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Nearly 20,000 Salvadorans were killed from 2014 to 2017. That’s more violent deaths than in several countries that were at war during those years, such as Libya, Somalia and Ukraine. The murder rate – an astonishing 103 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2015 – is still sky-high at 60 per 100,000 in 2017. The culprit in most of these murders is the maras, the country’s powerful, pervasive criminal gangs.

The maras, including the infamous MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, are active in 94 per cent of El Salvador’s 262 municipalities. In many of these “red zones”, gangs are not just a standing danger to public safety but also a de facto authority that exerts tremendous control over residents’ daily lives.

Life Under Gang Rule in El Salvador - International Crisis Group, 2018

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