Prosecutors in El Salvador have revealed that 180 people were convicted under the country’s controversial anti-gang law during ten of the 13 months the gang truce has been in place, highlighting a potential pitfall for the peace deal.
In response to a freedom of information request by the Salvadoran Foundation for Economic and Social Development (FUSADES) for total convictions under the law, which came into force in September 2010, the Attorney General’s Office only provided details of convictions between June 2012 and April 2013, reported La Prensa Grafica.
Negotiators of the truce between the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 street gangs, which began in March 2012, have previously called for a repeal of the law as part of negotiations.
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.
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The last Salvadoran Attorney General, Romeo Barahona, had previously gone on record saying prosecutors were not implementing the anti-gang law as they had not been presented with enough evidence to charge arrested gang members.
His position reflected that of critics of the law, including truce negotiators former congressman Raul Mijango and Bishop Fabio Colindres, who say police have used the law to round up gang members in mass arrests, but that these arrests rarely result in successful prosecutions.
Although it is impossible to compare the number of convictions before and after the truce, due to the limited statistics released, the available numbers raises the possibility that the law may now be being implemented more vigorously than before the government-gang negotiations began.
One possible reason for this is the current Attorney General, Luis Martinez, who openly opposes the truce, labelling it “false and hypocritical.“
If this is the case, then the law has the potential to be a sticking point in future talks, as supporters of the truce call for its repeal, while opponents use it as a tool to increase persecution of gang members.