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May 1, 2012 |

El Salvador Monthly Update: April

A PDF version of this week’s update is available here.

Summary:

Although the Summit of the Americas was fraught with frustrations for President Obama, for El Salvador’s head of state, Mauricio Funes, the two-day event was a success. In his address to Summit participants, President Funes was able to announce “zero homicides” in El Salvador on Saturday, April 14th, for the first time in the nearly three years of his administration, a consequence of the fragile cease-fire agreement between the country’s two largest gangs, MS and Barrio 18. Not only was President Funes seated at the right hand of the U.S. president during official meetings, when the two leaders met privately, Funes received assurances of continued U.S. support on economic and security issues. Just three days later, El Salvador accepted the “voluntary transfer” of two Guantanamo prisoners as refugees.

Presidents Mauricio Funes and Barack Obama at the Summit of the Americas, Cartagena Photo source: El Mundo

The gang truce declared on March 10th continued to hold through April despite provocations including the kidnappings of family members of two of the leaders of the gangs involved in the agreement.  El Faro, the online journal, broke the story of the truce just days after the March 11th election, resulting in an uproar over supposed “negotiations” between the government and criminal gangs. Not for the first time, El Faro Editor Carlos Dada and his staff received threats and warnings; when Dada left the country on April 11th to attend a UN conference in Panama, Reporters Without Borders sent out an alert claiming that he had fled into exile, a story immediately refuted by Dada, who grew up in exile during the 1980-92 civil war. Reporters Without Borders later apologized, saying “it was a good faith error.”  See our chronology of the historic truce at the end of this report.

Following weeks of closed-door meetings, the FMLN pulled together support from right-wing parties, excluding ARENA, to distribute key judicial and legislative appointments. An unlikely coalition of business and social organizations, “Allies for Democracy” denounced the process to the United Nations as “a real and imminent threat to judicial independence.”

Security:

“We don’t lose anything by giving hope an opportunity.”
Roberto Rubio, Analyst

After enduring years of spiraling violence, murders and extortions, Salvadorans are skeptical about the sincerity and motives of the unprecedented ceasefire declared on March 10th by gangs that have plagued their communities for two decades. Politicians, hesitant to support anything that could backfire – and involved in their own partisan wrangling and deal making over critical judicial and other appointments – have been largely silent.  It almost seems the country is paying little attention to a possibly transformative development that has led to a precipitous reduction in homicides.

Among the few public cheerleaders of the truce are Catholic bishops, Minister of Security Munguía Payés, President Funes and the spokesperson for the process, former guerrilla and deputy, Raúl Mijango who is trusted by security officials and gangs and has facilitated the dialogue from the beginning. “If we can’t deactivate the bomb,” Mijango said, “(at least) we can put out the fuse.”

Non-governmental organizations that have worked in affected communities and studied the crisis of violence for years were taken by surprise, according to the director of the Foundation for the Studies of the Application of the Law, (FESPAD), Maria Silvia Guillén. She said attempts were made to open a dialogue with the gangs under the former Minister of Security Manuel Melgar, but that those efforts were “boycotted” until (ret.) General David Munguía Payés was appointed as minister who had the support of the president. “This is historic for El Salvador,” Guillén agreed, but she fears the government “doesn’t know how to continue” and that “it could end in a blood bath.”

Until March 10th, the public security focus was on repression, with soldiers in the streets and prisons and increasing rhetoric of an “all-out war” against gangs. In November, the President removed the FMLN from the leadership of the public security apparatus, and two of the country’s highest ranking military officers were appointed as Minister of Justice and Security, and as Director of the National Civil Police. Minister of Security Munguía Payés immediately promised a 30% reduction in homicides within a year.  All this raised warning signals about militarization of public security – for Salvadorans, a worrying reminder of the past.

