El Salvador Squashes Talk of Dialogue With Gangs

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El Salvador’s new national security council has denied reports that it will re-open dialogues with the country’s principal street gangs, essentially putting a nail in the coffin of a national gang truce that appeared to dramatically lower murder rates, before breaking down. 

Late last week, reports emerged that the National Council for Citizen Security (CNSCC) was considering opening dialogues with members and families of the MS13 and Barrio 18 gangs. Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez, who represents that Catholic Church on the council, had said that re-initiating talks had been proposed as a way to avoid “cycles of revenge.”

However, the proposal has received no backing, and other council members have stated that dialogue with gangs is not on the council’s agenda, reported La Prensa Grafica.

El Salvador’s Attorney General Luis Martinez — who sits on the council — dismissed the prospect of talks, saying the council has more important items on its agenda than talking with gangsters, while government representative Franzi Hato Hasbun ruled out any prospect of cutting a new deal with the gangs. The representative from the Evangelical church, Mauricio Navas, also confirmed the issue was not currently up for discussion.

These comments followed a public statement from Raul Mijango, one of the mediators of the 2012 truce, who said he was preparing a proposal for the council to stage talks with gang leaders.

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The creation of the security council — comprised of government agencies, representatives of religious bodies and the private sector — by President Salvador Sanchez Ceren in September was hailed as a welcome change from the opaque security policies of the previous administration. However, the contradictory statements over dialogues with the gangs suggest the process may not be running smoothly.

The swift rejection of any possibility of talks shows just how toxic the idea has become in El Salvador’s new political environment. While the agreement between the MS13 and Barrio 18 led to an immediate drop in homicides, and the halving of murders within a year, it fell apart among bitter accusations of corruption, the discovery of clandestine graves and allegations the gangs had used the ceasefire to build strength and influence.

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With Attorney General Luis Martinez — a fierce critic of the truce — sitting on the council, the rejection of the proposal to open dialogues was less surprising than the proposal itself, and another sign that not only is the gang truce dead, but so are any short-term prospects of renewed negotiations. 

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