return of key gang leaders to the Zacatecoluca maximum security prison, from the more comfortable, lower-security facilities to which they had been transferred under terms of the truce.
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