Publication: Armed Conflict Survey 2017
09 May 2017
Central America (Northern Triangle) The Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador strengthened their institutional capacity to fight corruption in 2016, establishing new agencies and implementing reforms to reduce criminal groups’ influence on politicians, business leaders and security personnel. Although the conflict there caused the deaths of around 16,000 people in the year, this was around 10% fewer than in 2015. Endemic violence and intimidation by powerful gangs combined with economic underdevelopment to drive migration northwards: the number of unaccompanied children from Northern Triangle countries apprehended at the southern US border increased by 65% in fiscal year 2016 (ending on 30 September).
Migration driven by insecurity
El Salvador experienced a 22% fall in the annual fatality rate, the largest decrease in the Northern Triangle. Nonetheless, with around 5,199 murders, 2016 was still the country’s second-most-violent year since 1999. The high number of killings reflected the significant presence, firepower and organisational capacity of rival gangs Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 (which remained split into two factions, Revolucionarios and Sureños). The gangs also continued their campaign against security personnel, targeting and killing 46 police officers and 27 members of the armed forces – most of them while they were off duty. In April, the government launched the Specialised Reaction Forces, a hybrid organisation comprising 600 soldiers and 400 police officers. This was the latest in a series of paramilitary security forces to be formed in the Northern Triangle in recent years, following the Military Police of Public Order in Honduras and the Special Reserve Corps for Citizen Security in Guatemala.
In Honduras, the annual number of homicides fell by just 1.7% to around 5,060, despite a 24% increase in the country’s security and defence budget. There, criminal groups had an increasing impact on the economy as they expanded their traditional extortion of urban-transportation (mainly bus) companies into much larger industries. After a series of attacks on vehicles transporting food and automotive goods in August, Armando Urtecho, head of the Honduran Council of Private Enterprise, demanded ‘stronger, more energetic’ anti-crime measures from authorities.