Gang members have reportedly cited their participation in El Salvador’s gang truce as reason they should not be arrested for crimes, supporting the argument that the gangs are taking advantage of the peace deal.
The sub-director of Salvadoran National Police (PNC), Mauricio Ramirez, said there had been several incidents in which alleged members of the Barrio 18 and MS-13 gangs claimed they should not be arrested because of their participation in the gang truce. The truce, negotiated last year, has caused the number of murders in El Salvador to drop by 40 percent.
In one incident, police pulled over a car and found nearly a kilo of marijuana inside, reported La Prensa Grafica. One of the car passengers reportedly handed the police a letter which identified him as part of the “pacification process.” According to the newspaper, the letter was signed by Raul Mijango, one of the mediators of the truce. The car passenger then told police that he was in charge of monitoring the truce throughout the country, and that he was passing through the area in order to check that “everything is calm.”
The letter, which was dated September 2012, included a note that stated the accreditation was only valid while the truce was active and if the person carrying the letter was not caught in the act of committing a crime.
After deciding that finding the hidden drugs qualified as catching the man in the act, the police arrested him and his two companions.
One of the police officers present at the scene told La Prensa Grafica that gang members were taking advantage of the truce in order to move around the city more easily, without harassment from law enforcement.
With the gang truce now a year old, concerns are mounting over whether it can offer a long-term sustainable solution to El Salvador’s gang problem that goes beyond a temporary drop in the murder rate.
In recent months, the truce has been undermined by a rise in extortion, allegations the gangs are becoming increasingly involved in drug trafficking and concerns over disappearances and apparent revenge killings.
As seems to be the case described by the Salvadoran police, it is to be expected that individual gang members will try and use the truce to their advantage, especially if they think it might save them from arrest.
While such incidents may be no more than isolated cases, one concern is that this becomes part of a wider strategy employed by gangs to facilitate criminal activities, such as transporting drugs and weapons. At the moment, there is little evidence to show that this is indeed the case, but it is one more area of the El Salvador gang truce that may require careful monitoring.