San Salvador officials spent US$214,000 to renovate San José Square, which had been neglected for years. But since it was reopened in November 2011 in honor of the bicentennial of El Salvador, it has become one of the city’s most visited landmarks.
The 11 mayors of the San Salvador metropolitan area (AMSS) are confident improving public spaces and building venues for residents to have fun and play sports will lower the crime rate in one of Central America’s most violent areas.
“We will have specific plans for each city so we can build a more harmonious metropolitan area,” said Norman Quijano, the mayor of San Salvador. “It will give residents the chance to live in peace.”
The chance to live in peace is seldom experienced in San Salvador. The National Civil Police (PNC) reported 538 homicides, 1,032 thefts and 1,686 robberies in the area from January to August 20, 2012. These figures are slightly lower than those reported in 2011, when 964 homicides, 1,389 thefts and 1,914 robberies were disclosed.
Police have arrested 353 murder suspects, 851 alleged thieves and 391 suspected robbers so far this year. In 2011, 350 were arrested on homicide charges, 1,134 on theft charges and 538 on robbery charges.
But the AMSS is hoping its “Program for Violence Prevention in the San Salvador Metropolitan Area,” a guideline to be followed by the mayors of the municipalities of Antiguo Cuscatlán, Apopa, Ayutuxtepeque, Ilopango, Mejicanos, San Martín, Tonacatepeque, Soyapango, Santo Tomás, Santiago Texacuangos and San Salvador will improve the quality of life for a collective 2,290,790 residents.
All the municipalities have committed to implementing the program, which has 10 components:
- Organizing the community to prevent violence;
- Encouraging basic education and health;
- Strengthening family relationships;
- Improving public spaces;
- Building athletic and cultural venues;
- Encouraging athletics, cultural and artistic activities;
- Offering technical and vocational training;
- Strengthening mediation centers and Misdemeanor Delegations to work with at-risk youths;
- Encouraging mediation in the communities;
- Raising awareness to prevent violence.
A covmmittee will work with the municipal governments in each of the 11 municipalities where the programs will be implemented, Quijano added.
Benjamin Cestoni, the head of the commission, said the mayors are committed to the program. Each municipality will be responsible for funding its own programs.
“We are going to have large projects and we will look for resources,” he said. “For now, we all agree to follow the program guidelines with the resources and abilities we already have.”
Cestoni said the public and private sector should work together to raise funds for the program, as a safer community would benefit residents as well as the local economy.
“By working together, we can prevent crime because we’ll have a unified front,” Cestoni said. “We’re looking to enhance the quality of life in the municipalities.”
The Metropolitan Agent Corps (CAM) in each city, along with community watch police groups, will carry out more patrols to keep the peace in public spaces with the highest concentrations of residents.
Staff from the CAM Misdemeanor Delegations, who enforce closing times in bars and combat public urination or prostitution, will hold public meetings and discussions at schools and community centers.
Officials also said it’s integral the cities improve their mediation centers, where residents can go to resolve conflicts before they escalate to the court system.
The program is already paying dividends. The México neighborhood park in the Mejicanos municipality was remodeled in August 2012 by the National Institute for Youth (INJUVE) and the Directorate for the Social Prevention of Violence and Culture of Peace (PREPAZ) at the Ministry of Justice and Public Safety.
“INJUVE donated children’s games, benches and street signs to make the park safer,” said Juana Lemus de Pacas, the mayor of Mejicanos. “They also improved the basketball courts and soccer fields. And thanks to PREPAZ, the young people got balls to play with.”
The park, with its poor lighting, was in dire need of fixing. It had become a hotbed for crime, as thieves would hide in the dark before attacking pedestrians, said María Barahona, who lives in the area.
“Now it is much better,” she said. “First, it’s lighted and that makes it safer. Second, the children and youth now have a place to have fun. And the government donated balls so the children can play games and have healthy competitions.”