A prominent critic of the El Salvador gang truce has claimed the murder of his colleague was in retaliation for his opposition to the ceasefire, again raising the issue of whether the truce's opponents are being silenced with violence.
Social worker and former gang member Edgar Giovanni Morales was shot two times by youths believed to be linked to the Barrio 18 street gang, reported El Mundo.
The hit took place outside the San Francisco church in San Salvador, which is run by Spanish priest Antonio Rodriguez -- an outspoken critic of the government engineered truce between El Salvador's main gangs, Barrio 18 and MS-13, which has seen the number of murders more than halved in less than a year.
Morales worked in the Servicio Social Pasionista, a social program that rehabilitates ex-gang members, and was closely allied to Rodriguez, better known as "Father Toño," reported La Prensa Grafica.
The motive of the attack remains unknown but Rodriguez said he believed the attack was related to his vocal opposition of the nearly year-old gang truce. Rodriguez has said that he believes the truce benefits the gangs while they continue to be involved in criminal activities, and called it a "mafioso peace" in a public letter published last year.
Police described Morales as a high-ranking local gang member in charge of recruiting youth for gang membership, and indicated they believe the murder was the result of a conflict between gangs.
InSight Crime Analysis
If Rodriguez's claims are correct, then Morales may not be the first person murdered because of opposition to the truce. According to a recent report by the International Assessment and Strategy Center (IASC), gang members who opposed the truce are believed to be among those who rank among El Salvador's "disappeared" -- although no precise numbers are available.
However, given Morales' criminal past, it is also possible his murder was an act of revenge or even linked to his social work with former gang members. In such a case, his murder would come as another example of the recent rise in violence that has tested the durability of the truce. Morales' death comes on the heels of a number of recent revenge killings, including a gang shootout in San Miguel and three recent murders in Ilopango, one of the first areas to be designated a "peace zone as part of the second stage of the truce. An alleged former gang member was also murdered while fishing in late January, which police have linked to his gang ties.