Six-Months of Gang Truce in El Salvador: Between Doubt and Hope

By Dialogo
September 11, 2012

September 9 marked six months since El Salvador’s gangs declared a truce, which reduced the average daily killings from 14 to 5.5, in the midst of distrust between the population, and the encouragement of OAS mediators seeking a permanent pact.

On March 9, under the mediation of Military Chaplain Fabio Colindres and former rebel commander Raúl Mijango, the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 (M-18) gangs mutually agreed to cease the war, which gave the country the image of being one of the most violent in the world.

“It has not been easy to get where we are. There are many who do not believe in this process and we respect that, but any ideas to stop with this painfully difficult violence is valid and we have to try, time will tell,” said Colindres.

The Military Chaplain recalled that in the past six months the gangs have announced a series of measures as “goodwill gestures,” such as not harming students, women, transport workers, police and Soldiers.

At the beginning of July, José Miguel Insulza, secretary-general of the Organization of American States (OAS), officially stated that the organization would verify the process, and witnessed in San Salvador, the gangs laying down nearly a hundred weapons.

“The hardest thing … is the skepticism of a sector of society that believes that peace is not possible, but we’ll keep going until we achieve it, they (the gang members) are willing to go in that direction, but they also expect the same from society,” assured Mijango.

A survey released in July by the Technological University (private) noted that for 57.7% of Salvadorans the truce does not inspire “confidence”, 26.2% expressed “poor” confidence and only 13.2% said they were “very confident”.

Sectors of the population pointed out that despite the relevance of the pact, extortion remains, especially against the public transportation sector.

“Gangs are not killing each other, but they collectively continue to extort the public transportation sector; there are bus and minibus routes, for which we are paying 400 to 800 dollars in weekly extortions,” assured Catalino Miranda, president of the Federation of Transportation Unions.

Political analyst Roberto Cañas, emphasized that for the people, it is “not enough” that fewer homicides are occurring.

However, for Mijango the figures are obvious: “it has managed to save 1,574 lives in the six months it has been in force.”

According to President Mauricio Funes, El Salvador had a rate of 68 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, but after the truce that rate had drastically dropped to 23.

“These figures project us as a country that is making every effort to reduce the rate of homicides which have dishonored us in previous years,” Funes pointed out.

The president insists that his government will not sit to negotiate any type of agreement with the gangs, but has provided the conditions of the truce and relocated the leaders to less secure prisons.