National Police director Mauricio Ramirez Landaverde said El Salvador officially registered at least 6,657 homicides in 2015, up from 3,942 the previous year.
The overall yearly homicide rate was the country’s highest ever at 104 per 100,000 inhabitants, putting it in a position to take over the dubious title of the world’s murder capital from neighbouring Honduras.
“It puts us at the head of the world’s most violent nations,” said Jeannette Aguilar, a researcher at Jose Simeon Canas Central America University.
Honduras has led the world in homicide rates in recent years.
It hit 92 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2011, according to World Bank data, before declining somewhat since then. Security Ministry spokesman Leonel Sauceda said that Honduras’ homicide rate dropped from 68 per 100,000 people in 2014 to 61 per 100,000 last year.
Authorities in El Salvador blame most of the killings there on gangs that are deeply involved in drug trafficking, extortion rackets and other criminal activity.
The “maras,” as they are known, have a heavy presence in poor neighbourhoods across the country and have increasingly moved into rural areas as well.
Authorities say most of the homicide victims are gang members slain by rivals.
The wave of violence in El Salvador came after a truce between the country’s two largest gangs fell apart, and despite police initiatives to crack down on organised crime.
“The homicide rate reflects the inability of the Salvadoran state and the Salvadoran society to guarantee the most fundamental right there can be in a society, which is life,” Aguilar said.
The country’s 2014 homicide total also was a significant rise from the previous year, when 1,429 killings were registered.