El Salvador’s Security Minister David Munguia said that the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 gangs carried out half of the murders registered in the last month, despite a truce brokered between them by the Church.
While homicides have dropped dramatically since the ceasefire was declared, Munguia says that gang members were involved in 50 percent of killings in the past month. Police counted 209 homicides between March 10 and April 11, according to La Prensa Grafica. This is still a sharp drop compared to the 377 police reported in March 2011.
Munguia appeared skeptical about the ceasefire. “I think that this pact between gangs still has not yet been totally fulfilled, and I think it will be difficult to fulfill to perfection,” he said. “There are also other gangs who haven’t agreed to the pact, and there are still internal problems inside these gangs.”
Munguia argues that violence is dropping in part due to improved police work and the government’s security strategy.
Under the terms of a truce that the Church says it brokered between El Salvador’s gangs, imprisoned leaders reportedly ordered their subordinates to halt killings. On March 10, a group of gang bosses were transferred from a maximum security prison to a less restrictive facility, raising the question of whether the transfer was offered as a concession in exchange for a cut in violence.
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One question raised by Munguia’s statements is whether the authorities have reliable criteria for determining which homicides registered in March involved gang members. According to Prensa Libre, the last reported killings of gang members involved two men in the coastal municipality of La Libertad. Police say they identified the victims as gang members by their tattoos, although their families say that they had not been involved in criminal activity for at least three months. As this case exemplifies, many of these homicides have not been fully investigated and cannot definitively be attributed to gangs, casting doubt on Munguia’s claim that 50 percent of the murders last month had to do with inter-gang rivalry.
The minister has claimed in the past that gangs are behind 90 percent of all murders in El Salvador, a statistic which has been fairly conclusively discredited.
Munguia is right to point out that even if MS-13 and Barrio 18 leaders have issued orders to reduce homicides, they may not necessarily have full control over smaller street gangs at the bottom of the group hierarchy. Former congressman Raul Mijango, who was involved in the Church negotiations, says that he is still in contact with many of the jailed gang leaders in order to ensure that the ceasefire holds.
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