A top Catholic Church leader in El Salvador said the truce between the country’s two main gangs had not worked following the most violent month in the two years since the pact was signed.
Speaking at a press conference, the Archbishop of San Salvador, Jose Luis Escobar Alas, said the truce between the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and Barrio 18 gangs, which was brokered by the government and a Church bishop, was “well intentioned, but did not work,” reported El Mundo.
Escobar called on the incoming government of President Salvador Sanchez Ceren to learn from the truce’s failures and devise a new security plan that is “participative” and “transparent,” La Prensa Grafica reported.
The archbishop’s comments followed news that March was the most violent month in El Salvador — registering 281 murders in the first 30 days — since the truce was first signed in March 2012.
While the level of violence outstripped the previous monthly high of 256 murders during the past two years, it still remains significantly below pre-truce levels, which reached a four-year high of 413 murders in the January before the pact was implemented.
Truce mediator Raul Mijango denied the truce has failed, telling ACAN-EFE the gangs still had the “will” to continue with the agreement.
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The truce and the Catholic Church’s role in it has been a divisive issue for the Church hierarchy since before the pact was even agreed.
While Bishop Fabio Colindres was one of the main mediators of the truce, he only joined the process after several other senior Church figures turned down the opportunity due to concerns over the plan. What’s more, Colindres’ role was widely perceived as an attempt by government brokers to legitimize the truce by providing the image of Church support without actually obtaining the approval of the hierarchy itself.
Escobar’s comments now mean the Church is firmly siding with the growing band of critics declaring the truce to be dead in all but name, in part due to violence levels that have been rising steadily for some months.
However, Escobar also took a conciliatory tone towards those involved in the truce by praising its intentions, and his remarks appear to be principally aimed at encouraging the new government of Sanchez Ceren to hit the reset button and develop new, more transparent, community-oriented solutions to the country’s security crisis.