02:16 - Source: CNN
El Salvador: One death per hour (2016)

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El Salvador is one of the world's deadliest countries

Killings peaked in 2015, with 103 homicides per 100,000 people

CNN  — 

The killings stopped for a day in El Salvador.

The small Central American country with one of the worst murder rates in the world went 24 hours without

a single homicide, said Howard Augusto Cotto of the National Civil Police.

Wednesday marked the first day in two years without a homicide, Cotto said at a news conference Thursday. There was one death that day, but police were not counting it as a murder/violent death since the deceased had been injured a few days earlier, he said.

The number of murders declined last month, Howard Augusto Cotto says.

In addition, December recorded the least murders in 2016, Cotto said. He provided no explanation for the decline in violence last month or for Wednesday’s 24 hours with any killings.

One person died of a violent crime every hour in January and February 2016, according to police statistics.

Intense violence has plagued the country for years.

The killings peaked in 2015 when El Salvador became the most violent country in the Western Hemisphere, with 103 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, according to InSight Crime, a foundation that studies organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean. There were 6,656 murders in the country that year, according to police statistics.

Venezuela was second, with 90 homicides per 100,000, followed by Honduras with 57 homicides per 100,000.

Competition between El Salvador’s two main armed street gangs contributed to the explosion of violence, according to InSight. The gangs are known as the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS13, and the 18th Street Gang, or Barrio 18.

Homicide levels also began rocketing upward following the breakdown of a truce between the rival gangs in 2012.

The US State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Diplomacy called El Salvador’s crime rating “critical” in a 2016 report.

“Crime can run the gamut from credit card skimming to homicide and is unpredictable, gang-centric, and characterized by violence directed against both known victims and targets of opportunity,” the report said.

“El Salvador has hundreds of gang ‘cliques.’ Violent, well-armed street gangs … concentrate on narcotics, extortion, arms trafficking, murder for hire, carjacking, and aggravated street crime. … Many of the gangs are comprised of unemployed youth who do not hesitate to use deadly force when perpetrating crimes.”