Sunday, August 11, 2013

Politics threaten the gang truce

One of the major threats to turning the process called the "tregua" or the truce among the gangs in El Salvador into a durable reduction in crime and violence, is election politics in El Salvador.   A recent article at InsightCrime titled Can El Salvador Gang Truce Survive Presidential Campaign? illustrates this:

Ilopango, a municipality on the eastern edge of San Salvador, was the first of what are now about a dozen peace zones. Since the truce, the number of homicides in the area has been slashed in half from 110 in 2011 to 61 in 2012. 
With killings down, the local government has focused on soft-power measures. Ilopango created a chicken farm and bakery as alternative forms of employment for gang members, and it is building soccer fields and education centers in hardscrabble neighborhoods. With its recent successes, Ilopango would seem the poster child for the gang truce, but during a recent press conference Ilopango's mayor railed against both the president and his new security minister. 
Keeping the "pacification process" alive takes resources, mayor Salvador Ruano said, and Ilopango had not received any of the $9 million promised under the peace zone initiative.  "This puts us in an uncomfortable situation," he said, "because there hasn't been clarity as to whether [president Funes and his government] are going support this violence prevention." 
Ruano recently found himself embroiled in controversy after it was discovered that the municipality used funds from a national social program to aid 400 gang members. 
Ruano skirted the question of whether his ARENA party -- the same party whose presidential candidate is now rejecting the truce -- needed to change its inflammatory rhetoric. His party and candidate Quijano support Ilopango's violence prevention efforts, he said, saying nothing of the truce as a whole. 
Carlos Rivas, a pastor at a 20,000 member church in Ilopango, told InSight Crime that he has seen significant gains since the truce: fewer homicides, a decrease in extortion, gang members asking for forgiveness from their communities .
"In spite of these things," he said, "the truce, to me, keeps on being problematic because history has demonstrated that truces are fleeting.  The political climate, he acknowledged, isn't helping.   "We should take the theme of violence out of the election campaign, because when political campaigns use the theme of security, instead of advancing, we stagnate and recede," he said.
Read the rest of the article here.

In their approaches to the truce, the differences between the country's mayors and national political leaders stand out.   The mayors seem to be more interested in what is practical and what is working.   If being a "peace zone" and working with the gangs produces a reduction in killings and makes residents feel safer, then the mayors will work with it.   On the other hand, national party leaders are less interested in what is practical than in what best fits with their campaign theme and what the voters seem to be calling for.   In a country where more than 60% of the population is deeply skeptical or antagonistic towards the truce, no politician can afford to fully embrace a process which involves working with the gangs.

See this Norman Quijano campaign video declaring his opposition to pacts with the gangs.



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