El Salvador Passes Anti-‘Mara’ Bill, Maras retaliate with death threat

By Dialogo
September 13, 2010

I think it’s good that the government is taking a “hard line” against those groups, but…does the government know how this situation came about? could it be because for many years the families of these young people lived in extreme poverty and without the most important thing; education.
As of September 2, El Salvador made gang membership illegal, following the attack on a passenger bus in June 2010. The “Mara 18” gang was allegedly responsible for the “Microbus Massacre”, which killed 17 people.

Seventy-eight of the 84 law makers backed the law proposed in July in the midst of a wave of violence sweeping through the Central American country, where an estimated 20,000 Salvadorans belong to street gangs that deal drugs and extort businesses, said the Associated Press (AP).”

Looking to neutralize the sources of financing that come from the extortion of businesses, the law now makes it illegal to collaborate with, finance or participate in gang activity, reported BBC Mundo. The activity will be punishable by four to six years in prison, with gang leaders facing up to ten years, said AP.

“Maras have gone from being socially excluded groups dedicated to low-intensity violence, to becoming an important part of local organized crime,” said Magistrate Carlos Sánchez to BBC Mundo.

The Salvadoran gangs “Salvatrucha” and “Mara 18,” are the main gangs in the country and some of the most dangerous in Central America today. They have threatened the security through grenade attacks, murders, setting fires on public transportation and others.

In retaliation for the decision, though, the nation’s two main gangs declared a 72-hour public transportation strike on September 6, reported Colombian daily El Tiempo. They launched a public threat against public transportation and private businesses demanding that President Mauricio Funes’ government rescinds the law.

The ‘maras’ also stipulated their desire to carry out negotiations with the government, said El Tiempo.

Since then, reports showed a bus was burned and another one shot down, while a police patrol car was attacked with a grenade, causing rising fear that made transportation companies suspend all activities.

The threat forced some 2,000 soldiers of the Armed Forces out to the streets to join the 3,500 already there to reinforce public security for a number of months.
“They (the gangs) want to scare the population, they want to show their strength,” alerted Minister of Defense David Munguía, according to El Tiempo, as he rejected the call to negotiate. “A democratic government like ours, which was legitimately voted into office, cannot negotiate with criminal organizations,” he underlined.

President Funes, meanwhile, stated, “We will not be blackmailed, we will not be pressured,” as he assured that Salvador will continue to combat crime with “a strong hand.”