El Salvador’s Brutal Gangs Announce Second Phase of Peace Process

Salvadoran gangs enter the second phase of their peace process.
The peace process between the gangs is entering its second phase. (Flickr)

EspañolOn Friday, August 29, spokesmen for the five most powerful gangs in El Salvador announced the beginning of the second phase of an effort to secure a truce between rival groups. The so-called peace process is supported by the Salvadoran government and institutions such as the Organization of American States (OEA).

Members of MSX3, Barrio 18, Mao-Mao, Máquina, and Mirada Locos 13 recently put out a joint press release stating they are prepared to reconcile and help put an end to the gang violence that has plagued El Salvador. As they put it, “if we are part of the problem, we can also be part of the solution.”

Gang spokesmen announced a new phase in the peace process as a unilateral step. Actions against police have been suspended.

Gang leaders involved in the negotiations established a set of guidelines for the their second phase of talks, which primarily served to reinforce the guidelines set during the initial phase back in March 2012. Among their stated goals are plans to cease hostilities between gangs, end attacks on members and relatives of the National Army, National Civil Police (PNC), and prison staff, and prevent any further civilian casualties.

They also agreed to recognize public schools as universally respected “peace zones,” and continue working toward establishing entirely conflict-free municipalities. Spokesmen for the gangs also announced they would suspend their recruitment of new members.

The efforts of NGOs were also recognized, and gang leaders offered their support for programs that will help their members reintegrate into Salvadoran society. They concluded their announcement by pledging to create a more peaceful environment within the prisons that hold their members as well.

Call for Civil Action

The press release also calls on broader civil society to help with the process, specifically asking detractors of the peace process to adopt a more “patriotic” attitude. Government was called upon to provide civil society better opportunities to serve as mediators during this second phase. The gang leaders also called on the Attorney General’s office and the National Police to not “criminalize” Salvadoran youth, and to help create an environment that will minimize confrontations between young gang members and the community.

Gang leaders addressed their critics, the National Civil Police, political parties, and the media.

Gang leaders also advised the media to be more mindful of their news story selection and not embellish incidents of violence in the country. They called for more robust coverage of the peace process, and asked the media to remember their role in the process.”The situation of violence is also a situation of perception, and that is generated by the media,” read their statement. “This image is projected throughout the country, and in the international community. So, this is also your responsibility.”

When addressing El Salvador’s politicians, gang leaders requested more serious legislation regarding the peace process, rather than self-serving proposals that further their own election campaigns.

The press release concludes with acknowledgement and praise of the various mediators that assisted with the process. They are given credit for teaching gang members that, “the horizon of our lives cannot be a jail, a hospital, or a cemetery.”

More Questions than Answers

One of the most notable aspects of the truce is a lack of official information. The online newspaper El Faro was the first to mention the peace process in March 2012 with a story titled, “Government Negotiates Reduction in Homicides with Gangs.” The first hint of a shift in policy occurred in early 2012, when 30 gang members were transferred out from maximum-security prisons to more lax facilities. There were indications at the time that this may be part of an agreement between the Salvadoran government and the nation’s largest gangs. In exchange for the transfers, gang leaders agreed to do their part to reduce the country’s homicide rate.

General David Munguía Payés, minister of Justice and Security, denied knowing about the truce for two months, until finally acknowledging the deal in an interview with El Faro. He said the truce was part of a plan he had envisioned when he promised to reduce violence in El Salvador.

Many doubts regarding the effectiveness of such a plan have arisen. These questions have only increased following the recent arrest of Father Antonio Rodríguez (“Padre Toño”) for allegedly smuggling contraband into prisons. The national homicide rate has also seen an increase in 2014, particularly during the month of May, when the rate reached pre-truce levels of more than 14 murders per day.

More than two years have passed since the initiation of the peace process, yet questions linger as to who is actually leading the way, the role of the Salvadoran government, and the potential consequences of a failed truce.

Claudia Umaña, president of the Democracy and Transparency Foundation — a prominent Salvadoran policy institute — captured public attention with an oped, “Negotiating with Gangs: Efectiveness vs. Rule of Law.” She posed the question to readers, “Has the rule of law and respect for institutions in El Salvador been tossed aside by the scourge of criminality?”

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