El Salvador: The confusing good news from El Salvador

Tim’s El Salvador Blog

The murder rate is down dramatically in El Salvador in the past two weeks. The rate has fallen from an average of 13 murders a day to only 5. But the reasons why are murky and confused. In my last post, I mentioned a report by the online periodical El Faro that the government had negotiated a deal with the gangs. The government denied this report. A new story has a Roman Catholic bishop asserting that the church brokered a peace between the two leading gangs.

Alleged gang members in El Salvador arrested for assault. (AFP/archivo, José Cabezas)

The website Insight Crime reports:

An El Salvadoran bishop has claimed that a recent drop in homicides is due to the Church negotiating a truce between the country’s two main gangs, the MS-13 and Barrio 18, and that there was no government deal with these gangs.

Bishop Fabio Colindres announced in a press conference that the Church had brokered an agreement between the rivals, who agreed to cease “deadly attacks” on each other, though he said he could not guarantee how long it would last. He said that no concessions had been given by the authorities to bring about this truce, and that gang leaders had contacted him to ask him to mediate….

In his press conference to announce the truce, the bishop was accompanied by former congressman Raul Mijango, who says he helped mediate with the gangs. Both said that the government knew about the negotiations from the start.

Something seems to have taken place to halt the violence in El Salvador — according to El Faro, there have been an average of five murders a day in the country over the last 10 days, down from 14 a day in January and February.

However, it remains unclear what has brought about this change. The bishop was unable to give details of the talks with gang members, or the names of those involved. He claimed that he could not remember the dates of the talks. El Faro points out that his description of meetings with 50 prisoners at a time clash with their experience of security policies in the maximum security facility of Zacatecoluca, where they could not meet with more than one inmate at a time.

A Spanish priest, Antonio Rodriguez, who works with reinserting gang members into society gave an interview this morning on Salvadoran TV where he dismissed the bishop’s account as just so much romanticism. The gangs issued a statement today denying that they had negotiated with the government. For its part, the police attribute the reduction in homicides to the effectiveness of police operations.

Whatever the reason, the reduction in homicides is good news. But the reasons make all the difference in the world in helping us know whether this reduction portends a better future situation for El Salvador. At this point, 11 days of improvement is not enough to declare that something fundamental has changed for good.

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