Thursday, February 04, 2016

Investigating the gang truce

Ever since the so-called "tregua" or truce between El Salvador's leading gangs began in March 2012, the details of the government's role in the truce have been murky at best.   It is acknowledged that top gang leaders were transferred from a high security prison to lesser security prisons on the same weekend that homicide rates dramatically dropped.    But beyond that fact, and whether the transfer was part of a quid pro quo, is the subject of dispute.

The issue exploded back to the surface this week when La Prensa Grafica published details of statements from a court proceeding involving a 2014 attack in Quezaltepeque.  Anonymous gang member witnesses alleged in those statements that in 2012 the government had negotiated with the gangs as part of the truce and made a series of benefits available to the gang leaders.  Those benefits included not only the transfer to lesser security prisons, but also the installation of electricity in their cells (important for charging cell phones), delivery of 300 cell phones, availability of increased intimate visits from women, and, in a hard to believe claim, an agreement to provide one new weapon for every two old weapons turned in by the gangs.  

The anonymous gang members gave their statements in another prosecution where they were seeking to get more favorable judicial treatment as a result of providing such statements.    

Before now, there had been an investigation of the truce opened under former attorney general Luis Martinez which had not generated any results.  New attorney general Douglas Melendez promises a serious investigation, saying that the Salvadoran population deserves answers to these questions.   Melendez started that serious investigation by summoning  former president Mauricio Funes to answer questions.  

Mauricio Funes was interviewed by prosecutors in the FGR' s office on Wednesday.   Funes asserted that he was interviewed as a witness testifying to what he knew, not as a target of the investigation.    Funes asserted that he followed the progress of the truce in briefings from his Minister of Public Security, David Munguía Payés.   Funes repeated that the government had never negotiated with the gangs or made agreements with the gangs.   He described the government's role as providing logistical support to the truce process (whatever that means), and described the transfer of the top gang leaders to lower security prisons as part of this process of logistical support.   He rejected the statements of the anonymous witnesses as the lying statements of gangster assassins.

This investigation of the truce will be the first demonstration of what kind of attorney general Douglas Melendez will be.  His predecessor Luis Martinez used an investigation of the truce solely for purposes of publicity and to attack anyone who disagreed with his hatred of the truce.   Hopefully Melendez will use the investigation to bring actual facts to light.   Transparency would be a very good thing.




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