Over the weekend, the Latin American Herald Tribune and El Diario de Hoy reported that Friday two teenagers were killed and four others wounded when a bomb or grenade exploded in the downtown area of Cojutepeuque, a city located about 20 miles outside of San Salvador. The youth were in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant when unidentified attackers threw the bomb, which exploded causing severe injuries. The two teens died before they could receive treatment at the Cojutepeque hospital.
Investigators have yet to determine who instigated the attack or their motives. Though violence in El Salvador is increasing, and police report between 10-12 murders everyday, these homicides stand out because the assailants used a bomb.
The bombing occurred two days after the UNDP released a report that ranks Central America as the most violent region in the world. As a region, Central America’s murder rate is 33 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants – the World Health Organization considers a murder rate greater than 10 per 100,000 an epidemic. Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala lead the region with homicide rate of 58, 52, and 48/100,000 respectively.
Hernando Gómez Buendía, who coordinated the report for the UNDP, stressed that the issue is more complex than comparing regional homicide statistics. Mr. Gómez Buendía cites a survey within the report that reveals the populations’ high sense of insecurity. For example, 14% of those surveyed had been a victim of a crime in the past year. El Salvador has the highest victimization rates, with 19% reporting that they were victimized. Only 8.3% of Panamanians, however, reported being the victim of a crime, the lowest in the region. The insecurity that results from violent aggression, rape, kidnapping, corruption, and other crimes has an adverse affect on a country’s development.
The UNDP report identifies the security policies adopted by Central American governments as a large part of the problem. UNDP official Marcela Smutt says “the policies were insufficient and ineffective in their efforts to control the violence, and they were irresponsible by giving their populations a false sense of security.” The report specifically cites El Salvador’s Super Mano Duro (heavy hand) policy, which was also adopted by Guatemala and Honduras. The policy enacted a zero tolerance program that violated the basic due process and human rights of those believed to be involved in the violence, without addressing the roots of the violence. During the life of Super Mano Duro, the homicide rates and violence increased considerably. Gómez Buendía said in an interview “it is necessary to understand that the phenomenon of youth gangs and violence is constantly changing. We must also consider the issues of organized crime, drug trafficking, and corruption when considering how to address the problem of youth gangs.”