Is El Salvador negotiating with criminal street gangs?
A deal with El Salvador's two biggest street gangs may signal a less militaristic security strategy, writes guest blogger Geoffrey Ramsey.
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The clica led by this 30-something had to suspend some plans immediately. According to El Muchacho, the orders caused them to put off two hits they had planned for that very same day. The only reason the gangster obeys orders like this is his utter fear of the Mara Salvatrucha’s punishment system. If a subordinate disobeys, he will be punished with anything from a severe beating to death. If El Muchaho defied his orders, both he and his boss in the Ciudad Barrios prison would be punished.Skip to next paragraph
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By way of comparison, El Muchacho gave the following example: “If your boss tells you ‘find this report,’ you have to go rummaging for it, because your job depends on it. It’s the same. An order’s an order.”
The explanation he was given for these orders was that a group of imprisoned gang bosses in a maximum security facility in Zacatecoluca had been transferred to other facilities, and the new orders were given so that they would stay there. What he heard was this: there had been a negotiation between some mara leaders and the government, and as long as the gangs kept things calm the government wouldn’t have any motivation to return them to Zacatecoluca.
The negotiations, if they indeed happened, have apparently worked. There has been a significant drop in homicides of late, with March 12 being the least violent day the country has seen in three years, with only two killings registered (link in Spanish). The average for the first few weeks of this year was 13 a day. Although police claim that this recent improvement is due to “improved coordination and intelligence,” (link in Spanish) law enforcement and intelligence sources told El Faro a different story, and even mentioned a financial incentive for the drop in homicides.
The first news of the transfer came to this newspaper on Friday, April 9. It came in the form of a few lines from a report generated by the Police Intelligence Center (CIP). It claimed that the "green," referring to the military, had moved all the "junk" of the Mara Salvatrucha. "The information is confirmed," concluded the extract, which also spoke of thousands of dollars offered to the highest-ranking gang members if homicides fell this month.
That same day, an intelligence agent claimed that, according to officials who were closely involved, this strategy was led by Colonel Simon Molina Montoya, who served as an intelligence adviser to the current Security and Justice Minister, David Munguia Payes, when the latter was minister of defense. Currently, Molina Montoya is the second-in-command of the State Intelligence Agency (OIE).
When reached by phone on Wednesday, Montoya Molina said simply: "Sorry, I know nothing." El Faro attempted to interview General Munguia Payes on Tuesday to discuss the transfer of prisoners, but there was no response. This Wednesday the minister’s phone was called repeatedly, but none of our calls were returned. When El Faro called a ministry press official, the periodical relayed the contents of the article and asked for a response from the authorities. This official told El Faro that they had passed on the request to the minister, but that he still had no comment.