El Salvador's principal street gangs have taken responsibility for the sharp drop in homicides during the recent beatification ceremonies for Archbishop Oscar Romero, but authorities deny such claims.
In an unconfirmed communiqué (pdf) dated May 25, spokespeople for the Barrio 18, MS13, and other Salvadoran gangs said they had agreed to a ceasefire that took effect last weekend, when an estimated 300,000 people gathered to celebrate the beatification of Archbishop Romero, who was assassinated in 1980. In the midst of an historic month for violence, El Salvador's police registered just seven murders on Saturday, May 23 and five on Sunday, May 24, reported ElSalvador.com.
"The weekend [homicide] statistics confirm our compliance [with the ceasefire]," the statement reads.
The gang spokespeople stated that the drop in homicides "exposed" those who claimed the gangs were deliberately increasing violence in order to get the attention of "international delegations" attending the weekend's festivities. Homicides in El Salvador have since returned to levels seen prior to May 23, according to La Prensa Grafica.
The spokespeople also rejected rumors that some gangs have prohibited women from having certain hair colors or wearing specific articles of clothing in capital city San Salvador. Similar rumors have created panic and alarm in neighboring Honduras.
InSight Crime Analysis
The communiqué appears to be another attempt by El Salvador's street gangs to demonstrate that they -- and not the government -- are the ones who exert the most influence over the country's security situation. This is not purely for showmanship: the gangs have previously tried using violence as a means of establishing greater influence over politics in El Salvador, and to pressure the government into transferring gang leaders out of maximum-security prison.
However, authorities rejected the idea that the gangs have this type of impact on violence in El Salvador. "The rises and falls [in homicides] are quite variable in our country and cannot be attributed to one particular factor," Mauricio Ramirez Landaverde, Director of El Salvador's National Civil Police (PNC), said on May 26.
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To be sure, it is difficult to determine how many homicides are linked to possible orders from gang leaders to intensify violence, considering the country's low success rate at solving murder cases. Rumors of death squads operating in the country further complicate what is already a murky security situation.
In any case, it is clear both gangs and security forces have become increasingly confrontational in recent months, which has helped put 2015 on track to be El Salvador's most violent year since the country's civil war, which ended in 1992.