Salvadoran Military Protects Public Transportation from Gangs
By Dialogo September 02, 2015
El Salvador's Armed Forces (FAES) have deployed armed Troops throughout the mass transportation system in San Salvador to protect civilians from possible attacks by the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 (M-18) gangs.
The two criminal groups threatened to attack bus drivers and public transportation vehicles in late July, causing transportation employees to stop working from July 29-30. However, the FAES filled the gap by deploying 200 trucks to move citizens towards central locations in the nation’s capital; additionally, the Military's Joint Chiefs of Staff deployed 1,000 service members from specialized units to the country’s bus system, where they work in pairs to provide citizens with security, including riding buses at random from 6 a.m.- 9 p.m.
“The Armed Forces have mobilized Troops throughout the transportation system so citizens can move about in peace from their homes to work and back,” Minister of Defense David Munguía Payés announced during a press conference on July 29. “Although we were already cooperating to provide security on the buses, now we are doing so more intensively through our specialized units.”
Patrols provide public safety
In tandem with those measures, the FAES also provides security by conducting preventive patrols with HUMVEE M1151 and HUMVEE M1165 troop/cargo/MRC radio trucks, as well as domestically produced armored vehicles, such as the VCTA1 and VCTA2. This allows Soldiers to protect residents in urban zones where gangs have harassed the mass transportation system.
“The HUMVEEs are supporting us through patrols in the San Salvador Metropolitan Area, and they are a big help to the public security units who are confronting this gang scourge,” said Colonel Lucio Moz Linares, chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff 7th Group. “We want to continue to improve this fleet with low-cost investments.”
On board the HUMVEEs, Soldiers must wear helmets and bullet-proof vests as preventive measures against possible gang attacks, and teams of Soldiers and police officers must remain in constant communication with each other and the National Civil Police (PNC) to provide mutual support.
“Obviously, we are not conducting these activities on our own; any sort of operation we perform must be in conjunction with the police, so that our procedures are legal,” Min. Munguía Payés added. ”This is always our aim: to stay within the framework of the law and not exceed it.”
Civilian commuters are grateful
On city streets and buses, residents are grateful that the Armed Forces are providing security and are prepared to respond if gang members attack.
“It’s a big relief to see Soldiers with us and taking care of us during the commute,” said Elisa María Marquesini, a 35-year-old secretary who uses San Salvador microbus Route 5. “The gangs are very afraid of them, because they know that the Military is stronger than they are. But there is always that fear of facing an attack. So far, that hasn’t happened.”
This sense of security provided by FAES also extends to transportation vehicle employees, since the Military escorts guarantee they can perform their job peacefully, even in places where gangs are a bigger threat.
“Soyapango is a dangerous municipality – the gangs charge us a toll and threaten to attack us if we don’t pay,” said Carlos Edmundo Ortega, a 39-year-old driver on Route 9, which travels between the municipalities of Soyapango and San Salvador. “Having the specialized service members travelling with us is a guarantee that they cannot attack us, and people can move about without a problem.”
These measures will continue for an indefinite period of time because of the bloody battles between the MS-13 and Barrio 18 gangs. In July alone, there were 467 homicides – many committed by gang members – nationwide, an increase of 116 over those in July 2014, according to the Forensic Medicine Institute (IML).