US Embassy El Salvador: Critical Crime Threat – Stay Off the Streets

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— Domani Spero

On January 14, 2014, the US Embassy in San Salvador sent an emergency message to U.S. citizens in the country with a reminder of the critical crime threat in El Salvador. At approximately 21,041 square kilometers, El Salvador is the smallest and the most densely populated country in Central America.

This message is to remind U.S. citizens residing and traveling in El Salvador of the critical crime threat in El Salvador.  Most travelers to El Salvador experience no safety or security problems, but as noted in our August 9, 2013, Travel Warning for El Salvador, both random and organized violent crime is endemic throughout El Salvador. U.S. citizens are not normally singled out based on their nationality, but are subject to the same threats as all other persons in El Salvador.

Over the last several weeks, several joggers and pedestrians were robbed at gunpoint in the immediate area around U.S. Embassy San Salvador.  Blogs associated with local running and cycling groups have also reported on runners being targeted in the Santa Elena area as well as other affluent areas, such as Escalon and San Benito.  Due to these issues, U.S. Embassy security officials advise all U.S. Government personnel not to walk, run or cycle in the unguarded streets and parks of El Salvador, even in groups, and recommend exercising only in gyms and fitness centers.

Stay aware of your surroundings at all times when in public, and avoid carrying any valuables at all, including watches or smart phones/tablets, as these items are often targeted by thieves.  Be especially vigilant when entering or exiting your home or hotel, car, garage, school, and workplace.  Whenever possible, travel in groups of two or more persons.  Walking in many areas of El Salvador can expose you to crime, especially at night, and visitors and residents should not walk alone on or near beaches, historic ruins, or trails.

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The 2013 Crime and Safety Report published by  Diplomatic Security says that “El Salvador is considered one of the most violent countries in the world. The criminal threat in El Salvador is unpredictable, gang-centric, and characterized by violence directed against both known associates and targets of opportunity.”

Crimes of every nature occur 24 hours a day; daylight is not a deterrent. There are no areas that are deemed free of violent crime. Robberies and robbery attempts, home invasions, and extortions occur in the most affluent neighborhoods, and closely guarded officials, independent business persons, and diplomats are not immune from these attacks.
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Most U.S. citizens (close to 90 percent) die of natural causes in El Salvador. The leading cause of non-natural death is homicide. In 2012, U.S. fatalities included 11 non-natural deaths (seven homicides, two vehicle accidents, one suicide, and one drowning). 2011 saw eight non-natural deaths (four homicides, two vehicle accidents, and two drowning). And 2010 saw 13 non-natural deaths (11 homicides, one vehicle accident, and one drowning). Of 32 non-natural deaths from January 2010 to December 2012, 22 were homicides.

The effect and threat of violent crime in San Salvador, including the neighborhoods in which many Americans live and work, leads to isolation and the curtailment of recreational opportunities. Based on current statistics, violent crime remains significantly higher than U.S. and international rates. El Salvador has the second highest per capita murder rate in the world: 69 per 100,000 in 2012 (UNODC statistics) (by comparison the murder rate in Massachusetts, with a similar geographical area and population, was 2.6 per 100,000). Police statistics show there was an average of seven murders and three carjackings reported daily in 2012.

As of January 12, 2014, El Salvador is a 15% hardship and a 10% COLA post.

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