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Publicado el 22 de Agosto de 2011

id: 49428
date: 1/9/2006 21:39
refid: 06SANSALVADOR63
origin: Embassy San Salvador
classification: UNCLASSIFIED
destination: 02STATE2615
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.


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E.O. 12958: N/A
REF: 02 STATE 2615
 1.  The following is El Salvador's OSAC report for CY-2005.
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Overall Crime and Safety Situation:  A General Overview of
the Crime and Safety Threats Facing Americans in El Salvador.
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El Salvador is one of the most violent countries in the
world.  There is an average of ten murders and three car
jackings reported daily to the police.  The Civilian National
Police (PNC) reported a slight decrease in overall crime
(less than 1 percent, and with significant increases in
homicides and extortion) for 2005, however, crime is still
much higher than U.S. rates.  The Regional Security Officer
(RSO) notes significant differences in crime rates published
by police and those published by the prosecutor's office,
which are considerably higher.  The differences can be
explained by crimes being reported more than once to the
prosecutor's office and their classification of accidents
such as vehicular deaths and drowning as homicides.
Violent crime remains a critical concern and directly affects
the U.S. community (Post is aware of at least a half dozen
U.S. citizen homicide victims during the last fourteen
months).  Crimes of all types occur throughout the country 24
hours a day; daylight is not a deterrence.  With the
exception of ransom kidnapping (which is way down),
homicides, violent gang activity, sexual assault, armed car
jacking, and residential burglary occur routinely.
Recreational; activities such as exploring the countryside,
going to the beach or even taking a walk in residential areas
must be undertaken with extreme care.
U.S. enterprises and citizens are not specifically targeted
by criminals, neither are they exempt from the threat.  The
majority of American Business persons are able to conduct
their activity without any security related incidents by
following basic security precautions.
In 2001 and 2002 economically motivated kidnapping for ransom
had been a serious concern. However, according to official
police statistics, this number dropped to only eight reported
incidents in 2003 and 2004 and nine in 05.  This is an
encouraging sign as it is indicative of the PNC's ability to
combat crime when resources and training are available.
This represents a significant decrease from the numbers
reported during 2002, 114 and 2001, 115 respectively.
Still, security experts and professional hostage negotiators
estimate that as few as 1 in 10 kidnappings are reported to
police due to fear of reprisals from kidnappers or for fear
that the victim will be killed if authorities are notified.
This is changing as PNC personnel have been contacted for
both hostage and ransom negotiation assistance.  In early
December of 05, the family of the latest kidnap victim (the
ninth) contacted police early on which helped in the release
of the victim, recovery of the ransom paid and the capture of
the suspects.  There were no U.S. citizens kidnapped in El
Salvador in 2003 or 2004, but one U.S. citizen (a three year
old) was kidnapped and later released in 2005.
Homicide remains one of the country's leading crime problems
with an average of ten murders daily.  El Salvador has one of
the highest per capita murder rates in the world -- 59 per
100,000 in 2005,  (By comparison the murder rate in New York
City was 7 per 100,000).  The National Civilian Police
reported that 75 percent of all homicides in 2005 were
committed with firearms. The PNC estimates that between 55
and 65 percent of all murders are gang related.
Professional criminal gangs specialize in armed robberies and
burglaries, hijacking of freight trucks, buses and private
vehicles, extortion and other organized crimes.  Many of the
gangs are comprised of unemployed ex-combatants or former
military or police who were combat trained and don't hesitate
to use deadly force when perpetrating crimes for financial
gain.  Additionally, youth gang violence against rival gangs
members, perceived members, girlfriends, innocent relatives
and merchants and bus drivers has contributed to an increase
in the murder rate over last year.
A country of 6 million people, El Salvador has 309 known
street gangs totaling 16,000 members (estimates vary on
actual numbers from as few as 10,000 to as many as 40,000).
