(Video Al Jazeera)
El Salvador’s involvement in a truce between the country’s two major street gangs has grown, with the government now pursuing a reduction in gang extortion in addition to homicides.
Although the daily homicide rate has declined sharply since 30 leaders of the MS-13 and Barrio 18 gangs were transported to a more relaxed prison facility in March, reports of extortion have continued and even risen in some departments, according to the country's Attorney General.
Transportation unions in particular have reported an increase in the monetary losses incurred by gang extortions.
Straying from prior denials of government involvement in the negotiations, La Prensa Grafica reports that Justice and Security Minister David Munguia Payes has stated that “the government cannot sit down to negotiate with criminal groups, but if other institutions do, we will facilitate the dialogue.” The Church and former congressman Raul Mijango have already initiated efforts to negotiate a reduction in extortions with the gangs.
Munguia claimed that he is unsure of what the gang leaders will ask for in exchange for a reduction in extortions, but the government is prepared to do whatever is necessary to facilitate a dialogue, so long as concessions remain within the scope of the law. Currently, the government is considering some “gestures of goodwill” that gang leaders have requested, such as allowing imprisoned gangsters to be visited by their children, or lengthening the allowed visit time.
According to the minister, all the dialogue can do is “create opportunities.” If negotiations through Mijango and the Church are fruitless, the government will be forced to explore other options. However, he is convinced that the reduction in homicides that resulted from the truce can only be followed by a reduction in extortion, auto theft, and illicit arms acquisition.
The Salvadoran government’s continued facilitation of the discussion between the Church and the country’s two largest street gangs points to the state’s deepening investment in the deal.
The consideration of new concessions to curtail gang extortion also sheds light on the leverage that the gangs have in the negotiations.
Minister Munguia appears confident that dialogue between the Church and the gang leaders will lead to the decline of several criminal activities, but brokering a truce between two gangs at war is very different from convincing the groups to cease the activities that dictate their way of life.
Each of the myriad illicit activities that Salvadoran gangs engage in may require new government concessions.
As Insight has suggested, inadvertently delegating this kind of political power to gangs could compromise the justice system, as well as any peace that has already resulted from the negotiations.
---This piece originally appeared in INSIGHT HERE.