Another small step forward in El Salvador

phoca_thumb_l_foro6 President Funes

By Antonio Sampaio, Research Assistant, Survival and the Armed Conflict Database

Earlier this month, leaders of the violent street gangs of El Salvador, or maras, agreed to create safe havens (or ‘sanctuary cities’) in which they would cease to operate. This plan to stay out of ten designated municipalities, under the supervision of the International Committee of the Red Cross, involves five street gangs, among them the two largest – the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18. Those two groups’ ceasefire in March this year significantly reduced the number of homicides in El Salvador – from 14 to five a day, the authorities say.

Justice and Security Minister Gen David Munguia Payes has welcomed the ‘sanctuary cities’ plan. When the retired army general was appointed to the role a little more than a year ago, there were widespread fears that he would step up the ‘iron fist’ (or mano dura) approach towards criminal gangs. Instead, Munguia Payes appears to have turned into a great supporter of a negotiated truce.

Although there is a large gap between agreeing to cease criminal activity and actually doing so, this month’s announcement is an important landmark for security policies in Central America. El Salvador’s security forces were previously unable to turn the tide of rising gang violence, which in 2010 reached 71 murders per 100,000, putting the country among the world’s most dangerous. But developments this year demonstrate how political negotiation with criminal and other groups can make a difference.

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El Salvador’s 100 days of relative peace

Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes. Photo: Presidency of El Salvador

By Antonio Sampaio, Research Assistant, Survival and the Armed Conflict Database

Central America’s ‘northern triangle’ has been the most murderous region on earth recently, as discussed in a recent Voices blog post. But there is a growing ray of hope in El Salvador, where street gangs, or maras, have accounted for a significant amount of the violence. An unlikely truce between the two leading maras in March has halved homicide rates. The mechanics of the deal are controversial, and there have been doubts about how long it could last. However yesterday, 100 days into the truce, gang leaders announced they were willing to start negotiating a permanent peace.

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A triangle of death

Mara Salvatrucha gang member, El Salvador

A Mara Salvatrucha gang member in prison in El Salvador. Photo: Moisen Saman, courtesy of Sony World Photography Award 2008/Creative Commons

By Antonio Sampaio, Research Assistant, Survival and the Armed Conflict Database

The Economist has dubbed it ‘the tormented isthmus‘. It is the most murderous region on earth: the ‘northern triangle’ of Central America formed by Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. The bloody drugs war that has raged in neighbouring Mexico since 2006 has spilled over into a region already destabilised by years of civil war in the 1980s, plagued by local gangs and corrupt institutions, and with too few police.

While adding the region to the institute’s Armed Conflict Database recently, we unearthed a raft of alarming statistics. These include: Read the rest of this entry »


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