The U.S. Agency for International Development will spend $42 million over five years to address gang violence and drug crime in El Salvador, reports the International Business Times. USAID is partnering with five municipalities to increase security, mitigate conflict and promote economic development in El Salvador, which has the world’s second-highest homicide rate, after neighboring Honduras. “Crime and violence [in El Salvador] are the leading obstacles to economic growth,” said Mark Feierstein, assistant administrator for USAID's Latin America and the Caribbean bureau. “As a development aid agency, we can't be successful without addressing those issues.”
El Salvador has become an international crime focus due to the spread of the Mara Salvatrucha gang (MS-13) from Central America up through the U.S. and Canada. The group was designated a transnational criminal organization last fall by the U.S. Treasury Department. In the past, Salvadorian authorities focused on aggressive policing tactics and mass arrests of suspected gang members, but such policies have largely failed. The USAID funding will be used for a more community-based approach focused on prevention rather than punishment.