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On April 26, 2020, the president of El Salvador stated that security forces are allowed to use “lethal force” against gang members as violence has surged recently; at least 40 people died between April 24 and 26. Official sources reported 24 homicides on April 24, linked to the activities of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) organization. The president claimed that authorities would ensure the legal protection of law enforcement agents who face prosecution. As imprisoned MS13 members are known to communicate with free militants, the government enforced stringent reforms inside the jail to limit the communications of the criminal group. According to the Direction of Penal Centres of El Salvador, approximately 12,862 MS13 militants are currently in jail. On April 24, prison authorities isolated the leaders to prevent them from ordering more assassinations. In addition to thorough inspections in at least five prisons in El Salvador during the weekend, the government gathered the members of rival criminal groups inside shared cells to further constrain the internal communications between criminals. The president stated that gang members should remain in “absolute confinement every day” as long as security operations continue.

Analyst Comment:

Pinkerton assesses that the reinforcement of police operations in El Salvador will likely cause operational disruptions due to more exhaustive security checkpoints and potential raids in focalized areas to curb the activities of MS13 and its most notable rival, Barrio 18. Pinkerton finds it highly likely that violence will remain high in various cities, including in San Salvador, as the identified groups maintain a diffused organization. Various leaders called runners (“corredores”) coordinate dispersed cells (cliques) with a relatively determined territory, which varies from one cell to another. Therefore, turf wars will highly likely remain in the medium to long term despite the measures enforced in El Salvador’s prisons. Turf wars and clashes against security forces are credible threats for personnel operating in El Salvador. Thus, Pinkerton recommends monitoring local and national news to identify the response of criminal organizations and outline the overall changes of the criminal landscape in the country. Further, Pinkerton recommends that clients render a security assessment in areas of interest to ascertain neighborhoods with historically high levels of violence and criminal presence to avoid operational and physical risks.