Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Of gangs, anti-crime plans, and dialogue

Whether you should "dialogue" with gang members or shoot them on sight is an active debate in El Salvador.   The debate is front and center as the year began with a spate of murders of police followed by a purported unilateral cease fire by some of the country's gangs.

Protestant churches which make up the IPAZ effort favor an approach to the country's gang problem which includes dialogue with the gangs.   Leaders of the churches were making visits in January to prisons in El Salvador which they characterized as "pastoral,"  including worship services.  The churches pointed out that they were not negotiating with the gang leaders they met since the churches have no authority from the government to act as mediators.

Coincidentally or not, around the same time as the IPAZ efforts, the gangs announced a unilateral ceasefire.  The rates of murder and some other crimes seemed to drop immediately, and El Salvador experienced its first day without a murder in a very long time.

The Roman Catholic church leadership in the country seems to have now thrown its support behind this effort with a nudge from Pope Francis, after previously distancing themselves from the work of their protestant counterparts.  The Catholic News Service reported that

The Catholic bishops of El Salvador announced that, with encouragement from Pope Francis, they have undertaken a process of dialogue with the country’s gangs. 
Gang members in El Salvador “have a right to be included, to be heard, for they are persons and they have families,” said Auxiliary Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez of San Salvador, during a news conference following Feb. 1 Mass in the city’s Metropolitan Cathedral. 
The move came two weeks after several gang leaders — most of them in prison — declared a cease-fire that has already cut murder rates dramatically..... 
Bishop Rosa Chavez represents the church in the government-sponsored National Council for Citizen Security, which has been discussing gang-related issues since its creation late last year. He said the church’s participation “has the approval of the pope. He told us to get in there and work for youth to have opportunities and a chance to dream.” 
The prelate was careful to point out that the new dialogue should not be considered negotiation. 
“The word negotiation isn’t involved here. We’re talking about dialogue, which means to listen and give people opportunities. With dialogue, we can reach the grass roots, the youth in the poor neighborhoods who want to be listened to, and give them opportunities to leave the gangs,” said Bishop Rosa Chavez, according to local press reports.

The approach of dialogue with the gangs and programs of re-insertion of gang members who want to leave the gang lifestyle is unlikely to be supported by El Salvador's new security consultant, Rudy Giuliani.  From the Economist:
“THE best answer to terrorist groups and gangs is to confront them,” believes Rudolph Giuliani, a former mayor of New York city. The man who brought the broken-window theory—that tolerance of small crimes would encourage bigger ones—to the United States’ biggest city unsurprisingly rejects the idea of negotiating with gangsters. Now a group of right-wing businessmen in El Salvador have hired Mr Giuliani to propose tough-guy solutions to crime in one of the world’s most gang-ridden countries. He dispatched a fact-finding mission in January.
All of this activity comes with national elections in El Salvador rapidly approaching on March 1.   The original gang truce which led to a 60% reduction in murders over a sustained period of time began the day before El Salvador's 2012 national elections.  

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