El Salvador Truce Mediators Call for Repeal of Anti-Gang Law

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Mediators of the El Salvador gang truce say a controversial anti-gang law should be repealed, once again calling into question the iron first policies implemented in El Salvador and elsewhere in the region.

Former congressman Raul Mijango and Bishop Fabio Colindres, who were instrumental in negotiating the gang truce that has seen murder rates drop by over 60% over the last eight months, said they will propose the repeal of the law in a meeting with members of the Legislative Assembly’s Security Committee on December 11.

First implemented in 2010, the Gang Prohibition Act doubled the maximum prison sentence for minors, declared gang membership illegal, and gives the authorities permission to freeze bank accounts and seize the assets of gang members.

However, the effectiveness of the law is hotly disputed by its critics, including the two mediators. “The only thing this law has been good for is to unleash a series of police operations and mass arrests that never result in anything,  the only thing that happens is the judicial system ends up saturated with cases that in the end it can’t process,” Mijango said in an interview with Salvadoran radio station Pencho y Aida.

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Despite its frailties and ambiguities, the gang truce in El Salvador has amply demonstrated that alternatives exist to ever-tougher “mano-dura” security polices.  

Not only this, but the drive of central figures such as Mijango and Colindres to develop the truce and address its shortcomings through new plans such as their recent proposal for peace zones, shows that it has the potential to evolve beyond a temporary ceasefire.

Set against this background, the repeal of the anti-gang law has the potential to show a commitment to alternatives to “mano-dura” policies, while easing the burden on El Salvador’s strained judicial system and heaving prisons.

With the positive impacts of truce already attracting the attention of other countries that have implemented stringent anti-gang policies, such as Guatemala and Honduras, the repeal of the law could also show other countries in the region the benefits of abandoning what has been, for the most part, counter-productive and ineffectual legislation.   

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