Salvadoran church leaders who are part of the Pastoral Initiative for Life and for Peace (IPAZ) held a press conference, on Wednesday, April 29, to advocate for dialogue in the face of growing violence in the country. IPAZ called for a process of national dialogue, including dialogue with the country’s gangs, as the only path forward to achieve peace in the country afflicted with so much violence.
Text of IPAZ press release.
The IPAZ press conference followed a week after a joint communique purporting to come from the imprisoned leaders of the country’s largest gangs was released to the public. The statement indicated agreement to a 26 point “peace process” proposed by Raul Mijango, one of the mediators of the original truce, including the gangs’ agreement to unilaterally reduce the level of violent acts being committed against the population, including attacks on the police and military.
According to a person with knowledge of the process, Raul Mijango has been talking to the imprisoned gang chieftains about a path forward. He incorporated those concepts into a draft of the statement and returned to share it with those gang leaders. The leaders affirmed that Mijango had correctly expressed their intentions. Then the communique was finalized and released to the public.
[However, it is not clear that these intentions of the gang leaders talking to Mijango were communicated to the rank and file gang members. Murders have not had the immediate reduction which followed the agreement to the March 2012 truce. I am hearing that gang members in other prisons say they know nothing about it].
In their communique, the gangs requested that the International Committee of the Red Cross and IPAZ participate in the process going forward. The IPAZ leaders announced their affirmative response to this request. IPAZ is the first organization to come out in favor of taking next steps in response to the gang communication.
The IPAZ leaders also commented negatively on the Salvadoran government’s current tactics of army rapid reaction battalions and having troops in the streets as a sole response to violence. The bishops and pastors from IPAZ commented that in the country’s history, tactics of repression have never produced peaceful results for the population.
The IPAZ leaders summarized their position in this way:
In the name of God we call:Lutheran Bishop Medardo Gomez, one of the members of IPAZ, indicated that pastors of the church had met in a pastoral role with gang leaders in prison, and that some had indicated that they were disposed to change their path of life. One leader told Gomez that he had 4 children and did not want them to grow up in the gangs. Bishop Gomez offered this example only to say that perhaps change was possible, and that only through conversation could there be conversion. Thus Gomez and the other leaders of IPAZ urge the necessity of dialogue.
• To the forces alive in the country to urgently come out in favor of dialogue and to put all of their energies, resources, gifts and talents into the search for peaceful alternatives.
• To the Salvadoran State, to exhaust all its resources towards to way of dialogue
In the month leading up to the beatification ceremonies for Oscar Romero, IPAZ urged remembrance of Romero’s prophetic words “No mataras!” and that these words apply as well to the police in dealing with citizens