Guatemala, Honduras May Replicate El Salvador Gang Truce

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Following the apparent success of a declared truce between El Salvador’s two largest street gangs, ministers of neighboring Guatemala and Honduras have announced that they would consider promoting similar agreements in their own countries.

Salvadoran security minister David Munguia Payes hosted counterparts from Guatemala and Honduras in San Salvador this week in a conference on organized crime in the region. According to La Prensa Grafica, the focus of the meeting was on the truce between El Salvador’s Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 gangs, which has drastically reduced homicides in recent months. Raul Mijango, a former congressman who worked with the Catholic Church to mediate the truce, was also in attendance.

After the meeting, Guatemalan Interior Minister Hector Mauricio Lopez told local press that he considered the truce “very innovative,” and said it was “worthy of being studied” to see if it could be exported.

Honduran Security Minister Pompeyo Bonilla also praised the results of the deal, noting its dramatic impact on the homicide rate. “[The truce] is a lesson which deserves to be replicated, to attempt it in my country, where we regrettably have the highest homicide rate,” said Bonilla.

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The fact that the Salvadoran government is talking about the truce as a kind of “model” is significant, as this recognizes the fact that it played a role in the initial negotiations. In the past the government has tried to distance itself from the process, crediting the Church and civil society groups with brokering the agreement independently.

It remains to be seen whether El Salvador’s neighbors will seek to imitate the truce, or whether Guatemalan and Honduran officials were merely paying lip service to it. In Guatemala, such a development would be especially unusual considering President Otto Perez’ s “iron fist” policies aimed at cracking down on criminal activity. He recently lobbied Congress to pass a law which would allow courts to try children as young as 12, ostensibly to reduce gang violence.

Also, it may be too soon to describe El Salvador’s truce as a “success.” While such agreements tend to bring a temporary drop in violence, they have proven difficult to transform into long-term arrangements. In 2010 civil society groups helped broker a similar truce between rival gangs in Medellin, Colombia, but the deal eventually fell through after several months, followed by a sharp rise in violence.

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