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El Salvador Gang Truce Raises Troubling Questions for Region

Friday, May 11, 2012

El Salvador, only recently home to the world’s second-highest homicide rate, has watched murders plummet by 60 percent since early March. The unprecedented decline, however, is not the result of conventional policies aimed at eliminating criminal activity, but rather a very different development: a negotiated truce between the country’s two leading gangs, the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18. On March 9, some 30 gang leaders were moved to lower security prisons to engage in discussions led by the Catholic Church and a former congressman. El Salvador’s online investigative journal El Faro broke the story on March 14, and the gangs issued a joint statement confirming the pact a week later. President Mauricio Funes and the Salvadoran government have repeatedly denied any role in the negotiations, despite abetting them by authorizing the prison transfers.

The early results of the agreement have been promising. On April 15, El Salvador witnessed its first homicide-free day in nearly three years. Just last week, the gangs vowed to end the practice of forcible recruitment and expanded the cease-fire to schools, declaring them “zones of peace.” ...

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