El Salvador has become the murder capital of the world

Damn! A murder every hour!

On the surface, El Salvador is the tropical paradise we all dream of. Sun-kissed beaches to die for and temperatures that rarely get too cool in the winter or too hot in the summer give it an idyllic climate. This Central American country’s 6.5million inhabitants have the perfect excuse for enjoying the great outdoors.

But when the sun goes down, it’s not at all as perfect as it seems.

Gang warfare has, this year, turned this small nation into the most violent on the planet. Neighbouring Honduras, which used to be the world’s most dangerous place, is now second.

In the first nine months of 2015 almost 5,000 have been murdered in a vicious fight for territory between two gangs with a combined membership of 72,000. In August alone there were 911 murders – an average of nearly 30 a day. In one incident, 14 members of one of the country’s most powerful street gangs were killed in a prison.

Normally at war with rival gang ‘Mara Salvatrucha’, an internal power struggle between Revolucionarios and Surenos (Southerners) has seen the violence – and death toll – soar.

This year there has been a killing on average every hour and the murder rate has passed 90 per 100,000. It makes the El Salvador 90 times deadlier than the UK.

To the outside observer the downtown area of the cosmopolitan capital San Salvador looks more like a South American city with its traffic, shopping malls and American fast-food chains. And the country earns a fortune from exports with around £1billion worth of clothes sent to the US each year and more from coffee, tea and sugar. But violence is never far away. Everyday life continues as the death tolls rise. Schools are protected by barbed wire and often patrolled by soldiers, private security guards carrying shotguns man the entrance to major businesses and police, armed with rifles, man check points on the road.

Mara Salvatrucha, or MS13, and Barrio 18 originated among Salvadoran exiles who, in the 1980s, fled El Salvador’s civil war and settled in Los Angeles.

Then when the war ended in 1992, they were sent back to El Salvador, and brought gang culture with them.