Violent-prone, well-armed, U.S. style street gang growth
continues in El Salvador, with
Los Angeles "18th Street" and "Mara Salvatrucha" gangs being
the largest in the country.  Gangs concentrate on extortion,
narcotic and arms trafficking, murder for hire, car jacking,
and violent street crime.  Gangs and other criminal elements
roam freely, day and night, targeting affluent areas for
burglaries and incidental violence if resistance is offered.
The PNC's "Plan Mano Dura" (Strong Hand Plan) and Super Mano
Dura (Super Strong Hand Plan) which began in July 2003
targeted and attempted to disrupt criminal gang activity and
intimidation of Salvadorans.  Although some crime dropped
during these plans, homicides, robberies, and extortion
increased significantly enough to reach or exceed record
levels.  Many suspected homicides suspects are frequently
arrested, but are often released due to technical reasons or
lack of evidence or living witnesses.
Rape is a serious problem in El Salvador.  There were 910
rapes reported to the National Police in 2005.  Local police
and judicial experts estimate that only 10 percent of rapes
are reported to authorities. Incidents of rape have increased
slightly each year since 2000.  Many experts believe that it
is being reported more now vice an increase in this crime.
While the police have made significant improvements in
reducing kidnapping and bank robbery rates, homicides,
extortion and armed robberies increased in 2005.  Many of
these incidents are committed by sophisticated criminal gangs
armed with automatic weapons.
Home invasions continue to be a concern in El Salvador.
However, there has been very little media attention and no
significant increase in these rates.  Police check points
along the airport road and other areas may have contributed
to a reduction in follow-home
home invasions from the international airport.  The trend
appears to have slowed in 2005.
Due to lax customs enforcement and porous borders, weapons
are readily available and easily obtained by criminals, gangs
and just about anyone else who wishes to obtain a firearm.
The number of illegal weapons in the streets is estimated at
400,000 --  to  include AK47 and M16 assault rifles, various
automatic handguns, grenades, etc. -- in addition to the
nearly 200,000 registered firearms.  The number of weapons
caches, with non-decommissioned weapons, that survived the
war is unknown.  Crimes committed by criminals armed with
automatic weapons are considered routine.
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The Threat from Political Violence  (Terrorism) or Civil
--------------------------------------------- ------
There are no known indigenous or international terrorist
group that operate within El Salvador.  Since the end of the
civil war in 1992, the group once violently opposed to El
Salvador's ruling government and the U.S. Government's
policies in El Salvador have demobilized and joined the
political process as peaceful actors.
The threat from transnational terrorism, or transnational
narco-terrorism cannot be ruled out, however.  The Government
of El Salvador has publicly stated strong support of the U.S.
Government's War on Terrorism and in the wake of the 9/11
terror attacks in the U.S. have worked hard to tighten both
border and airport security.  It appears that these actions,
if sustained, have and could continue to reduce organized
crime, like drug smuggling, extortion and freight theft over
the long term.  As an aside, the Government of El Salvador is
the only nation in the hemisphere with troops in Iraq
supporting the coalition.  Close to 400 Salvadoran troops
have been in Iraq (on six month rotations) since July of
Public demonstrations against the Government of El Salvador,
generally by government employees and social organizations,
are not uncommon.  Most demonstrations are concentrated in
and around city centers or public buildings and other public
areas.  Although often
non-violent, they have created public security problems at
times.  The Cathedral takeover in 2004 and again in late 2005
and violent demonstrations in this vicinity and near foreign
banks earlier this year are just two examples of the
potential for violence.
The most recent protests are related to Public Health Care
concerns, the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA),
and wages.  Most of these protests are staged near public
buildings, hospitals and downtown areas and have been
peaceful.  However, on a few occasions there have been
violent confrontations between the
police and demonstrators.  Additionally, there have been
demonstrations and road blockades staged along key routes,
such as the road leading to the international airport that
were designed to disrupt travel into and out of the city.
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Other Security and Safety Concerns in El Salvador
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A contributing factor to crime in well to do neighborhoods is
the unimpeded development of squatter slums in the midst of
some of the best neighborhoods in the capital.  Relative to
other parts of the city, these affluent neighborhoods are
generally well protected by local standards but, not
surprisingly, they are also popular targets for criminals.
