Salvadoran municipalities to launch violence prevention

By Jennifer Brookland

April 14, 2014

Thirteen Salvadoran municipalities will launch youth outreach centers, vocational training programs and community development projects as part of their newly announced Crime and Violence Prevention Plans, which will be supported with $5.8 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Developed by Creative Associates International’s Crime and Violence Prevention Project, the Salvadoran Ministry of Justice and Public Safety and each municipality, the plans will be carried out in collaboration with community- and faith-based organizations during the next two years. The plans were announced at an April 8 ceremony in San Salvador.

“We see 13 municipalities that are fully determined to prevent violence,” said U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador Mari Carmen Aponte, who attended the April 8 event. “It is well worth noting their involvement with civil society, nongovernmental organizations, churches and the private sector.”

With the help of mayors, schools, women’s groups and other community members, Creative started the one-year process by diagnosing the driving factors behind the country’s high levels of violent crime. It then selected communities where projects could make the most difference.

“Having such a robust planning phase allowed us to get to know communities and target interventions right where they are needed,” says Linda Adami, a program associate managing Creative’s El Salvador program. “We really took the time to understand the realities on the ground and select areas where we can have the most impact.”

At 41.2 homicides per 100,000 residents, El Salvador has one of the highest murder rates in the world, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Police statistics show in 2012 there were, on average, seven murders a day. The New York Times reported gang membership in the country reached from 30,000 to 50,000 people in the country of 6.3 million.

A 2012 truce among gangs resulted in immediate drops in homicides, but extortion remains common and fear of violence high.

The 13 municipalities that presented crime and violence prevention plans were all included on a list of the “most violent” areas in the capital city of San Salvador in 2012. Within them, 77 communities identified through the diagnostic assessment will be especially targeted for development projects that reduce the culture of violence and enhance safety.

“Talk of violence prevention in this context is difficult,” says Harold Sibaja, who leads Creative’s program in El Salvador. “However, I am sure that USAID’s crime and violence prevention project, together with the mayors, municipal prevention councils, private sector, churches…national civilian police and others will have an important impact in bettering the security of Salvadorians.”

Municipal Violence Prevention Committees will now begin mobilizing communities, mayors and civil society to contribute $6 million to match USAID’s funding. Together, they will establish youth clubs and outreach centers, promote non-violent leadership, and engage communities in local projects among other initiatives.

These activities build off a Creative assessment that identified 13 risk factors that make youth vulnerable to violence—an approach that has led to the successful creation of 115 youth outreach centers throughout Central America that provide young people with safe places to receive academic tutoring and vocational training, interact with caring adult mentors and gain confidence through activities and sports.

The project falls under the Partnership for Growth initiative, a bilateral approach to targeting obstacles to economic growth in El Salvador in place since 2011. It also aligns with El Salvador’s new National Strategy for Social Violence Prevention in Support of Municipalities, a vital document that sets country-wide policy and empowers municipalities to take the lead on prevention projects launched in February 2014.

The prevention plans will be implemented over a two-year period in the following municipalities: Acajutla (Sonsonate), San Antonio del Monte (Sonsonate), Quezaltepeque (La Libertad), Nejapa (San Salvador), Panchimalco (San Salvador), Soyapango (San Salvador), Cojutepeque (Cuscatlán), Ilobasco (Cabañas), San Vicente (San Vicente), Tecoluca (San Vicente), Usulután (Usulután), Conchagua (La Unión) and La Unión (La Unión).

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