The initial lack of transparency and still unanswered questions about government concessions and the future sustainability of the agreement have contributed to a sense of confusion and distrust. Gang leaders who have been responsible for much of the bloodshed over the years are suddenly repentant and asking forgiveness. Can these leaders be trusted? Do they have full control over the thousands of younger gang members in the communities? Could the process be sabotaged by unrepentant gang members or others who benefit from the violence? Can the government and civil society respond and take advantage of this unique opportunity?

President Funes is leading the call for a national dialogue; inviting political, social, business, academic leaders, diplomats and representatives of international organizations to meet “in the search for a national accord against violence.…We don’t expect magic solutions,” he said, “or changes overnight.” Strong support from the business community will be needed – and soon – for the cash-strapped government to make a dent in the poverty and social exclusion that foment gangs and criminal activities and for gang members to believe they are being heard. The rehabilitation of these former gang members is essential to the success of the truce. There are proposals for the creation of “job parks,” suggestions of incentives for businesses to hire former gang members and for a reallocation of government resources. A few small businesses have hired former gang members but the powerful private enterprise organization ANEP , loath to hand a victory to the left, argues the President’s plans are “nothing new.”

Mass is given to members MS-13 and 18, Source: www.elsalvador.com

Organized crime, drug trafficking, corruption, inhumane prison facilities and a near-moribund judicial system all contribute to instability. If the country can respond to the challenge embodied in the agreement between MS and Barrio 18, it just might be one step toward changing the course of history in El Salvador from a near-failed state devoting huge resources to public security, to a country finally at peace. Success depends on the commitment of the government and civil society. It also depends on the unwavering commitment, and safety, of the imprisoned leaders and of those facilitating the process.

“This is not a truce or a cease-fire,” one leader said: “We see this as a process of definitive pacification for our country…Violence is no longer an option.”

More Security News:

An elite anti-gang unit was inaugurated on April 19th by President Funes. The 290 men and 12 women were rigorously vetted, according to the president, and have received specialized training in investigation, intelligence and intervention. The U.S. FBI will provide further training in the months ahead.

A long-awaited wiretapping center will begin operation in May to target organized crime; consent from a judge will be required for wiretaps. The state-of-the-art center will have the capability to intercept over ten million lines including cell and landlines, Internet communications and social networks. According to protocol agreements, the Human Rights Ombudsman will audit the work of the center annually.

Two former National Civil Police (PNC) officers investigated for links to organized crime – Pedro González and Godofredo Miranda – have been reinstated and promoted under the new police director, General Francisco Salinas. Both men were alleged to have been involved in the 2004 “omission” of an INTERPOL warrant for the arrest of José Natividad Luna Pereira, “Chepe Luna”, believed to be part of the “Los Perrones” organized crime operation in eastern El Salvador and still a fugitive. On April 13th, former assistant PNC director Pedro González , who had been charged with the training of the new anti-gang unit, was officially named as the director of the elite group and all units within the PNC related to domestic and transnational gang investigation.

The following day, the second curious appointment was announced. Godofredo Miranda, under investigation in the same case for possible organized crime links when he was head of the Anti-Narcotics Division, was reinstated and promoted from Assistant Commissioner to Commissioner of the PNC. In addition to the organized crime allegations, Miranda was also tainted by the notorious 1999 kidnapping, rape, and murder of 9-year-old Katya Miranda, his niece, which occurred when he was an assistant commissioner in the National Civil Police. Charges were filed in 2000 against the girl’s grandfather and father, but they were acquitted and the case was later closed. In 2009, U.S. Representative James McGovern asked President Funes to pursue the investigation; finally in 2011 Carlos Miranda (Katya’s grandfather, who is  Godofredo’s father) was convicted.

PNC Inspector-General Zaira Navas investigated both men until conservative legislators effectively blocked her work; Navas resigned from her position in January and a replacement has not been named. Miranda was absolved of organized crime charges in October 2011, with a PNC disciplinary tribunal citing errors in the investigation.  Miranda’s lawyer declared the promotion was a “triumph of the truth over lies, and a defeat of the conspiracy” against Miranda.