These affluent neighborhoods are within walking distance
(approximately one mile or less) of areas in which bands of
criminals freely operate, and where street and residential
crime frequently results in violence to residents who fail to
take necessary precautions.
Public transportation is exceptionally risky, for both
security and safety reasons.  Passengers on public busses are
frequently robbed or pickpocketed, both enroute and at
roadblocks/stops (or items of value are stolen from them).
Also, gang shootings of bus drivers and bus fee takers either
for not paying extortion fees or because they may belong to a
rival gang is becoming a daily occurrence here.  Poorly
maintained roads and vehicles are a danger to travelers.
There is virtually no street lighting on minor roads in urban
areas.  Great numbers of vehicles in El Salvador are not up
to U.S. road worthiness standards.  Mini-bus, taxi drivers,
and over loaded trucks do not adhere to traffic rules or
regulations and cause many accidents.  Because of a near
complete lack of enforcement of traffic laws, drivers must
make an extraordinary effort to drive defensively.
Particularly in areas where passing on blind corners is
U.S. Citizens using banking services should be vigilant and
cautious while conducting their financial transactions either
inside local banks or at automated teller machines.  Reports
of armed robberies of people who appear to have been followed
from the bank after completing their transactions are a
recurring problem.  Skimming (theft of credit card financial
information) appears to be on the rise with several
documented incidents reported in 2005.
Visitors to El Salvador should use caution when climbing
volcanoes or hiking in remote areas.  Armed robberies of
climbers and hikers are common.  El Salvador is located in an
area with significant seismic activity.  An earthquake
measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale
devastated much of El Salvador in January 2001.  A second
earthquake in February 2001 measured 6.6 on the Richter scale
and caused significant additional damage and loss of life.  A
6.02 late last year did not cause any significant damage or
injuries.  The Santa Ana Volcano (28 miles north, northwest
from San Salvador) erupted last Summer and continues to be
active.  Hurricane Stan caused significant flood damage to
much of the country.  Both of these events caused a number of
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A General Assessment of the Police in El Salvador and a
Listing of Emergency Telephone Numbers
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The National Civilian Police (PNC) was created in 1992 as
part of the Peace Accords following the civil war.  To
bolster broad-based support for the organization, the
recruiting effort focused on quickly hiring new officers to
meet hiring quotas: 20 percent of the PNC would be former
rightist combatants or public security officials, 20 percent
would be former Leftist combatants, and the remaining 60
percent would be drawn from the civilian population with no
former military or police experience.  The PNC recently
advised RSO that these percentages are now about 18% former
military, 14% former leftist combatants and the remainder
drawn from the general population.
The PNC is still in the developmental stages of becoming a
modern and effective police operation that can protect the
public.  The PNC's investigative units have shown great
promise and in many cases, helped lower crime.  Plans "Mano
Dura" (Strong Hand Plan) initiated in July 2003 and "Super
Mano Dura" (Super Strong Hand Plan) initiated in 2004 have
had an impact on the criminal youth gang members ability to
carry a firearm or a weapon outside their marginal
neighborhoods for fear of being arrested.  However, with a
few exceptions, equipment shortages (particularly vehicles,
fuel, and radios) severely limit PNC ability to deter,
respond, and investigate crimes effectively.  An ineffective
judiciary seems to empower criminals which has severely
exacerbated the violent crime rate.
On January 1, 2006, a new National Civilian Police Director
was named and he was sworn in on January 4, 2006.  Many here
are hoping that he will be able to bring down the overall
violent crime, but without changing the culture of violence,
the ineffective judiciary, a weak economy, and a dearth of
police resources needed to fight crime, little will probably
change in the levels of violent crime.
U.S. citizen residents or travelers detained by the police
should insist on speaking to the Embassy.  Arrested or
otherwise detained foreigners are generally treated well by
the police.  Except in some very rural locations, police are
aware of a U.S. citizen detainee's right to contact the
Embassy.  Travelers should be aware, however, that the
assistance the Embassy can provide is limited to making sure
U.S. citizens are not being mistreated and providing them
with a list of attorneys.  The Embassy cannot secure the
release or act as legal representation for U.S. citizens.
