In El Salvador, each month is proving worse than the last. The country suffered an astonishing climb in murders this August—by far the worst month in one of the bloodiest years in the country’s history. All told, 911 people were killed last month, bringing the number of Salvadorans murdered in 2015 to over 4,200.
The Guardian reports that government police are chalking up 80 percent of the body count to “purges and score-settling between the country’s gangs.” But as Tim Muth points out, this is hard to believe. “When you look at the daily news stories from El Salvador about that day's tally of murders, like this one or this one, you see that many of the victims are probably not gang members but are described as a fruit vendor, or an agricultural worker, a bus driver, or a seller of scrap metal.”
Beyond the startling jump in homicides, August also featured hints that the government’s war against the gangs is entering a new, more disturbing phase. Following a Supreme Court ruling that officially rebranded the gangs as “terrorists”—which in turn opens up the possibility of a new front in the “war on terror”—a “powerful” car bomb was discovered, and deactivated, near the country’s Security Ministry in San Salvador. Just days before, the government announced it had foiled another bombing attempt on the attorney general and other officials.
Whether the violence ruining El Salvador continues to escalate and grow into new forms or not, it seems increasingly apparent that both the government and the gangs have jettisoned any thought of a cease fire in the near future. Each time the government threatens to raise the stakes, the gangs call its bluff. A cycle of hyperviolent upping-the-ante is the result. There may have been a moment as recently as a month ago when hope for negotiations could have been salvaged, but that time is now passed. All sides have turned their backs on peace.
Michael Busch is Senior Editor of Warscapes. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelkbusch.