Sunday, October 06, 2013

The complicated relationship of Funes and the gang truce

Oscar Martinez of the Salvadoran online periodical El Faro has an opinion piece in the New York Times today titled Making a Deal With Murderers.  His essay opens:

The president of El Salvador has helped save more than 2,000 lives in the past two years. Now if only he would admit it.
Martinez argues that the failure of president Mauricio Funes to admit publicly that his government negotiated with the gangs to produce the truce, has lead to the truce beginning to unravel in recent months.   He concludes:
PRESIDENT FUNES, who has less than a year left in his term, seems adamant about ending his presidency without letting the admission slip from his lips that his government designed this truce strategy, which has already saved more than 2,000 lives. It is not hard to understand why he lacks the valor to say that he gave the order to negotiate with murderers, blackmailers and rapists whose tattooed faces are stained with the letters and numbers of their gangs. All you have to do is scan the readers’ comments on any news article relating to gangs — remarks like “burn them” and “kill them all” — to see why. 
However, without a president capable of real leadership through such a delicate process, without a head of state willing to fight to keep the gang leaders committed to this reduction in bloodshed for enough time to implement prevention plans, the truce will probably fall to pieces, and its demise will bring back the high murder rate. 
Everything seems to suggest that President Funes will leave office without ever admitting that he has saved an astounding number of lives, probably because the numbers that really matter to him are those of a different sort — the kind that reflect his popularity in the polls.
Martinez writes from one point of view held in El Salvador -- that the truce provides a window of opportunity to address the causes of gang violence and to implement prevention programs, and this opportunity should not be squandered.   There is another point of view, probably held by the majority of Salvadorans, which says you cannot negotiate with gangs whose bargaining chips are their willingness to unleash murderous violence against each other and against innocent victims.   President Funes's actions and words have not consistently followed one view or the other.

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