Police operation against street gangs in Guadalajara

Rival street gangs in central Mexico have reportedly agreed to a government-brokered truce, an encouraging sign given the growing role of local street gangs in the country's violence.

In the city of Guadalajara, 12 competing street gangs have agreed to end inter-gang violence after participating in a government-run reintegration program that encourages cultural and artistic projects, reported El Occidental.

According to Guadalajara Secretary of Citizen Security Carlos Mercado, the gangs signed a peace accord among themselves after completing the Attention to At-Risk Youth (Atencion a Jovenes en Riesgo) program, which aims to encourage gang members to work on collective projects with their rivals.

However, when Milenio tracked down members of one of the gangs invovolved, the youths said they continued to fight and were unaware of the truce.

Guadalajara gangs included in the project thus far come from city neighborhoods Oblatos, El Zalate, Miravalle and Lomas del Paraiso, which are the city government's four priority areas for social development projects. There an estimated 200 gangs in Guadalajara.

InSight Crime Analysis

Jalisco was listed among the seven most violent states in Mexico in a December 2012 report by consulting firm Lantia Consultores, and street gangs are among the actors responsible for the high level of violence, according to an August 2012 report by Southern Pulse, underlining the importance of measures to tackle these groups.

The idea of gang truces brokered by the authorities is gaining traction across the region in the wake of one brokered in El Salvador between its main street gangs MS-13 and Barrio 18. Guatemalan and Honduran authorities have also indicated their interest in the idea.

However, while the El Salvador truce has led to a sharp drop in the country’s homicide rate, it has been undermined by reports of increased "disappearances" by gang members and a rise in murders in early 2013. A 2011 Belize gang truce followed a similar trend, with an initial drop in the homicide rate undermined by a later set of killings.

The truce has also been criticized for allowing the gangs breathing space to expand their operations.

The Guadalajara truce is unlikely to achieve results comparable to those in El Salvador. While the street gangs in El Salvador are huge organizations with thousands of members and a relatively hierarchical structure, the criminal landscape in cities like Guadalajara is of hundreds of small gangs, which, although often used by larger criminal players, remain independent. To negotiate and maintain a truce that includes all these gangs would be a near impossible task. 

Nevertheless, initiatives such as the one in Guadalajara at least offer an alternative to a purely repressive approach to tackling street gangs in a country where they have been tipped to eventually replace the big cartels as the main actors in Mexico’s violent drug trade.