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Good news from Central America: Homicides fall in Guatemala, El Salvador

Attributed, in part, to an evolution away from hardline 'iron fist' policy approaches to crime and violence, El Salvador and Guatemala saw homicides fall in 2012 from record highs.

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More than 300 days and counting. That’s how long the historic “truce” between rival Salvadoran gangs has lasted, helping reduce homicide, prison violence, and extortion in the Central American nation.

Since the March pact, the Salvadoran government, along with churches, civil society, and the private sector, have all had a hand in the turnaround, which represents an evolution from the hardline "iron fist" policy approaches of the past.

Homicides in El Salvador dropped 40 percent in 2012, from 4,371 the previous year to 2,576, the lowest level since 2003.

And El Salvador is not alone.

Guatemala has seen a decline as well. The full sum of the reasons behind last year's decline in homicides in both countries – and the sustainability of the trend – is still being studied. Yet, multifaceted initiatives, as well as programs to strengthen states’ institutional capacity, are helping reshape the security landscape in Guatemala and El Salvador, which have seen homicide rates fall from record highs.

While military and police forces remain critical to security efforts in the region, the mano dura “is no longer the be all, end all answer” to fighting gang violence and drug trafficking, says Jason Marczak, policy director of the New York-based Council of the Americas.

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