Barrio 18 leader Carlos Lechuga Mojica, alias “El Viejo Lin,” is one of the most prominent spokesmen for El Salvador’s gang truce. InSight Crime co-director Steven Dudley spoke with Mojica in Cojutepeque prison in October 2012 about how the maras view the controversial peace process, which has resulted in a dramatic drop in El Salvador’s murder rate.

This article is part of a series on the truce between the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the Barrio 18 gangs in El Salvador. See the full series here, or download the full report here.

How do you define yourselves?

We are a social group. We see ourselves as a large part of society. We believe that the problem here is social exclusion, discrimination, lack of education, lack of employment and unequal treatment by the law. We think that if you resolve these problems, the violence between gangs will end. 

What has been the impact of mass incarcerations of gang members in El Salvador?

The persecution of our brothers has been the fertilizer that has made the gangs grow. They capture five this week. Within a month, there are ten more. They put the father in jail, his kids are next. When those kids grow up, then the grandkid is next. He has a wife, she gets pregnant, that kid is already part of it. Do they achieve anything massacring or jailing us? We doubt it…

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[See complete version of interview below or go here.]

How would you characterize this truce?

This process is still in diapers. (Laughs.) In reality, we know that no one has a magic wand. We not waiting for them to show up and say: “Hey, what do you want? This, this and this. Look, here’s this, here’s this, and here’s this.” It doesn’t work that way.

What commitments have you made to reach the truce?

We haven’t said no one will die, as in zero. I mean no murders at all. But, in terms of gang violence, which is what causes most of the murders in this country, these are way down. We think it’s working.

What message do you have for gang victims?

We feel badly about what has happened in our country. We know that we cannot revive all those who have died. But we can stop all these senseless murders in the future.

What about other crimes such as extortion?

We think we can eradicate all that gradually. As I told you earlier: neither of us have a magic wand. We have started by reducing the homicides.

Do you have political aspirations?

We don’t have political aspirations. We only aspire to have a dignified life. We’re not asking for anything special. We don’t want to create a political party. We’re not interested in politics. We just want to live like everybody else wants to live.

What do the younger gang members think of the truce?

For the younger generation, this doesn’t matter. They are there because we have sat them down, explained it to them. We are on top of them. And they’re getting it, they’re getting it. There are obstacles, difficulties. This is not easy. But no one said it was going to be easy. We think this is a historic process. If this doesn’t work…If this doesn’t work, we don’t have any idea what will happen. It’s hard.

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Steven Dudley is the co-founder and co-director of InSight Crime and a senior research fellow at American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies in Washington, DC. In 2020, Dudley...