In other developments, the Mexican proposal for an Inter-American System Against Organized Crime was supported unanimously at the Summit of the Americas. Described by President Felipe Calderón as “a continental network to articulate policies and activities,” the initiative will be in place by the end of the year, based in Mexico.

Politics:

Legislators met behind closed doors for weeks to divvy up critical judicial and political appointments before the final plenary session of the current Assembly on April 24th, despite demands that the decisions should not be made by the outgoing deputies. Based on the March election results, FMLN leaders determined the party’s best option was to avoid negotiating with ARENA and instead to make a comprehensive deal with all other parties on the right before the May 1st turnover. At 1:00 in the morning on April 25th, without any votes from ARENA, deputies voted and signed a memo of understanding. ARENA called it “black Tuesday”.

The appointments that will determine the course of justice in the coming years are:

Attorney General: Ástor Escalante (GANA) (as of September 2012)

Escalante’s resumé includes six years as a prosecutor, then legal adviser to ARENA, Director of Prisons,  Vice-Minister of Security and Assistant Attorney General.

President of Supreme Court: Ovidio Bonilla (FMLN)

President of Ethics Tribunal: Marcel Orestes Posada (FMLN)

New Supreme Court Justices (CSJ):

Ovidio Bonilla (FMLN; will be President of CSJ and President of the Constitutional Court)

José Salomón Padilla (FMLN)

Doris Luz Rivas Galindo (FMLN)

José Roberto Argueta (CN)

Elsi Dueñas de Avilés (GANA)

President of National Assembly: FMLN for three more years (Sigfrido Reyes)

National Assembly 14-member board of directors:   FMLN (four), ARENA (four) GANA (three), CN (three.)

The most contentious decision taken by the FMLN and its coalition was to remove Belarmino Jaime as President of the Supreme Court and of the Constitutional Court, effectively reducing the non-partisan progressive “fantastic four” magistrates, who had sought to reform the country’s judicial system, to three. In June 2011, deputies attempted to rein in the power of the Constitutional Court with Decree 743, which would have required unanimous rather than majority votes on rulings, resulting in weeks of institutional crisis. Conservative analyst Joaquin Samayoa predicted a similar crisis could unfold in coming days. FMLN leaders insist these appointments guarantee the political stability of the country but, in the opinion of El Faro, “Salvadorans deserve more than this: An attorney general and judges capable of fighting corruption and organized crime…(judges) not for sale, independent, honest and valiant. And these don’t tend to be found in closed door negotiations.”

In other news, President Funes lost one of his most respected cabinet members, Minister of Economy Hector Dada Hirezi who resigned for “personal reasons” according to the President. However on his Facebook page Dada cited “discord” with the president “with respect to economic decisions being taken by the government…My contribution has become impossible.” According to a member of Dada’s party, Democratic Change (CD), decisions are “cooked up in Casa Presidencial” without a clear direction. Armando Flores was named to replace Dada. Meanwhile, President Funes continues to have the highest approval rating among Central American leaders according to the latest Mitofsky poll, with 65%; Nicaragua’s President Ortega received 61%; Honduran President Lobo 46%.

The FMLN will remove its ALBA Petroleum business from the five municipalities lost to ARENA in the March election: San Martin, Apopa, Mejicanos, Soyapango and Ayutuxtepeque, and will not permit audits by the incoming ARENA mayors. According to FMLN Deputy Blanca Bonilla, ARENA “always boycotted” the ALBA project.

Foreign Policy:

During his address at the Summit of the Americas President Funes advocated for Cuban participation: “Cuba is an undeniable part of the Latin American body and soul and a full member by geography, by law, and by the history of the American continent.”

On April 18th, El Salvador received two Uighur prisoners from Guantanamo. The Uighurs were members of a group of Chinese Muslims captured in Pakistan in 2002 and held in the Kandahar (Afghanistan) prison for two weeks before being shipped to Guantanamo. A Washington DC court ordered their release in 2008, but they could not be returned to their native China for fear of persecution. Four years later, the Salvadoran government agreed to receive the two men, a politically convenient solution as El Salvador has diplomatic relations with Taiwan but not with the Peoples’ Republic of China. Foreign Minister Hugo Martínez observed that Salvadorans received refuge in many countries during the war, and said the decision was made out of respect for international treaties.

Foreign Minister Martínez met with U.S. Secretary of State Clinton on April 24th to discuss security and immigration policies. “We’re on the same page,” Clinton said, “I am very impressed with the leadership of President Funes.”

The U.S. Secret Service scandal that erupted in Cartagena, Colombia extended to El Salvador. A Seattle television station reported that Secret Service agents and military personnel visited San Salvador strip club “Lips” in the days prior to President Obama’s March 2011 visit. Embassy personnel and DEA and FBI agents “routinely engage in services of prostitutes,” according to a U.S. government subcontractor.

According to the Globe and Mail newspaper, Canada lobbied El Salvador, Panama, Chile and five other “priority” countries not to support Palestinian statehood in the months before the issue came before the United Nations. El Salvador voted to support the Palestinians.

Human Rights:

In Boston, Massachusetts retired Colonel Inocente Orlando Montano’s pre-trial hearing for immigration fraud and perjury was postponed on April 26th until later this year. The U.S. has also received an INTERPOL arrest warrant for Montano, implicated in the 1989 massacre of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter.

On April 23rd the Inter American Court of Human Rights (CIDH) held the first public hearing on the 1981 El Mozote massacre, in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Tutela Legal and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) filed the case with CIDH. Over 300 people attended the hearing, along with survivors, expert witnesses and the Director of Human Rights for the Foreign Ministry, David Morales, who confirmed the government’s responsibility for the massacre.  The Court will receive written evidence and issue its ruling later this year, according to Tribunal President Diego Garcia-Sayán who was the Human Rights Director for ONUSAL, the UN mission in El Salvador in the early 1990’s. “Let there be justice,” insisted survivor Dorila Márquez.

Meanwhile, in El Salvador, prosecutors said the murders that occurred in Cabañas in recent years were the result of a long standing feud between two families. Three years and five homicides later, six people were found guilty of the wave of violence that swept through the department, related to – but according to prosecutors not caused by – the controversial Pacific Rim gold mining company: one family supported mining, the other was opposed. Two of the six convicted are alleged gang members hired as hit men. In 2010, six people were convicted for the murder of anti-mining activist Marcelo Rivera. The entire investigation by the prosecutor’s office and the judicial process were “manipulated” according to Francisco Pineda of the Cabañas Environmental Committee. A ruling on the CAFTA arbitration case between Pacific Rim and the Salvadoran government is expected on May 31st.

El Salvador is closer to signing on to the Statute of Rome and the International Criminal Court (ICC) according to Foreign Minister Hugo Martínez. Guatemala ratified the agreement on April 3rd, leaving El Salvador and Nicaragua as the only Central American countries not to participate. The Foreign Minister sought to mollify concerns of some groups on the right opposed to the ICC by emphasizing that Court interventions are not retroactive, and that El Salvador will not allow the death penalty. Under the previous administration of President Saca, El Salvador bowed to U.S. pressure not to sign on, as reported by online journal Contrapunto.

Economy:

In an extensive interview with Contrapunto, Central Reserve Bank President Carlos Acevedo said the dollarization of the economy in 2001 was a mistake for the country, which has since experienced the lowest rate of economic growth in its history, with the exception of the period of the war (1980-92). To return to a national currency at this point would be expensive and cause additional crisis, Acevedo believes, but “the next administration” will have to confront the issue.

The country has been accumulating debt for the past thirty years, Acevedo said. The Funes administration encountered a near-disastrous fiscal situation in June 2009 but instead of reducing the social budget met its commitment to its preferential option for the poor with additional international loans. The fiscal reforms of 2009 and 2012 are insufficient to cover the “$800 million hole,” the bank president maintained, and there must be a severe reduction in subsidies for utilities and transportation: “It is going to be painful for the middle class…It is very unpopular and politically complicated.”

The U.S. initiative, Partnership for Growth (PFG) was initially conceived as a “mini Marshall Plan” but has been scaled down to a more realistic size, given the U.S. economic and political constraints. But, Acevedo said, “We believe that it will make an important and positive difference.” The main issue for the U.S., he continued, is insecurity: If extortions and homicides can be reduced, “this government would leave a great legacy to the country.”

Alex Segovia, the president’s top economic adviser, said the PFG is underway with the formation of the Growth Council comprised of five businessmen and five members of the Economic Cabinet. The Council is meeting weekly to discuss strategic projects, review investment laws and legal incentives for domestic and international investment. An international forum to attract investors is planned for late summer 2012.

Recommended Reading

“Countering Criminal Violence in Central America.” Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue, for Council on Foreign Relations.

Looking Ahead : May 1st,  FMLN May Day march and inauguration of the 2012-2015 National Assembly

A Chronology of Peacemaking

*Dates are as reported in media coverage

2011

Imprisoned leaders of El Salvador’s two powerful gangs, MS and Barrio 18, initiate a process of internal “reflection” after 20 years of bloody warfare.

Raúl Mijango, a former guerrilla, ex-FMLN “reformist” deputy expelled from the party in 2002 and now retired from politics, becomes the principal facilitator of the process. He is the author of four books, a small businessman and personal adviser to Minister of Defense General David Munguía Payés (now Minister of Security). Over the year, he has developed relationships with gang members in communities where he works distributing propane gas and must “negotiate” extortion fees with local gangs in order to do business.

September

Family members of the two gangs meet with Military Bishop Fabio Colindres to request his intervention with authorities on prison conditions and the health of some prisoners. Colindres speaks with General Munguía Payés, then Minister of Defense, but no action is taken as the Security Cabinet is divided about strategies to reduce violence.

November 22

Munguía Payés is named Minister of Justice and Security; authorizes Raúl Mijango and Bishop Colindres to begin process of mediation with gangs and arranges access to the prisons.

2012

January 1

Bishop Colindres and Raúl Mijango facilitate the first direct talks in twenty years between the leaders of MS and Barrio 18, in the high security Zacatecoluca Prison. The Bishop discusses the protocol of the talks and Mijango acts as moderator. Meetings continue throughout the month. The “process of reflection” includes analysis of the exclusionary social and economic conditions that fueled the development of the gangs. Their situation is at an impasse, they conclude: “Either we prepare ourselves for an all-out war with the government, or we seek alternative solutions.”

The principal leaders involved in the talks are Carlos Ernesto Mujica Lechuga (“Viejo Lin”) of Barrio 18, Dionisio Umanzor (“El Sirra”) and Borromeo Henriquez (“El Diablito”) of MS.

February 1

The leaders of MS and Barrio 18 reach a cease-fire agreement but decide not to make it public until after the March 11th elections, in order to have time to communicate with and educate all members of both gangs on the outside as to the new situation.

March 1

Homicides are averaging 14/day.

March 8-9

The leaders receive information that “los libres” (gang members outside prison) are planning actions to sabotage the March 11th election by enforcing a transportation boycott. In order to “facilitate communication” between the leaders and the members on the outside, the leadership and others – a total of 30 prisoners – are transferred to minimum security facilities. According to later declarations by Bishop Colindres, Raúl Mijango, the Minister of Security and President Funes, the transfers do not involve “negotiations.”

March 10

The truce is quietly in place without any public announcement.

March 11

Election Day; six homicides reported.

March 12-15

Two, three and five homicides respectively are reported.

March 15

El Faro breaks the news of the truce, reporting that the government has negotiated with gangs and alleging large cash payments to the leaders and their families.

March 17

Minister of Security meets privately with some press representatives, excluding El Faro; says El Faro should “be careful.” He denies any “negotiations” and says transfers were for “security, humanitarian and health” reasons.

El Faro Editor Carlos Dada sends out security alert to colleagues around the world. El Faro staff have been threatened and harassed for months following investigative reports on drug trafficking and corruption; Munguía Payés’ warning is taken as a threat.

