HomeNewsBriefEl Salvador Moves Gang Leaders Back to Max-Security Prison
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El Salvador Moves Gang Leaders Back to Max-Security Prison

BARRIO 18 / 19 JAN 2015 BY DAVID GAGNE EN

Several months after the demise of El Salvador’s 2012 gang truce, leaders of the country’s most powerful street gangs are being moved back into maximum-security prisons, finalizing the break with the previous administration’s security policy. 

According to El Salvador’s Security and Justice Minister Benito Lara, authorities have already taken some of the heads of the Barrio 18 and MS-13 street gangs from various lower-security prisons and brought them to the maximum-security facility Zacatecoluca in the central department of La Paz, reported La Prensa Grafica. Lara did not offer details on how many leaders from each of the gangs have already been moved. 

At least 30 of the leaders of the Barrio 18 and MS-13 gangs left Zacatecoluca in March 2012 for minimum-security prisons as part of the agreement with the government that resulted in El Salvador’s gang truce.

Meanwhile as part of the government’s new strategy, former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani arrived in El Salvador on January 18 as a consultant to begin working on a plan to improve security in the country. In a recent interview with Salvadoran newspapers, Giuliani spoke of combating the country’s gang problem, creating a more efficient judicial system, and increasing police salaries as strategies for lowering rates of crime and violence in El Salvador.

InSight Crime Analysis

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the Barrio 18 and MS-13 leaders being brought back to a maximum-security prison is that Salvadoran authorities took as long as they did to make the decision. Initially seen as a success story for its role in reducing the country’s murder count, police officials called the 2012 gang truce “technically finished” as early as March 2014.  By June last year, El Salvador’s homicide rate had reached pre-truce levels. In November, El Salvador’s national security council rejected the idea of restarting talks with the gangs.  President Salvador Sanchez Ceren recently announced his administration would not consider another gang truce as part of the government’s security strategy to reduce what is among the highest murder rates in the region. 

SEE ALSO: Coverage of El Salvador Gang Truce

One possible reason authorities took as long as they did to move the gang leaders back to a maximum-security facility is the potential reprisals security forces could face from gang members upset with the move. Bringing the gang leaders to minimum-security prisons was a key government concession during the truce negotiations, as it allowed the heads of the Barrio 18 and MS-13 to maintain contact with gang leaders and activities from behind bars. Considering the gangs’ on-going assault on Salvadoran security forces, authorities may have been hesitant in further provoking the criminal groups. 

As for the government’s decision to hire Giuliani to help improve the country’s deteriorating security situation, it remains to be seen if the move will be money well-spent, as El Salvador is not New York, and given existing questions on how the country will finance its recent proposal to reduce violence. 

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