A truce between El Salvador’s two main gangs, the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18, which was negotiated by the Catholic Church, has reached 100 days. Since the truce started in March, the country has seen the murder rate drop from an average of 14 a day to five a day – a decrease without precedent over the last decade. El Salvador has been plagued by gang violence and one of the highest murder rates in the world for two decades, and over 50,000 Salvadorans are members of the gangs, which engage in drug-dealing, extortion and gang warfare.
In the peace deal, which was brokered by Bishop Fabio Colindres and the former guerrilla commander Raul Mijango, the two gangs agreed to stop their hostilities and territorial disputes, and the Government agreed to move gang leaders from maximum security prisons to prisons with more flexible detention facilities. Gang members marked the 100th day of the truce on 19 June, by holding ceremonies in prisons in Ciudad Barrios and Izalco.
Meanwhile, gang leaders expressed their hopes that the truce would become permanent and called on the Government to enter talks and to provide assistance to the gangs by establishing jobs programmes. "We want to reach a definitive cease fire, to end all the criminal acts of the gangs," said gang leader Oscar Armando Reyes, "we are issuing a call for us all to sit down and have a dialogue, to reach a definitive accord."
Although the Government has not yet responded to this call to enter dialogue, Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes has met with mayors, businessmen, churches, universities and unions to promote a programme to help gang members into employment. President Funes denied any Government involvement in the negotiations between the gangs, and credited Bishop Colindres with the success of the truce.
There is scepticism in El Salvador that the peace process has not addressed the underlying issues of widespread poverty and a weak judiciary. Despite this, Mijango hopes that the difficulties can be overcome to bring the gang phenomenon and the serious crime problem to a conclusive end. Bishop Colindres commented: "We are happy that this peace process is gradually moving forwards. Naturally there are always things that need improving and evaluating, but - looking at the bigger picture - we must give thanks to God for what has already been achieved."