El Salvador continues to be a major transit country for illegal drugs headed to the United States from source countries in South America. El Salvadoran criminal networks provide protection for transiting drug shipments, weapons, and human trafficking through the country. Traffickers in El Salvador use “go-fast” boats and commercial vessels to smuggle illegal drugs along the coastline. Land transit primarily occurs along the Pan-American Highway, on buses and tractor-trailers. El Salvador was identified as a major transit country for the fifth year in a row in the President’s 2015 report to congress on Major Illicit Drug Producing and Drug Transit Countries.
El Salvador faces significant economic and security challenges. The challenge posed by transnational gangs like MS-13 and 18th Street is particularly acute. President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, who was inaugurated on June 1, 2014, has continued to maintain El Salvador’s historic partnership with the United States on counternarcotics and crime prevention activities. The U.S.-El Salvador Partnership for Growth (PFG) initiative seeks to develop a comprehensive approach to promoting sustainable, broad-based economic growth, and the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) includes various programs to improve the security situation in El Salvador, such as enhancing law enforcement, promoting judicial reform, reducing prison overcrowding, and discouraging at-risk youth from engaging in criminal activity. Despite this commitment to shared objectives, Salvadoran law enforcement agencies lack sufficient personnel, training, and equipment to effectively manage the country’s borders and interdict drug shipments. There continues to be a lack of accurate information on the severity of drug trafficking and use in El Salvador.
INL programs in El Salvador seek to strengthen the capacity of law enforcement to combat serious crimes such as drug trafficking, gangs, and money laundering. These efforts focus on: expanding community policing and youth programs to build trust and deepen relationships between the police and communities; supporting justice sector reform; addressing prison overcrowding and deficiencies in the corrections sector; supporting police professionalization and reform; and implementing a Place-Based Strategy (PBS) in coordination with USAID to mount integrated, multifaceted crime prevention programs in key high-crime areas. El Salvador is also home to one of the five International Law Enforcement Academies (ILEAs) placed in regions around the world. U.S. law enforcement experts from a range of agencies train officials from the Caribbean, Central and South America at ILEA San Salvador.
The United States coordinated with the Salvadoran government to promote the implementation of the asset forfeiture legislation passed in 2013 and to train all applicable offices to increase their familiarization with the law and its applicability. The law signals El Salvador’s commitment to combat transnational crime, and the United States is committed to supporting this effort by providing technical assistance and leveraging the experience and lessons learned of neighboring countries that have successfully implemented similar legislation.
In 2014, the United States also helped strengthen the effectiveness of criminal justice procedures and practices by training 982 justice sector personnel; providing technical assistance to increase coordination between justice sector agents and institutions; providing training on the Code of Criminal Procedures; improving criminal investigations using scientific evidence; and building the capacity of the police and prosecutor’s offices.
The United States has collaborated with El Salvador since 2010 to establish a National Electronic Monitoring Center (NEMC), which began operations in June 2012. The center allows Salvadoran law enforcement with judicial warrants to intercept electronic communications in furtherance of investigations of drug trafficking transnational criminal organizations.
In 2014, the United States collaborated with El Salvador to expand community and youth programs. The INL-funded Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.) program is a regional training program implemented by the Institute for Intergovernmental Research (IIR), in which police officers teach children and young adults life skills and the ability to resist the pressures to join gangs or engage in other risky behaviors. In 2014, the United States trained and certified 45 PNC officers as full-time GREAT instructors, enabling 12,000 at-risk youth to complete the training. The El Salvador-based training program has certified over 485 regional officers and trained more than 100,000 at-risk youth in Central America. In addition to the life skills imparted by the training, placing police officers in classrooms builds trust for the institution among youth, who are more likely to report crime and ask for assistance from police as a result.
In support of the G.R.E.A.T. program, INL also funds Police Athletic Leagues (PAL) where police officials serve as mentors, coaches, teachers and community liaisons in an effort to foster community trust and engagement. In Santa Ana and Herradura de La Paz , more than 900 children enjoy after-school PAL activities including volleyball, swimming, soccer, and gymnastics classes.
In 2014, the United States partnered with the PNC to expand the Model Precinct Program (MPP), a capacity building effort in which INL provides training in the principles of community-based policing; facilitates planning and interaction between police and community leadership, including schools, churches, and other civil society organizations; and co-locates key functions of police work under one roof to increase efficiency and connection to local developments. The MPP expanded into new PNC sub-stations serving approximately three million Salvadorans for citizen security and prevention. PNC officers are now being trained and equipped to implement best practices in effective crime prevention and community policing.