In the past three days alone, 125 people were killed in El Salvador, authorities said on Wednesday, as gang violence escalated to a new high.
National Police chief Mauricio Ramirez set the death toll as 40 on Sunday, 42 on Monday and 43 on Tuesday, noting that most of the cases were gang-related.
Most of the victims are believed to be “gang members who in some way have betrayed the gangs and are murdered by those same groups,” National Police deputy director Howard Cotto said.
An anti-crime crackdown by the government has led to increased violence by the gangs, who resort to murder for internal purges or turf wars between rivals, Justice and Public Security Minister Benito Lara said.
Chief Ramirez called the death toll “worrisome” and added that “these are Salvadorans who are dying. Regardless of who is a gang member or not.”
In 2012, the government helped negotiate a “gang truce,” that led to much lower homicide rates. While the truce was not sustained, authorities say drug gangs are trying to pressure the government into calling another truce.
“They want to exert some pressure and for the government to grant some of the things they are asking for,” Lara said.
The government has declared that it will not negotiate with criminals nor give into the demands of the gang that their leaders be transferred out of a maximum-security prison.
There were 3,332 murders between January and June in the country of 6 million people compared to 2,191 in 2014, according to government data.
The gangs are reported to be 72,000 strong, with 13,000 already in detention.