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Column 112816 Thompson

Monday, November 28, 2016

Central Americans fear an Onslaught of Criminal Returnees from the U.S.

By Barnard R. Thompson

Since long before the November 8 election of Donald Trump as president, concerns have been expressed night and day regarding undocumented immigrants (aka "illegal aliens") residing in the U.S., most recently singling out gangsters labeled as the "criminal alien population" by the U.S. government.  And too, there is anxiousness regarding the anticipated arrival of future work-seeking and refugee emigrants fleeing south of the border nations.

These concerns vented in the U.S., yet too commentary and counter-criticisms have come from south of the border with respect to migrants, the undocumented, and future obstacles rising to prevent the unauthorized cross-border transit of people and contraband.

In Central America, however – aside from losing the socioeconomic (and political) "escape valve" like Mexico has so long enjoyed by exporting workers to the U.S., there are added critical worries.  Concerns with respect to not only how to absorb the influx of returning nationals – but too who those returnees may be, and how might many of them worsen not just unemployment and poverty, but too already rampant crime and violence.

El Salvador, the small Pacific coastal nation wedged between Guatemala and Honduras, earlier this year was labeled the "murder capital of the world" by the government's Instituto de Medicina Legal.  This largely due to gang violence, led by the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and 18th Street gangs that were named terrorist organizations by the El Salvador Supreme Court in 2015. (ABC News, May 17, 2016)

The Los Angeles Times put it this way on March 2, 2016 (excerpts): "It's official. El Salvador is the world's most violent country and its capital, San Salvador, is the world's most homicidal city. Salvadoran cities have seen more blood spilled than most conflict zones. They are also hemorrhaging people, many of whom are fleeing to Mexico and the United States.

"Complicating matters, El Salvador's main gangs – the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and 18th Street – are coming apart at the seams. Not only are they at war with the police and with one another, but each is also waging a civil war within its own ranks. With the gangs purging and punishing 'traitors' and 'snitches,' the bloodletting shows little sign of abating, and it's spreading to neighboring Honduras and Guatemala. …"

All of which is terrifying to most Salvadorans, and now their anxieties have been exacerbated with the election of Donald Trump as President of the U.S., seen by many as a presage to yet greater dangers.  And not just due to emigrant and refugee access to the U.S. being impeded or prevented, but too because of who may be coming back to El Salvador.

The following, from President-elect Trump's November 13 interview on "60 Minutes" (CBS) with Lesley Stahl, pretty much explains the fountainhead of fearfulness.

"Lesley Stahl: What about the pledge to deport millions and millions of undocumented immigrants?

"Donald Trump: What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers, we have a lot of these people, probably two million, it could be even three million, we are getting them out of our country or we are going to incarcerate. But we’re getting them out of our country, they’re here illegally…."

Recently, the escalating dilemma was articulated in essence to this observer by a native Salvadoran as follows:

We fear the deportations from the U.S. will send many gang members, killers and other criminals to El Salvador.  This to a country with high poverty levels and few jobs.  So, these people, unable to find work, will rejoin or join the gangs or other criminals.

The individual added:

We are angry with Mexico, because that is where the drug traffickers come from, where they have been allowed to operate and flourish.  And now they are in El Salvador, bringing all their criminal activities with them.

The database Numbeo, in its "Crime Index for Country 2016 Mid Year," lists El Salvador at number 7 ("high crime" level) out of 118 countries.  Venezuela heads the list ("very high"), while Honduras is number 3, Guatemala number 23, Mexico number 41, and the U.S. number 46 (the latter two listed as "moderate").

So, the fear expressed is largely due to anticipated growth in the criminal population in El Salvador (and other Central American nations).

What also needs to be remembered however, is that with increases in real and perceived crime and violence, more and more decent and law abiding Salvadorans (et alia) will flee or be driven from their country – with a majority quite probably headed to the U.S.

It gives new meaning to the term "vicious circle."

The Washington Post said this in a piece on November 18: "By winning the election, Trump may have inadvertently made his job even harder. His plans have become a selling point for the smugglers urging people to cross the border before a wall goes up, according to migrants and officials in the United States and Mexico…."

As to Trump's Wall along the southern border of the U.S., a wall between Mexico (and the Americas) that he first outlined in June 2015, figuratively speaking that wall has already been built.


Also see: "Killers on a Shoestring: Inside the Gangs of El Salvador," The New York Times, November 20, 2016


Barnard Thompson, editor of, has spent more than 50 years in Mexico and Latin America providing multinational clients with in-depth information as well as actionable intelligence; country and political risk reporting and analysis; plus professional, lobbying and problem resolution services.


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