Gangs and Presidential Elections in El Salvador

EL SALVADOR-ELECTION-PREPARATIONSEl Salvador is a country divided. With a neck-and-neck presidential race ending on \March 9 its two primary candidates have been sure to shed light on their solutions to one of the country’s most pressing issues: gang violence. The candidate for the Marxist FMLN party, Salvador Sanchez Ceren, says his plan will remain the same as the current FMLN plan: attempt to decrease homicides, destroy extortion networks, and remove El Salvador from the list of the world’s most violent countries. The candidate for the right-leaning ARENA party, Norman Quijano, plans a more hands-on and ‘daring’ approach, and speaks of using the country’s larger military-run jails as a way to combat violence.

Correspondent Franc Contreras takes an in-depth look to the challenges that the next president of this nation will face.

Follow Franc Contreras on Twitter: @FrancMex


In 2012, the government brokered a truce between the country’s largest gangs, a move that brought the daily homicide rate down from 12 to 6. The figure, however, is still high.  The town of Lourdes in the state of Libertad serves as a prime example of the gang violence problem that overwhelms the country. There, the Mara Salvatruchas and the Barrio 18 have been in a brutal turf war for years. Young men are stopped and searched on the street for wearing their clothes a certain way, or for having visible scars. Local families live in fear of extortion and violence. And many young Salvadoran men feel they have little choice but to join a side in order to protect themselves and their families.

While at last count, Quijano was 10 points behind Sanchez in the polls, almost a quarter of citizens did not share which candidate will receive their vote come next week.  So while the decision of who will lead the country remains unknown, overcrowded jail cells and little sign of slowed violence, make one thing certain: El Salvador’s next president will not have an easy job.