In a clear sign that El Salvador has shelved another gang truce, government officials moved gang leaders into a maximum security prison, amidst more violence between police and gang members.
When the government negotiated a gang truce between the MS13 and Barrio 18 in 2012, gang leaders asked to be moved to prisons where they could enjoy more benefits, in exchange for ordering an end to violence. The government conceded, not without controversy. Now, three of the gang leaders who participated in those 2012 negotiations -- two from the Barrio 18 and one from the MS13 -- were among the seven moved back into Zacatecoluca.
Meanwhile, clashes between police and gangs continue. On February 12, police killed two alleged gang members in a reported shoot-out that also left one police officer wounded. This follows an attack that alleged gang members launched against a police station, and another gun battle in which two reported gang members -- after being shot -- threw themselves into a river while trying to get away, according to police.
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The transfer of the gang leaders into Zacatecoluca isn't a surprise -- in mid-January, the government said some gang leaders had already been moved there. In doing so, not only is the government reversing one of the privileges they originally granted gang leaders in exchange for reduced violence, they are demonstrating a total lack of interest in granting what gang members call "favorable conditions" for any possible "peace process."
It remains to be seen whether gang leaders will sustain their new gang truce in light of this move. That may depend on whether the gangs' leaders want to use this truce as an opportunity to highlight police involvement in driving up El Salvador's violence rates, or whether they decide it is in their best interest to commit their resources to an all-out war against the authorities.
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Either way, police will likely continue to report shoot-outs as having been instigated by alleged gang members -- an assertion that is worth questioning. Notably, the director of El Salvador's forensics institute recently said that police blame many homicides on gang members while lacking the evidence to back up such accusations.