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Gangs of El Salvador

American Cities Reduced Violence—Will the Same Strategies Work in the Northern Triangle?

Members of the 18th Street gang at a prison mass in Izalco, near San Salvador, April 2012 Ulises Rodriguez / Reuters

At 11:56 am on December 18, 2015, seven Salvadoran gang leaders got on a conference call. Some of them dialed in from prison, others from the streets. Among the subjects they covered that night was a hit list of eight people. Before they carried out the murders, the gangsters on the outside needed approval from those on the inside.

The deliberations began just 19 minutes into the conversation. The first potential victim, according to the indictment filed by Salvadoran prosecutors, was the father of an alleged cooperating witness. A few minutes later, he was given a “green light,” gang lexicon for condemned to death. Other victims followed: one gang member “for not adapting,” another for “snitching,” a woman for being what the gang called “gossipy.” By the time they had finalized the hit list, one hour, 25 minutes, and 44 seconds had passed since the discussion of the first homicide began.

The conversation, which was captured

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