2012 was the least violent year in El Salvador since 2003

El Salvador's controversial gang truce has led to a dramatic fall in homicides in one of the world's most dangerous nations, a trend that may well continue if the war between the Maras can be brought to an permanent close.

According to EFE news agency, the National Civil Police (PNC) registered 2,576 murders in 2012. Compared to the 2011 PNC figure of 4,371 homicides, that represents a 41 percent fall.

National Police Sub-Director, Mauricio Ramirez, pointed to the gang truce between Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 as being one of the key factors in bringing down the number of murders. The truce, which has produced a cessation of hostilities between the two gangs, was brokered in March 2012.  During 2012, El Salvador recorded days without a single homicide, something unheard of in a nation with a 2011 murder rate of over 65 per 100,000 of the population. This makes 2012 the first time in 30 years this has happened, Security and Justice Minister, David Munguia Payes, declared.

The majority of homicide victims were aged between 18 and 30 years, while firearms were used in 63 percent of killings, reported La Prensa Grafica.

InSight Crime Analysis

According to La Prensa Grafica, these figures make 2012 the least violent year since 2003 when 2,195 homicides were registered. What's more, the significant fall could help El Salvador rid itself of the label of being the second most violent country in the world after neighboring Honduras. In 2011, it registered a homicide rate of 69.2 per 100,000, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Not accounting for population variation, this could fall to around 40 per 100,000 for 2012, based on PNC statistics.

Recent developments in the gang truce suggest this downward trend could well continue. Truce negotiators Bishop Fabio Colindres and ex-congressman Raul Mijango proposed last November the creation of 10 so-called "peace zones" in the country and to expand the truce to include extortion. The following month, gang leaders accepted this proposal, pledging to end all gang activity in the yet to be designated zones and hand over their weapons.

This is still very much in the early stages, however. President Mauricio Funes' administration has stated that it will help facilitate this initiative though it remains to be seen what kind of role it would take.  The deal may have to involve government concessions in order for the gangs to cease extortion operations. Mijango stated, "in 2013, the involvement of the state will be necessary so that we can consolidate this historic opportunity," reported La Prensa Grafica.