I have been searching for a word to describe today's visit by the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, to La Esperanza prison in El Salvador. "Remarkable," "strange", "positive", "bizarre"? To have the senior official of the OAS sitting down with the leaders of criminal gangs who have killed hundreds or thousands of Salvadorans is not something you see every day.
Here is the description from an OAS press release:
The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, today visited La Esperanza Prison, located on the outskirts of San Salvador, to support the decision of two groups of prisoners to begin a peace process to put an end to the confrontations between gangs, one of the most difficult security dilemmas faced by the government of El Salvador.
Insulza said the agreement between the gang organizations constitutes “an opening to a space for hope,” and applauded the effort of the inmates to “look for a way to move forward in the midst of a difficult stage, filled with obstacles.” “Thanks to your courage in opening yourselves to understanding and to conversations, and for understanding that the good that comes of this will be a lesson that could be applied in other countries that suffer from criminal violence,” he said to the inmates.
In the context of a visit to El Salvador at the invitation of President Mauricio Funes, Insulza traveled to the prison following his first official audience with the Foreign Minister Hugo Martínez. In the prison he was met by the military bishop of El Salvador, Monsignor Fabio Colindres, one of the authors of the rapprochement between the gangs, to look for ways to end the violence brought by street crime in the country.
During the meeting, the two groups sat around a table and, in addition to declaring before Secretary General Insulza and Monsignor Colindres their commitment to put an end to violent acts, they also expressed their desire to be treated with dignity and to achieve reforms in the prison system and the legal administration.