March 18

Carlos Dada meets privately with Munguía Payés.

March 21

Bishop Colindres tells reporters the mediation and transfers were the result of a “pastoral role between the two groups” and part of a humanitarian gesture, not negotiations. He says that the gang leaders had confidence in him because he was advocating for them to the Minister of Security.

March 23

Public communiqué released from the leaders of MS and Barrio 18, who denounce El Faro’s reporting and accuse Carlos Dada of putting their lives in jeopardy: “According to our codes this puts us in a situation of having committed a betrayal of the more than 100,000 members that compose the gang, for which we could be subjected to internal reprisals.”  They also discuss their “process of reflection” over the past year, saying, “We can be part of the solution.” Bishop Colindres and Raúl Mijango “guided us to dismantle all the plans to boycott the elections…As a good will gesture we have cancelled all attacks against police and soldiers… We have begun a historic process…We ask to be treated as human beings.”

March 24

Auxiliary Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chávez publicly supports the truce and urges Salvadorans to give the benefit of the doubt to the gangs.

March 27

Bishop Colindres and Papal Nunciate Luigi Pezzoto preside over a thanksgiving Mass at two prisons. Gang leaders ask for forgiveness. “El Sirra” requests pardon in the name of MS 13 and asks for the “opportunity to change”…We too are Salvadorans and human beings.” Barrio 18 leader “Viejo Lin” says this is not a truce or a cease-fire: “We see this as a process of definitive pacification for our country…Violence is not an option.” The Bishop declares the effort is “worth gold” and requests those present to “have the courage to maintain the decision you have made.”

March 28

President Funes discusses the truce for the first time at a press conference, denying any negotiations or financial arrangements and saying the government facilitated and accompanied the Church’s initiative. “This was an initiative of the Catholic Church… the only role that the government has had in this process has been as a facilitator.”  He vows to lead a national campaign to reverse social exclusion…”The gangs have the right to jobs…the right to education and the right to health care.”

The Assistant Director of the Office of State Intelligence (OIE) is fired; Colonel Molina Montoya was said to be the strategist behind the truce arrangements and perhaps a source for El Faro’s reporting.

March 30-April 9

Easter vacation; homicides down 46%.

April 4

Minister of Security Munguía Payés says the El Faro report disclosing the truce impeded the implementation of the strategy: “A lot of time was lost trying to give explanations.”  He also reports that homicides are down to an average of five per day since March 9.

April 5

President Funes speaks on national television, calling for a “national accord” against violence

April 6

Government spokesperson confirms El Faro editor and staff are receiving protection.

April 10

Soldiers providing internal security in prisons are removed and replaced by newly trained prison staff; x-ray machines have also been installed to facilitate visitor searches; invasive body searches by soldiers have been a strong point of contention with prisoners. Minister of Defense José Atilio Benítez denies the redeployment is a result of the truce: “Many things are going to happen and people will believe it is all linked to the pact…but that’s not it.”

Residents of high-risk communities report a reduced presence of soldiers in the streets.

April 11

Reporters Without Borders issues alert that Carlos Dada has fled the country in exile due to threats. Dada immediately refutes the story, (“No estoy exiliado”) saying he is in Panama for a three-day conference. RWB apologizes for the “good faith error.”

Raúl Mijango says he is busy mediating disputes – solving “small conflicts” – among independently-acting gang members over territorial issues: “There will always be someone who doesn’t understand the situation.”

April 13

On the 34th day of the truce Bishop Colindres presides over Mass in Izalco Prison, with 700 inmates and members of the Barrio 18. Long-time gang member Óscar Aguilar, 42, participates in the Mass and says, “The only thing we wanted was to be heard.”

Relatives of the two gang leaders have been kidnapped in recent days. During the Mass, Raúl Mijango tells gang members not to allow themselves to be provoked  and to remain calm. He says people who want to “sabotage the process” are responsible for the kidnappings but, he promises, “You are not alone. Bishop Colindres and I are going to be at your side.”

