José Miguel Cruz
Research Director at the Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center (LACC) and Visiting Assistant
Professor at the Department of Politics and International Relations, Florida International University
Héctor Silva Ávalos
Research Fellow at the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies, American University
Associate Director of the Latin American Program, Woodrow Wilson Center
Senior Associate for Citizen Security, WOLA
The Northern Triangle countries of Central America—El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—face serious challenges of violence and insecurity, ranging from alarmingly high homicide rates to gang-related violence, rampant extortion, and transnational crime.
In response to these security challenges, governments in the region have increasingly turned to the military to provide public security. In Honduras, the Hernández administration deployed throughout the country the Military Police of Public Order (Policía Militar del Orden Público, PMOP), whose numbers are expected to grow to 5,000 this year. In El Salvador, President Sánchez Cerén has responded to the surge in homicides following the breakdown of the country’s gang truce by pledging to arm and deploy special anti-gang units, and to create three new army “Gang Cleanup Battalions.”
In this panel discussion, the speakers discussed the current security challenges in each country and offered insight on the dangers of pursuing repressive policies that focus on relying on the military to confront crime and violence.
José Miguel Cruz is the Research Director at the Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center (LACC), at Florida International University in Miami. He is also visiting assistant professor at the Department of Politics and International Relations in the same university. From 1994 to 2006, he served as director of the University Institute of Public Opinion (IUDOP) at the University of Central America (UCA) in San Salvador. Cruz has been working on Central American gangs since 1996, and has published numerous articles and books about violence in the region.
Héctor Silva Ávalos is a Research Fellow at the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies at American University. Previous to this position, Silva served as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the El Salvador Embassy in Washington, D.C. He has 15 years of experience as an investigative reporter for La Prensa Gráfica, a major Salvadoran newspaper, and currently authors two blogs on organized crime and U.S.-El Salvador-Central America relations.
Eric Olson is the Associate Director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. His research and writing has focused primarily on security issues and the impacts of crime, organized crime, and violence on democracies. He has also written about police reform and judicial institutions as a vehicle for addressing the problem of rapidly expanding crime in the Americas.