Since the beginning of the New Year and with the February 2nd presidential elections less than two weeks away, El Salvador has seen a dramatic increase in homicides. In the month of January, El Salvador has seen an average of 9.4 violent deaths per day, a shocking increase from months past, many of them carried out en masse and reminiscent of death squad-style murders.
The Foundation for the Study of the Application of Law (FESPAD), a Salvadoran legal aid clinic and research group, reports that the murders are being carried out by “extermination groups.” Nelson Flores of FESPAD notes that these types of murders often occur prior to electoral periods, and that the “extermination groups” are trying to generate terror in the population and make the government look like it cannot stop this phenomenon.
The type of group that FESPAD describes have been operating in El Salvador since during the armed conflict; many of the groups take their names from “historic figures tied to the worst state violence, including General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, Domingo Monterrosa, Roberto D´Aubuisson.” This is not the first time that FESPAD has publicized the continued operation of social cleansing groups in El Salvador (For more background, download a report in Spanish here).
Even before FESPAD’s recent announcement, many prominent voices in El Salvador had been questioning whether the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party was behind the recent rise in homicides.
President Mauricio Funes expressed concern about a possible link between the increased violence and ARENA’s electoral campaign, while FMLN spokesperson Roberto Lorenzana described ARENA, wracked by internal crises and an unpopular candidate, as being driven to desperate measures, including the use of confrontation and violence as part of a last ditch effort at a “black campaign.”
ARENA’s new campaign manager, the infamous right-wing Venezuelan campaign manager J.J. Rendón, is renowned for his use of “rumorology” and smear tactics. At the very least, ARENA is taking advantage of the increase in murders in their campaign, which has in recent weeks turned more vitriolic, with a focus on violence and insecurity. Some ads use slogans like “My money will no longer go to gangs” and “Children will play safely in the streets again” while others directly attack the Funes administration’s public security policies. In a recent presidential debate, ARENA candidate Norman Quijano, who was the only candidate to directly attack the administration, proposed militarizing public security as a solution to the insecurity problems, a measure that would directly violate El Salvador’s Constitution.