Homicides continue, according to the Minister of Security, due to internal problems in the two gangs and continued violence from smaller gangs not participating in the truce.

April 14

In Cartagena for the Summit of the Americas, President Funes announces zero homicides today, the first time in anyone’s memory that the country has had a murder-free day. The president attributes the reduction in violence to the work of the army and the police, in addition to the truce. According to a later story by El Faro, the National Police actually report one murder today.

April 16

Just four homicides reported over the weekend (March 13-15)

The government has given “positive signals,” Raúl Mijango reports, with the removal of soldiers from inside the prisons and improvements in the water supply and hygiene facilities in some penitentiaries. He says the gang leaders respect him because he lived the war from beginning to end and was part of the resolution of the conflict. The leaders are “not animals” he explains; most are well-read, bilingual and over 30. “They say, ‘we no longer think like kids. We made many errors which we are paying for…We are not asking for pardons, we are just asking for respect for human rights.’”

The government is looking for $20 million funding for “labor parks” according to the Vice-Minister of Security Douglas Moreno, as part of a strategy to train and employ gang members and their families.

April 17

The gangs are considering another “good will gesture” according to Raúl Mijango who adds that none of this would have been possible without the vision and collaboration of the Minister of Security. Three hundred lives “have been saved” since the truce began, Mijano contends, and for the first time the gang phenomenon is part of a national discussion. “Forty days ago they were seen as bad boys with animal tendencies,” he says, but now they are discussed as a social problem.

Extortions continue, but are down, Minister of Security Munguía Payés notes, and calls for patience.

April 18

Mijango remains optimistic about the truce and the commitment from both groups, saying the leaders have given their word, which has “much greater meaning than we give to people we call ‘normal’… It is the greatest (thing they have)…When they pledge (to you) they defend you to the end.” He contends the state has resources that can be reassigned for reinsertion programs for gang members and insists the gangs do not depend on connections with organized crime; they are “autonomous and this is good for the country.”

April 19

Gangs will announce a reduction in extortions as another “good will gesture.” Mijango asks that the government, public security apparatus and private enterprise “take advantage of this historic opportunity” and not “politicize” the process.

President Funes announces that a “national dialogue” for the pacification of El Salvador will begin next week. Representatives of political and social organizations, private enterprise, universities, international organizations and diplomats have been invited to participate “in the search for a national accord against violence.” In his remarks at the graduation of the elite anti-gang unit, he adds, “We don’t expect magic solutions or overnight changes.”

April 20

The government is encouraging businesses to hire ex-gang members and will provide training for both the business and the new employees, according to Vice-Minister of Security Douglas Moreno. Two companies have already hired over 200 former gang members.

April 21

El Faro notes a 59% reduction in homicides, with 336 “lives saved”, six weeks into the truce; of the 5-6 murders per day now, most are gang-related, and most of those due to dissension within Barrio 18.  The only “concessions” to date have been the removal of soldiers from deployment inside prisons, the proposal for labor parks, and permission for some prisoners to have kitchen appliances in the cells.

April 23

Seven more prisoners are transferred from high-security Zacatecoluca Prison to other facilities.

April 24

Television sets and DVD’s will be allowed in the prisons, Munguía Payés announces, to help “lower tensions and aggression” as part of concessions for good behavior.

April 26

In Mariona Prison spokesperson for 4000 “common prisoners” (not affiliated with gangs) asks they be included in the dialogue process. Bishop Colindres will preside over a Mass in Mariona on May 2nd.

April 30

A 20-year problem can’t be resolved in 50 days, Raúl Mijango says, “but every day that passes I believe the skepticism and doubts will be dismantled…We are working to put out the fuse so things don’t explode…and society and the state will have time to respond.” Asked if he is afraid for his life, Mijango says there is a defamation campaign against him and admits he is afraid of those who have profited from the violence, but that this process works Salvadoran society as a whole will benefit “so it is worth it to risk anything, even one’s life if it is necessary.”