Gangs and government agree -- gangs control homicide level in El Salvador

As El Salvador's government moves forward with new measures trying to control gang violence in the country, the powerful gangs which control many neighborhoods released videos declaring a temporary halt to killings.

From the Associated Press:
In the video broadcast by local media Saturday, a masked man claimed to make the offer on behalf of the Mara Salvatrucha gang and two factions of the Barrio 18 gang. 
The video said killings were ordered stopped as of Saturday, to show the government it didn't have to implement get-tough policies. The government has been considering a kind of limited state of emergency in some areas, and is planning to release some non-gang inmates to free up prison space and liberate police to fight the gangs. 
"We have ordered all of our people ... to halt all types of homicides nationwide," said the man who appears in the video, "to demonstrate to the public, the government and international agencies in our country that there is no need to implement measures that only violate our constitution." 
There was no immediate confirmation of the authenticity of the video, but former guerrilla Raul Mijango said, "I had received information that (the gangs) were going to release some kind of message, that they had that idea." Mijango has served as a truce negotiator in the past.
Unlike some other recent communiques from the gangs, this pronouncement was followed by an immediate plunge in murders.    In a year where the average daily homicide toll is 23, the death toll fell from 17 on Saturday, to 9 on Sunday to only four murders across El Salvador on Monday.

Another video came out on Tuesday in which three masked gang members said they were instructing their members to prolong the reduction in homicides.

The government's response has been to push forward with its "exceptional measures":
El Salvador declared a state of emergency on Tuesday at seven prisons and transferred 299 high-ranking gang members at the start of “extraordinary measures” that the government has promised to take to combat gang violence. A package of additional measures was to be presented to the legislature on Wednesday that could include deploying more soldiers in a security role and declaring states of emergency in conflict zones. The emergency declaration puts inmates on lockdown and suspends family visits for 15 days. “They are going to be subjected to a higher security regimen, with greater control to make sure communication from inside the prison system is stopped,” said Mauricio Ramírez Landaverde, the minister of justice and public security.
Government spokesman Eugenio Chicas stated today that the dramatic drop in murders following the video showed that the gangs were responsible for the level of killing in the country, and that now they were pointing a gun at the head of the population and saying they would go on killing if the government did not dialogue with them.   Chicas said that the only possible response was a frontal assault on the gangs and the government would never negotiate with them.   Instead, the government will push forward with its exceptional measures.

There is little chance the reduction in homicides will last.   The government has no intent to "dialogue" with the gangs and intends to proceed with getting tough on the gang leaders in prisons and their members outside.   When this unilateral ceasefire fails to change the course of the government actions, I fear the gangs will attempt to teach the government a lesson by raising the level of violence even more.   We are very unlikely to see the kind of prolonged reduction in violence we saw from 2012-2013 during the original truce.  


As long as you don't count all of the homicides committed by government forces, of course.


"Today, crimes of equally heinous proportions are happening in El Salvador and the international community appears to be unaware, or indifferent. Forced disappearances, at the hands of the security forces, are beginning to be reported. The government of El Salvador has launched an all-out battle with the maras, or gangs, in which police and army troops alike have been deployed in the streets. Gang members are attacking police and soldiers, and security forces are responding with aggressive anti-gang raids, which sometimes involve pitched gun battles. In this context, there are disturbing reports of a phenomenon that hasn’t been seen since the end of the country’s civil war: young men being detained, and then disappeared or killed at the hands of the security forces."