On May 2, Salvadoran gangs promised to halt forced recruitment of young people and declared schools “peace zones,” in an unprecedented act that comes in the context of a truce that began in March, but about which analysts remain skeptical.
“We declare that from now on, all forms of involuntary recruitment of juveniles and adults to our ranks are abolished,” declared Víctor Antonio García, a leader of Mara-18, one of the country’s two leading gangs, which together with Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) invited the press, with the authorities’ endorsement, to the prison of Quezaltepeque, 25 km north of San Salvador.
The two gangs, which have become mafia-style organizations that act as shock troops for drug traffickers, alongside other crimes such as protection rackets and extortion, have around 32,000 members, 10,000 of them behind bars, and have made El Salvador the country with the second-highest homicide rate in the Americas.
On May 2, after a moment of silence for “all the victims” who have perished in the confrontation, 38-year-old García read a statement by both gangs — which have observed a truce since March 9 — in which they declared “all schools in the country, public and private, peace zones.”
Schools “will no longer be considered areas of disputed territory, enabling students and teachers to carry out their educational activities with complete normalcy and relieving parents of all their worries.”
Surrounded by around 200 heavily tattooed gang members, García maintained that the announcements form part of “a second gesture of good will” following the truce and have “the purpose of confirming our commitment to contribute to the pacification of El Salvador.”
The gangs used to keep schools under constant siege in order to recruit students starting at the age of 12.
Following the truce promoted by head Military chaplain Fabio Colindres and one-time guerrilla commander and former legislator Rául Mijango, the average number of homicides per day in El Salvador has fallen from 14 to 5, according to police sources.