Publication: The Military Balance 2016
09 February 2016
Organised criminal and narco-trafficking groups intensified their attacks against security forces in several Latin American countries during 2015, and the activity of these groups again dominated regional defence activity. Criminal and guerrilla groups deliberately targeted military forces, especially in the slums of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, and in parts of Mexico and El Salvador. In response, regional armed forces were increasingly involved in internal security deployments. Meanwhile, although regional military procurements were limited by a weakening economic environment throughout the region, some armed forces continued to consider future force postures and potential overseas roles.
Organised crime in Central America
Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador again deployed military force in the face of high levels of violent crime. In El Salvador, there was a steep rise in gang attacks in urban areas directed at police and military personnel, and 63 troops and police officers were killed in the year to September. More broadly, the country’s security forces had to deal with a daily homicide rate that, according to the National Police, was by September running at 18 per day, in contrast to an average of 17 during the civil war that ended in 1992. In response, San Salvador announced the creation of a new special-forces branch under the command of the armed forces. Three battalions of the new Fuerzas Especiales de Reacción (FER, or Special Reaction Forces), each with 200 members, began training in April 2015. An initial force of 60 was deployed ahead of schedule in May in Aguilares, near San Salvador, in response to a clash between Barrio 18 gang members and the army. The increasingly tough stance on gangs also included a pronouncement by the Supreme Court on 24 August declaring gang members and their supporters ‘terrorists’. This means they can now be charged under anti-terrorism legislation and are subject to longer sentences than usual for criminal cases.