A trial has begun in El Salvador against several officials for their alleged illegal activity related to a controversial gang truce between 2012 to 2014. The testimony and evidence presented is poised to shed new light on the links between politicians and gangs in the Central American country.
Early testimony and public statements by several officials during the early days of the trial suggested that the truce was a "state policy" endorsed by former President Mauricio Funes. Witnesses also said that the impetus for the gang truce did not come from the gangs or civil society, but from the government itself.
Former truce mediator Bishop Fabio Colindres testified that he and Raúl Mijango, a former mediator and vocal proponent for the truce, were "invited" by Defense Minister David Munguía Payés to initiate a dialogue with imprisoned gang leaders near the end of 2011. This dialogue was an early phase of the talks that eventually led to the truce.
Colindres and former police chief Francisco Salinas both testified that they met directly with Funes on multiple separate occasions to discuss the truce. Salinas asserted that "former President Funes had full knowledge of the truce because it was a government policy."
Munguía Payés, who is expected to testify in the case on Friday, also made a public statement during the first day of the trial that tied Funes to the truce and reiterated that "the truce between gangs was a state policy."
Salinas' testimony also included new allegations of police involvement in the truce, including that the Presidential Intelligence Service (Organismo de Inteligencia del Estado - OIE) was responsible for paying the rental costs for the office where Mijango worked during the truce, and that the Police Intelligence Center (Centro de Inteligencia Policial - CIP) had delegated two police officers to carry out intelligence work during the truce period.
Further witnesses also testified that Nelson Rauda, the former head of the penitentiary system, erased the footage recorded by security cameras in the Izalco (Sonsonate) prison on at least two occasions during the truce, according to reporting by Factum.
InSight Crime Analysis
The trial over alleged illegal activity related to El Salvador's controversial gang truce has already begun to shed light on new details about the connections between the country's politicians and its gangs, and promises to reveal more in the coming days and weeks.
However, this is not the first time that evidence has pointed to the gangs' political clout. For example, InSight Crime accessed surreptitiously recorded videos last year that showed officials engaging in secret negotiations with the country's top gang leaders, promising them state funding in exchange for political support.
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The gang truce's temporary cessation of hostilities was associated with a reduction in homicides estimated to have saved as many as 5,500 lives. However, the process has been criticized for strengthening the gangs both militarily and politically.
The MS13 sought renewed negotiations with the government at the start of this year, but the government strongly dismissed these overtures in public. The gang truce was and is opposed by most Salvadorans, who tend to support heavy-handed approaches to dealing with gang-related security issues.