Salvador Church Seeks Gang Agreement to Cut Extortion

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After reportedly negotiating a gang ceasefire in El Salvador, the Church is now attempting to broker a reduction in criminal extortion, and the government says they are willing to facilitate the talks.

Salvadoran Justice and Security Minister David Munguia Payes (pictured) has claimed that the Catholic Church is in the midst of expanding the truce it brokered between leaders of the MS-13 and Barrio 18 gangs to include address extortion. Although homicides have fallen dramatically since the truce was first announced in March, reports of extortion have continued and even risen in some departments, according to the country’s attorney general. Transportation unions in particular have been hit especially hard by gang extortion.

Straying from prior denials of government involvement in the negotiations, Munguia stated that the government is willing to facilitate the dialogue, saying “the government cannot sit down to negotiate with criminal groups.” He qualified this, however, by saying that any concessions on the government’s part will remain within the scope of the law. Currently, the government is considering some “gestures of goodwill” that gang leaders have requested, such as allowing imprisoned gangsters to be visited by their children, or lengthening the allowed time for conjugal visits.

According to the minister, all the dialogue can do is “create opportunities.” He remains hopeful that the reduction in homicides that resulted from the truce can be followed by a reduction in extortion, auto theft, and illicit arms acquisition. However, Munguia also cautioned that the government is prepared to seek other — presumably more confrontational — means of reducing gang activity if the negotiations fall through.

InSight Crime Analysis

The Salvadoran government’s willingness to facilitate of the discussion between the Church and the country’s two largest street gangs is a sign that the state has become more invested in the deal. Likewise, Munguia’s announcement that the government will consider new concessions to curtail gang extortion also illustrates the gangs have fairly significant leverage in the negotiations.

Minister Munguia appears optimistic that dialogue between the Church and the gang leaders will lead to a decline in criminal activity, but brokering a ceasefire between two gangs at war is very different from convincing them to abandon activities that fund their very existence. For this reason the results of negotiations are likely to be limited. In El Salvador and throughout the region, mediated truces between rival gangs have a poor track record, and the longevity of the current peace will probably not last.

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