A minister in El Salvador has been implicated in a controversial and now defunct gang truce, in a move that may be meant to discredit the ceasefire and officials involved in it.
The Salvadoran Attorney General's Office said Defense Minister David Munguía Payés was the "creator, ideologue, promoter and principal defender" of the 2012 truce between the country's two most powerful criminal gangs, the MS13 and the Barrio 18, reported El Mundo.
The allegations appeared in an indictment against 22 former police officers and prison officials accused of crimes linked with the truce.
Authorities have not brought formal charges against Munguía, and the Attorney General has not required him to testify in the case.
Nonetheless, the indictment reportedly makes some bold assertions. According to the Attorney General's Office, Munguía, who during part of the truce had served as security minister under former President Mauricio Funes, allegedly helped gang members to receive several perks throughout the duration of the truce.
According to the indictment, reviewed by El Mundo, "the transfer of gang leaders [from maximum-security prisons to lower-security facilities] could not have taken place without [Munguía's] knowledge and authorization; the convoys that carried [the criminals] could not have been escorted without his influence ... as defense minister, and the gang members could not have enjoyed other benefits ... without [his] direct intervention."
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Munguía also allegedly maintained a close relationship with the two key mediators in the truce, Raúl Mijango and Bishop Fabio Colindres, as well as the former head of the penitentiary system Nelson Rauda and former Prison Inspector Anilber Rodríguez. According to the Attorney General's Office, the four individuals met with the gang leaders on Munguía's instructions.
In addition, authorities have alleged that Munguía and others allowed gang members from outside the prisons to meet with their incarcerated associates. The discussions allegedly did not revolve around the truce, prosecutors say, but rather concerned ways to strengthen the gang.
According to El Diario de Hoy, the indictment states that these meetings "were an opportunity for [gang] leaders to take back their power and control, to reorganize themselves, to give and delegate tasks and instructions to the gang members who came to see them [in prison], this way strengthening their criminal activities."
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Although they are not formal criminal charges, the allegations against Munguía contained in the indictment may be a political move by the current administration to vilify officials allegedly involved in the controversial ceasefire.
The impact of the gang truce has been subject to fierce debate. While some estimates indicate that the ceasefire may have saved some 5,500 lives thanks to a decrease in homicides, critics argue that it helped to strengthen the gangs, in terms of criminal sophistication as well as political influence.
The administration of current President Salvador Sánchez Cerén has sought to distance itself from the truce, and in February 2016 Attorney General Douglas Meléndez announced that he would investigate the alleged involvement of government officials in the ceasefire.
That same month, evidence obtained from the cell phone of Rubén Antonio Rosa Lovo, a suspected gang member, suggested he had been in contact with a congressman and an unnamed "former security minister" during the course of the truce. Munguía and Ricardo Perdomo both filled the role of security minister at different times during the ceasefire.
Nonetheless, this appears to be the first time that Meléndez has directly implicated Munguía as a prominent player in the truce, which has become a politically contentious issue in El Salvador. The current government has denied recent overtures by the gangs aimed at starting some type of negotiation or dialogue, in large part due to negative public perceptions about the truce.