Local law allows for the police to detain someone for up to
seventy-two hours for administrative processing.
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Telephone Numbers
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Public Safety Emergencies in El Salvador, dial "911"
For reporting suspicious activities in El Salvador dial "122"
A. National Civilian Police Contact Information
-Metropolitan Investigation Division (503) 2254-8600
-Public Security Division (503) 2222-1304, 2254-7700
B. Fire Department Contact Information
- Fire Department Headquarters (503) 2271-2227
C. U.S. Private Security Companies Which Provide Uniformed
Guard, Executive Protection, and/or Investigative Services
-Wackenhut of El Salvador (503) 2500-6285
-Spirit of Central America (503) 2243-1275
-OMNI (503) 2271-4786
-Rivaprosa S.A. de C.V. (503) 2243-4287, 2243-2083
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Medical Services in El Salvador and A Listing of Emergency
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Medical care is limited.  Emergency services, even in the
capital city, are very basic.  Although many physicians in
San Salvador are U.S.- trained their staff and equipment are
generally not up to U.S. standards.  For more information see
the Consular Information Sheet.
Medical Emergency Contact Information
-Diagnostic Hospital (503) 2226-5111, 2264-4422
-Women's Hospital (503) 2263-5111
-Red Cross Ambulance (503) 2288-1826
-Green Cross - (503) 2242-5735
-Air Ambulance (305) 535-7380 (World Access Transport
Services, Mount Sinai Hospital, Miami Beach Florida)
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Recommended Security Precautions for U.S. Visitors to El
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1.  Always remain alert to your surroundings.  Research
recent crime trends prior to planning your trip.
2.  Avoid travel into the downtown area unless absolutely
3.  Leave your expensive jewelry and watches at home.  If
confronted by an armed assailant and he/she demands your
property - comply.
4.  Leave valuables and important documents in a secure
location at your office or in a hotel safe deposit box.
5.  Avoid public transportation, including the local busses.
There are almost daily reports of robberies involving
inter-city buses and to a lessor extent on international
busses.  This has been a frequent problem along the
Guatemalan border. Use only taxis you can call via telephone
or that you find at reputable hotels.
6.  Always drive with your vehicle doors locked and windows
7.  Try to park in a  secure area whenever possible.  At
stores, restaurants and other locations with uniformed
guards, try to park near the guard post or the business'
8.  Be alert to your surroundings when entering or leaving a
parking area, including private residences.
9.  Check your vehicle before entry.  Ensure no one is hidden
10.  Do not leave valuables in your vehicle, anything left
visible in your vehicle may appear inviting to petty
11.  Do not drive outside the capital after dark, for both
personal security and traffic safety reasons.
12.  When traveling to rural areas, try to travel with a
large group and more than one vehicle whenever possible.
13.  Avoid unpaved roads.  These are indicators of areas
where police presence may be minimal.
14.  Use caution when traveling or spending the night in an
isolated or rural area.  Telephone communication may be
non-existent or erratic.  In an emergency situation in a
rural area, you may not be able to summon assistance -
including the police.
15.  Schedule trips on the highway between San Salvador the
Comalapa International Airport during daylight hours.  The
highway is dangerous, especially at night.
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Contact Numbers for Further Information
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U.S. Embassy, San Salvador, El Salvador
- 24 hour number: (503) 501-22253
- Regional Security Office:  extension 2262
- Consular Section, American Citizens Services Unit:
extension 2628
American Chamber of Commerce in El Salvador
- Phone (503) 2263-9494
- Fax (503) 2263-9393
The American Chamber of Commerce sponsors an active local
OSAC Country Council that meets on a ad hoc basis.  The OSAC
Country Council frequently holds seminars and briefings on
local criminal trends.  Contact the American Chamber of
Commerce for further information on the OSAC Country Council.
Travelers may also review OSAC security information posted on
the Embassy's website, www.usinfo.org.sv.

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