In an interview with the online periodical El Faro, spokesmen for the gang Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), described a proposal for sitting down at a table for dialogue with the government. For the first time, the gang leaders indicated that they would be willing to put the dissolution of the gang on the bargaining table. The full article from El Faro has been translated into English and is available at the InsightCrime website here.
The gang is proposing a public dialogue in which the country's three principal gangs (MS-13, 18 Revolucionarios and 18 Sureños), human rights institutions, and the government would participate. From the InsightCrime translation:
As a starting point, the gang has proposed two points that have never been negotiated previously. The first is the possibility that the government would create a process that would allow active members to leave the gang. "A child does things that he doesn't have to do, but when he becomes an adult or has children, he matures and doesn't want to continue doing what he's done in the past," said one MS13 leaders in an interview that took place in a community in the metropolitan area of San Salvador.
The second point -- which is the principal new offer -- refers to discussing the dismantling of the gang. El Faro probed the group on this point during the interview and in subsequent telephone conversations. The MS13's spokesmen insisted that the issue can be addressed if they are treated seriously in the negotiations.The reaction of the government to the MS proposal contained in the El Faro article has been chilly but not entirely dismissive. The president's spokesman Eugenio Chicas spoke to El Faro:
Chicas said he could offer an idea of the chances that the proposal would be taken into consideration. "The government's stance with respect to any dialogue, agreement or conversation with the gangs are very clear and cannot be negotiated. There can be no dialogue, no agreement and no conversation with these groups -- no deal. Until today. And I say so because this is what I know. If the president says otherwise, it will be up to him, and he has the authority to consider any other solution," he stated....
Chicas believes that the possibility of exploring an agreement with the MS13 depends on several factors: first, the social acceptance of the negotiations; second, the convergence of the political willingness of different parties; and third, the resources needed to finance such a process and the legal discussions that must take place before it starts.
"This is an issue that must be considered. Not only has El Salvador's society proved to be against any attempt at dialogue or conversation with the gangs, it also vehemently opposes any advantage or legal benefit for these groups. And a government must understand the will of its citizens. This is a key element, but it is not the only one. Another crucial factor will be the chances of a political agreement between different governing forces, in this case the country's government together with the opposition and other social actors, as reflected in the National Security Council. This is another factor that must be taken into account, and another element is whether the strategy could yield better results within the political timeframe we have left. Bear in mind that elections will take place in the few years we've got left," he stated.More typical was the reaction of Howard Cotto, who also spoke to El Faro:
National Police Director Howard Cotto's views are starker, making the point that the government does not have anything to negotiate with the gangs. "All that they offer is to continue committing crimes if we don't negotiate with them and that is utterly wrong…What do they offer? To stop killing or stop extorting? And in return they want something? No! Just stop doing it," he concluded.In La Pagina, Vice President Oscar Ortiz was quoted as saying:
This year we are going to intensify the blows against the criminal structures, we are going to intensify blows against extortion, against the structure of extortion, we are going to intensify the control of the prison system, we are going to continue striking at the heads of the criminal organizations, we are going to search for them far and wide through the country and, of course, we are going to continue strengthening the whole set of actions that permit us to empower and strengthen our National Civilian Police and our armed forces, all the security apparatus. The crux of these measures is to guaranty more safety to the family and community in the coming years.In response to the MS proposal in El Faro, Ortiz said the government was not going to change its position of not having rapprochement with the criminal organizations. Instead, he said:
Let them stop killing, stop extorting, stop attacking the police, stop threatening the innocent population far and wide throughout the country, stop committing crimes. The country can't be under threat with a gun to its head. A criminal group can't compete with the State.Given the extreme distaste among the general public for the idea of negotiation with the gangs, I certainly do not expect the government to agree to any kind of open dialogue. The MS spokemen quoted in El Faro suggest that there are members of the gang who are looking for ways to leave the gang life behind, and they want to talk to the government about it. The government should look for ways to reduce the ranks of gang members if it can. Perhaps that process needs to be done not at a national level bargaining table, but instead to be done youth by youth, gang cell (clica) by gang cell, community by community. Ultimately the steps towards pacification of the country require prevention and opportunities for young people on the front end, and rehabilitation and re-insertion of reformed gang members on the back-end. There has been too much emphasis on intensifying blows, and too little emphasis on rescuing young people from the gangs.