El Salvador Gang Leaders Keen to Maintain Faltering Truce

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Six gangs in El Salvador have announced they wish to continue a two-year old truce during the new presidential term, raising the question: what do the gangs have to gain from maintaining a seemingly unraveling agreement?

Spokespeople of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13), Barrio 18, the Mao Mao, Maquina, Mirada Locos 13 and Privadas y Privados de Libertad de Origen Comun said in a press release issued to local media they would like to continue what is really only a partial cease fire. The statement, dated March 9, came two years after the MS13 and the Barrio 18 began the truce, which led to a drastic drop in homicides in the country. 

In the statement, the gangs sent their congratulations to president-elect Salvador Sanchez Ceren of the ruling Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), which is a former guerrilla organization, and stated: “If you will allow us, we would like to continue being part of the solution to the problem of violence affecting this country.”

The gangs claimed the truce had saved 5,539 lives, led to an 18 percent drop in extortion rates, and resulted in the voluntary surrender of 504 arms to authorities. The claim does not coincide with official statistics. 

Sanchez Ceren was pronounced the winner of El Salvador’s presidential elections following an extremely tight race. He will be sworn into office on June 1.

InSight Crime Analysis

The gang truce, which was secretly negotiated by the outgoing government of Mauricio Funes, initially led to an over 50 percent drop in homicides from an average of 14 to 6.8 per day. However, since mid-2013, murders have been steadily creeping back up and currently stand at a daily average of nearly nine. Signs of forced disappearances, persistently high extortion, and increased drug-related gang arrests have further served as fuel for critics of the initiative.

Despite rising violence, and the fact that the process has been largely abandoned by the administration responsible for it, the gang leaders continue pushing forward. Some analysts have suggested there is a generational split emerging: older members seem to be seeking a respectful exit, and younger members want to continue what they call “la vida loca,” or “the crazy life.” Regardless of the reason, both internal and external disputes indicate there is little cohesion regarding the process.

SEE ALSO: El Salvador’s Gang Truce: Positives and Negatives

The truce has also been criticized because it gave the MS13 and Barrio 18 newfound political capital and the power to gain concessions from the government by threatening a resurgence of violence. The initiative itself was built around these kinds of perks — around 30 gang leaders were transferred to medium security prisons, and leaked recordings indicate financial incentives may also have been involved.

The new government has not said what its policy will be with regards to the truce, but the gangs supported the FMLN at the polls, and there are some ex-FMLN guerrillas who are gang leaders. In addition, the new government may have to integrate these other gangs into the process. 

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