For more than a year, what started as a truce and ceasefire agreement between El Salvador’s two largest street gangs – Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 – has evolved into a complicated and controversial peace process that now includes 11 “Violence-Free Municipalities”; and a possible model for violence reduction elsewhere in Central America. CDA has done extensive reporting on the truce since its inception, in our monthly update, and during travel to El Salvador.
During a recent research trip, CDA was given the opportunity to meet with the leaders of five gangs, who were brought together from separate penal institutions to Mariona Prison. Later that day, we traveled to Cojutepeque Prison, where we met with other leaders and were permitted to tour the extremely overcrowded, run-down facility.
Everyone we spoke with expressed a strong commitment to the peace process. We heard the same messages over and over from men who know they could spend the rest of their lives in prison: “We want a better life for our kids and families,” and “the truce is working.” As “Eddie Boy” told us, “We want to do this forever and we want to change the country forever.” The video below presents some of the interviews we conducted.
While there are significant disagreements inside and outside El Salvador about the gang truce and its future, these facts speak loudly: Since March of 2012, El Salvador has moved from the second most violent country in the world to the 44th. Homicides have been reduced from an average of about 14 to about 6 per day. To understand how this has taken place, it is important to hear from the men inside the country’s prisons, accused of violent crimes, who are speaking about their hopes for the peace process, and ultimately, the whole country.