Thursday, December 13, 2012

Building on the truce

The truce between the El Salvador's major rival gangs continues to hold. along with the resulting dramatic reduction in the number of homicides in the country.     Now the original mediators of the truce as well as other actors are hoping to build on the momentum towards peace that the truce represents.

One proposal is the declaration of certain municipalities in the country as zones of peace.  From Insight Crime:

The leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha, Barrio 18, and three other street gangs in El Salvador said they accepted a proposal to end all gang activity in designated "zones of peace" in the country.   In a statement released to the public, gang leaders said that they'd already handed over a list of 10 possible municipalities where they would agree to cease all criminal activity. 
The creation of several designated "peace zones" in 10 municipalities was first proposed by Bishop Fabio Colindres and ex-congressman Raul Mijango on November 22. The two men helped negotiate a ceasefire between the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 earlier this year, which caused the national homicide rate to fall from 14 murders a day to just five. The negotiators intended the creation of these "peace zones" to be the second phase of this gang truce. 
Within these designated zones, gangs would agree to a non-aggression pact, and would commit to stopping all homicides, extortion, theft, and kidnapping. The municipalities that would include these peace zones have not yet been identified, although gang leaders said the agreement would affect some 900,000 people who live in the proposed areas. In their statement, gang leaders said that they'd already ordered affiliate groups -- or "cliques" -- to begin disarming in these areas, and hand over the weapons to the truce facilitators. 

This proposal has received a generally favorable reception.    Colindres and Mijango have also supported the repeal of the country's anti-gang law, a law which made belonging to a gang a crime and often resulted in police round-ups of tattooed young men in the country's barrios.

Again from Insight Crime:
First implemented in 2010, the Gang Prohibition Act doubled the maximum prison sentence for minors, declared gang membership illegal, and gives the authorities permission to freeze bank accounts and seize the assets of gang members. 
However, the effectiveness of the law is hotly disputed by its critics, including the two mediators. "The only thing this law has been good for is to unleash a series of police operations and mass arrests that never result in anything, the only thing that happens is the judicial system ends up saturated with cases that in the end it can’t process," Mijango said in an interview with Salvadoran radio station Pencho y Aida.
A wide variety of actors are getting involved in trying to use the space opened by the gang truce to make progress on prevention and violence reduction.   I've already written about the churches' pastoral initiative for peace and life.   In addition, private business is getting involved.   A recent policy brief from the Americas Society describes how businesses in El Salvador are getting involved in gang reinsertion efforts and offering young people job opportunities.    Sometime the businesses are seeing surprising benefits.  The article notes that work groups made up of ex-gang members are 15% more productive than the rest of the population on average.

The government is launching programs of its own.   Hispanically Speaking News describes a new youth violence prevention program to run in San Salvador and the surrounding municipalities:
The municipalities play a key role in crime prevention. The project will support 30 municipalities that put together and implement prevention plans. Among other initiatives, the program will finance a new crime information system and will upgrade public plazas and parks. Around 10,000 youths will benefit from communal programs that include sports, art, and training in the prevention of intra-family violence, among other. 
The program will train new tutor-guides for the so-called “farm-jails” and to help in the process of social reinsertion and rehabilitation. Finally, a pilot project will test out-of-jail conditional liberty options through the use electronic bracelets.
I admit to being cautiously optimistic about all these efforts.   For once the efforts are not focused on putting more troops on the streets and more people in jail.   The focus is finally on efforts to bring jobs, opportunity and alternatives to the gang lifestyle to those neighborhoods most affected.      Hopefully it can continue.




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