Barrio 18 Wants to Join Possible Talks with El Salvador Govt: Report

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A second major gang in El Salvador said it hopes to join possible negotiations between the government and the MS13, but its entry into the process may only complicate efforts.

The Sureños faction of the Barrio 18 gang told news outlet El Faro that it would show signs of goodwill to demonstrate that it was open to joining the process. A gang representative speaking on behalf of the Barrio 18 said these signs could include giving up territory, ending recruitment, stopping extortion and helping to locate disappeared bodies.

The gang’s spokesperson added that a United Nations commission or the Catholic Church could potentially serve as facilitators for the discussion between the gangs and the state.

The report comes less than a week after the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) said it was also willing to enter negotiations with authorities. The MS13’s overture included the unprecedented offer of dismantling the criminal structure in exchange for the promise of jobs and social programs.

So far, the gangs’ initiative has been met with resistance from the ruling Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional – FMLN).

But other political actors, including several opposition parties, have showed more openness to the proposition at hand, and the Catholic Church appears to be willing to take up an important mediation role.

“Until now it’s been about who is the strongest,” Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chávez told El Faro. “Who kills more people? Who captures more gang members? And this leads nowhere.” 

InSight Crime Analysis

While the Sureños’ announcement may provide further incentive for El Salvador’s government to change its official stance, it could also makes negotiations more difficult.

The Barrio 18 has a vertical structure, but its cells are semi-autonomous. This independence has already led to trouble in the organization, including the fracturing of the gang itself into the Sureños and Revolucionarios factions.

The gang’s leadership is also mostly incarcerated. As such, it remains to be seen whether talks led by these leaders would be respected to the letter by the cliques operating on the street.

Furthermore, the Revolucionarios have yet to take a public position on the issue.

SEE ALSO: Barrio 18 News and Profile

Notwithstanding these uncertainties, the Sureños’ announcement is another surprising step towards dialogue. Given the support of other influential political and social actors, coupled with intensified fighting between the gangs and the police, El Salvador’s government may well face increasing pressure to discard its current impervious hardline stance against talks.

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