SAN SALVADOR – The Salvadoran military deployed four armored cars on Wednesday in the country’s capital and several nearby zones to support the police in the operation to provide security to transport workers threatened by the gangs who are insisting they stop providing bus service to local residents.
“The only order from the president of the republic was to increase patrolling in Greater San Salvador and accompany the police on the security tasks that are under way,” said Defense Minister David Munguia Payes.
Wednesday was the third day of a transportation work stoppage instigated by the gangs, who have murdered seven bus drivers in recent days for not having joined the strike.
Munguia Payes confirmed that about 100 troops were added to the 200 soldiers who regularly help the police provide security in metropolitan San Salvador and the rest of the country.
In addition, he said that the military had deployed 30 vehicles to provide public transport services along with 60 buses, 29 microbuses and 45 other vehicles, all of which is part of the contingency plan being implemented by the government to ensure that people can still move around the city by public transport.
A bus driver was murdered here on Wednesday, bringing to seven the number of drivers killed amid the offensive against public transportation by El Salvador’s powerful gangs.
The death at the hands of gang members of Elias Emilio Melendez, 21, was confirmed to EFE by a police spokesman.
The enforced shutdown of public transportation continued on Wednesday and affected a number of routes in San Salvador, where authorities are implementing a contingency and security plan.
Since early on Monday, transport workers on several bus lines have not been working as a result of gang threats and the murders of several drivers.
The Salvadoran government blames the assault on mass transit on the Barrio 18 gang and had said that if the gang activities continued on Wednesday it would send the army into the streets.
The government said that the shutdown was ordered by Carlos Eduardo Burgos Nuila and Jose Carlos Hernandez Mauricio, two imprisoned leaders of Barrio 18, who on Tuesday were transferred to Zacatecoluca, El Salvador’s toughest prison.
Gangs in Central America derive much of their income from extortion rackets targeting bus operators and small businesses. Victims who refuse to pay often end up dead.
The Salvadoran government interprets the offensive against public transport as aimed at forcing authorities to negotiate with the gangs, something President Salvador Sanchez Ceren’s administration has vowed not to do.
For 15 months in 2012 and 2013, a truce with the gangs engineered by the government of then-President Mauricio Funes resulted in a sharp drop in the murder rate in the capital from 12 per day to five per day.
However, according to official figures, in the first half of this year, murders in El Salvador shot up by 55.7 percent, compared to the same period last year, to 2,865, or 16 killings per day, on average.