El Salvador President Open to Reform But Not Repeal of Anti-Gang Law

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Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes has refused to back a proposal from the country’s gangs to repeal a hardline anti-gang law in exchange for establishing crime-free zones. However, the president said he would be open to amending the law, leaving the possibility of further negotiations.

In early December, The Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13)Barrio 18, and three other street gangs proposed an agreement to cease criminal activities in designated “sanctuary municipalities” if the anti-gang law were repealed and police ended night operations in the zones.

Funes dismissed the proposal, calling the law a “valid instrument of the law, which has shown its efficacy,” reported EFE. However, he admitted the law could be made more “efficient.” 

Funes also ruled out the possibility of stopping the police’s night operations, which, he said, gave the police a crucial “element of surprise” in dealing with the gangs, reported ElSalvador.com

The 2010 Gang Prohibition Act made gang membership illegal and granted sweeping powers to the police, including the power to make mass arrests of suspected gang members. Critics of the law, including the mediators of the gang truce that has led to a drastic drop in the country’s murder rate, claim it has achieved little more than clogging up the judicial system with cases it cannot process.

Any final decision over whether to repeal or amend the law will be taken up by Congress.

InSight Crime Analysis

It would have been a politically risky move for the government to throw its support behind the proposal to repeal the anti-gang law and Funes was unlikely to declare unequivocal support.

The government has been sensitive to accusations it is going “soft on crime” in its treatment of the gangs and has been cagey over its role in negotiating the truce.

However, by saying he is willing to amending the law, the president has at least indicated that the issue is open to negotiation, placing responsibility for the next move back on the gangs.

If negotiations do continue, this represents an opportunity to build on the gains seen so far as a result of the gang truce, which has been far more effective in lowering the murder rate than the anti-gang law and other hardline policies.

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