Revelations that weapons handed over by Mara gangs do not work, combined with rising murder rates, are calling into question the validity of the truce between El Salvador’s two main street gangs.
Analysis of around 500 weapons handed over by Mara gangs since June 2012, carried out by both Salvadoran and US authorities, revealed that the vast majority were not in working order. The surrender of the weapons was hailed at the time as evidence of the importance and seriousness of the truce, called between the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18, in March 2012.
The news coincides with reports of 69 murders committed in just six days. These homicides, carried out between the first and sixth of August, mark an increase of 24 murders compared with the same period last year. Police have linked 29 of the 69 murders to gang violence.
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This revelation that the surrendered weapons were useless, calls into question the commitment of the Mara gangs who surrendered them as a gesture of “good faith.” It is perhaps not surprising, however. The same phenomenon was registered in Colombia, when the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) surrendered a large number of obsolete weapons as part of the peace process with the government.
The rise in homicides — which also spiked dramatically at certain points in May and June — is more worrying. After the announcement of the truce last year, murders fell 40 percent during 2012. This marked drop gave the truce immense credibility and lead to increased support. That credibility is now beginning to evaporate, along with much of the support.
What the increase in homicides might reveal is that the grip of the Mara leaders, most of whom are in prison, where the truce was negotiated, is beginning to loosen. The structure of both Mara gangs has traditionally been fragmented, with each of the different “cliques” on the ground enjoying significant autonomy. One of the most surprising aspects of the truce in its early days was the discipline that the two structures showed in respecting the decisions of the Mara leadership and putting an end, at least temporarily, to long-standing and bloody feuds.