El Salvador Takes Advantage of Truce to Pursue Street Gangs

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Authorities in El Salvador reported the arrest of 185 suspected gang members in the greater San Salvador area, despite a truce between rival gangs that has brought a significant reduction in violence.

The military, attorney general’s office and police, including members of a newly launched anti-gang unit, took part in the “mega-operation,” which aimed to capture 200 gang members, reported La Prensa Grafica.

In the municipality of Soyapango, one of the groups broken up was linked to the slaying of three police officers, one of whom was dismembered. In this case, the investigation took more than three months, and police said it resulted in the capture of three gang leaders.

InSight Crime Analysis

The arrests come just after a truce between two rival gangs to cut murders and cease attacks on the security forces reached its 100-day mark. This has brought large security gains, with murders down 46 percent for the three months the truce has been in effect, compared to the same period in 2011, according to police numbers. The government has repeatedly tried to play down expectations of the truce, saying that it will not end gang violence. In April, Security Minister David Munguia said that some 50 percent of murders in the previous month were gang-related. He has emphasized that lasting security gains will have to come through the efforts of the security forces, not just an agreement on the part of the gang leaders.

Despite the steep drop in homicides during the first hundred days of the truce, the government has remained on the offensive against the gangs, in this case deploying its new anti-gang police unit, which focuses on intelligence gathering and community tips, and stating it will not negotiate concessions for the gangs. Vice Security Minister Douglas Moreno (see picture), who was in Washington this week to secure financing for a jobs program to employ former gang members, said authorities will not negotiate with gangs.

The two groups involved in the truce — the MS-13 and Barrio 18 — have not agreed to stop extortion, despite interest by the church and the government. Munguia has said that this is because so many of the members and their families make their living from the practice, and while police numebrs on extortion are to be down since last year for the first half of June, PNC sub-director Mauricio Ramirez Landaverde credited police enforcement, not a gang truce, for the decline, La Prensa Grafica reported.

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