According to an article published in “The Economist”, on the 15th of every month a bus driver in El Salvador keeps a small package wrapped in a black plastic bag under his seat and begins his route. At one point, two young people get on the bus, remove the package and get off. They will bring this package, which contains $ 550 in cash, to Mara Salvatrucha, one of the main criminal gangs in El Salvador.
This type of extortion is already part of the daily life of that country, which has the highest homicide rate worldwide; 104 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. With a vast network of crime, meticulously organized, it impacts all businesses, from street vendors to multinational companies. Much of the country, including the capital’s center, is controlled by gangs Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18. Salvadoran authorities estimate that between 60,000 and 70,000 people belong to gangs and that half a million more -families, business partners, politicians And corrupt police officers – are financially dependent on them.
Salvadorans pay $ 756 million a year, roughly 3 percent of GDP, to the gangs, according to a study conducted by the country’s central bank and the United Nations Development Program. The surprisingly high murder rate in El Salvador is due in large part to the wars between the same gangs for the control of the territory. The study estimates that the total cost of violence in this country is almost 16% of GDP, the highest level in Central America.
In the 2000s, former president of El Salvador, Francisco Flores, applied “hard hand” locking thousands of gang members, separated by gang, which increased the population of inmates by 50%. The problem was that the prisons became “24/7 gang meetings,” and their leaders began coordinating their activities throughout the country, planning revenge against their captors and competing among them for dominance.
In a country where a quarter of 15- to 29-year-olds are not working or attending school, it is difficult to combat these networks. In addition, the government has invested little money in programs to reintegrate former gang members into labor or to prevent new generations from becoming criminals. It has closed most of the pilot projects as bakeries and chicken farms run by former gang members, which in some places have reduced considerably crimes such as extortion.
Although in Chile the figures are of smaller proportions than those of El Salvador, the National Urban Citizen Security Survey estimates that the perception of fear of citizenship reached its peak this year, with 21.1% of Chileans declaring Feel high fear of being a victim of a crime. Likewise, according to the February Adimark survey, 92% of Chileans express their disapproval of government management in the fight against crime.
Possibly this fear is justified by the increase that showed the violent crime, as the robbery with violence or intimidation. According to the report published by the Undersecretariat for Crime Prevention for 2015, this crime increased by 2.8%, reaching the highest level in the last 15 years, with 61,300 cases.
There is one aspect that does not seem to be considered. There is a growing asymmetry between the costs to be borne by the victims and those of the perpetrators. The former continues to grow (more money is spent on security, higher insurance premiums, greater psychological stress, etc.), while for those who commit the costs of being in business, they do not increase and decrease. And it could be added that in some segments of the population, delinquency is seen as a more than accepted way of earning a living.
Undoubtedly, the action of the State in both criminal and police prosecution accuses a major deficit. It requires a set of new tools commensurate with the seriousness and complexity of crime. But it also demands to understand well the different links that are part of the “value chain” of crime. He who steals species that are worth 100 knows that there is a liquid and deep market in which he can reduce them by 50. That income of 50 more that compensates the risks that must run. One part of the criminal policy action that should be taken is to reduce liquidity and depth to the “downsizing” market and that would be achieved with an appropriate combination of greater penalties and persecution of those intermediaries. What it is about is to make the “reduction” more expensive and risky so that the expected income of the offender is no longer 50 but 10. That would increase the costs of crime and reduce the expected profitability of the “activity” forcing many To abandon the “business”.
Juan Pablo Bórquez Y.