El Salvador gangs call for a renewed truce

Originally published at InSightCrime.org, written by Sam Tabory, July 17, 2015

In a letter addressed to government officials, gang leaders in El Salvador have called for the reinstatement of a gang truce, challenging the government's hardline security policies.

The letter was made public on July 15, a month after it was delivered to authorities in mid-June, reported La Prensa Grafica. In the body of the letter, gang leaders ask for a "mechanism" that would allow for dialogue and an eventual peace agreement. The gang leaders who signed this latest statement are all currently being held in El Salvador's maximum security prison.

News of the letter comes amid a slight dip in homicide numbers, with police reportingthat the first two weeks of July saw an average of 14 killings a day, down from 22 in May and June. This follows what has been reported as record levels of violence for the country.

Unsurprisingly, government officials have responded dismissively to the letter. Vice President Oscar Ortiz told reporters that El Salvador has a "very clear security strategy" and that "you cannot want to negotiate with people who are attacking police officers, prosecutors, and judges."

However, representatives of the Catholic and Lutheran Church who sit on a national citizen security council -- a core initiative of the government's security policy -- are publicly supporting the idea of increased dialogue with gangs.

InSight Crime Analysis

This is not the first time that gang leaders have called for the renewal of a truce. The message that they have been delivering over the last several months has been remarkably consistent: violence will continue to rise unless the government calls off its hardline security offensive.

While gangs promise a decrease in violence in exchange for a truce, it is worth noting that there are legitimate concerns about whether gang leaders can make good on that promise. Many of the leaders responsible for such claims are behind bars and have limited operational control over daily gang activities. That said, violence was down significantly during the last gang truce, only for homicides to surge after the agreement fell apart.

Tim's additional comment. The imprisoned gang leaders issued a similar letter early in 2015 through Raul Mijango. They indicated that they were unilaterally telling their members outside of prison to desist from attacking police and civilians. Yet the homicide rate went steadily up from that point, not down, and attacks on police and the army increased. This may shed doubt on the ability of the authors of any of these letters to be credible parties to dialogue today, even though they delivered a dramatic reduction in homicides during the first truce in 2012. It may also be the case that the government eliminated any possibility of reduced violence through another truce process when it stepped up its hard-line response, including giving police officers the right to shoot gang members whenever the officers feel "threatened" without worrying about being prosecuted or second guessed.


Carlos X. said…
If that story from El Faro in your Tweeter feed about a police "massacre" of gang members and subsequent cover up of the summary executions is true, it can add an unneeded layer of complication. That would bolster all the concerns many have raised (including some of your readers in comments here) about militarizing law enforcement, creating special battalions and so on. It may also lead to back and forth reprisals between the gangs and the law men that may bear striking similarities to a civil conflict. Let's hope cooler heads will prevail and they will investigate this incident and ensure it does not happen again (regardless what those who pine for the law and order of Gen. Fidel Sanchez Hernandez may have to say).
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