Gang truce in El Salvador: An opportunity the region can't afford to miss

El Salvador's gang truce needs to be followed by job training, rehabilitation programs, and humane prison conditions in order to create a sustainable peace, writes a guest blogger.

• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, The views expressed are the author's own.

Luis Rodriguez has a piece on Gang Peace in El Salvador: The Opportunity We Can't Afford To Miss up on Fox News Latino. He has been involved in studying gangs for nearly the last two decades in El Salvador and elsewhere and recently traveled to El Salvador as part of an 11-member delegation of US-based urban peace advocates, gang prevention/intervention specialists, and researchers from Los Angeles, Washington DC, New York City, and San Francisco.
His take is somewhat similar to what many of us have been arguing. The gang peace in El Salvador provides a once in a lifetime opportunity for the people of El Salvador (the US, and the region) to bring crime levels under control. However, it won't be easy – much needs to be done in both the short – and longterm to ensure success. He doesn't sugarcoat the challenges.

There is a need for short and long-range actions and policies. Gang leaders in El Salvador have asked for humane prison conditions, medical care, jobs, and training and rehabilitation programs. There is a need for businesses to provide jobs and a livable income in one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere. The country needs an expansion of educational opportunities as well as vocational and other training. What about full mental health and drug treatment programs?

There is deep trauma to address, as well as orphans and broken families. How about the arts that in my experience has been instrumental in expanding the imaginations of the most troubled communities and allowing creativity to accompany any healing process?

Fortunately, Rodriguez appears to be somewhat optimistic that the gangs, government, and society are ready to tackle the challenge head on.

This time I found a more open and caring attitude from everyone we met in El Salvador, including government officials in the ministries of health, education, and public safety as well as among the heads of the penal system. The gang leaders were sincere and quite clear about their commitment to the peace. A meeting of the minds and hearts of the Salvadoran people would help make this process sustainable and significant, even beyond its borders.

However, he's not naive to the financial challenges needed to sustain the peace and argues there is money to be saved by changing the way the country approaches gang violence.
2012 is looking to be another important year in El Salvador. I'm just not sure which way it's going to go. The gang truce has achieved more than anyone could have expected five months ago although it remains fragile. And the conflict between the legislative and judicial branches remains unresolved with the possible outcome of strengthened rule of law or political system that heeds court decisions only when it suits their interests.

Mike Allison is an associate professor in the Political Science Department and a member of the Latin American and Women's Studies Department at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania.  You can follow his Central American Politics blog here.

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