Thursday, March 15, 2012

Did El Salvador Officials 'Negotiate' with Street Gangs to Bring Down Violence?

A new report by El Faro suggests that, confronted with a surge in homicide rates, the government of El Salvador may have struck a deal with the country’s two largest street gangs – Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 – in order to reduce violence.

Last week, officials transferred around 30 imprisoned leaders of these two gangs from maximum security institutions to prisons with more relaxed rules on visitations. According to El Faro, sources within law enforcement, intelligence, and the gangs themselves claim that this was done as a favor to the gang leaders after they issued orders to their subordinates to cut down on killings in the country.

The online periodical claims that this strategy is led by former Defense Minister and current Minister of Justice and Security David Munguia Payes. This is surprising, considering that he is widely perceived to favor a return to the more hardline, “Mano Dura” security policies of the past. Last month, Munguia raised eyebrows when he appeared to suggest that the civil liberty guarantees in El Salvador’s legal system were too strong, and claimed that he was prepared to lock up an additional 10,000 gang members if need be.

If these allegations are true, it would mean that El Salvador’s government and its notoriously violent street gangs have carried out unprecedented (and highly controversial) negotiations, and could signify a major shift in its anti-crime strategy. So far, it would seem that it has paid off. Salvadoran police claim there has been a significant drop in homicides of late, with March 12 being the least violent day the country has seen in three years.

News Briefs

·         Venezuela’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) suspended a governor belonging to the ruling party yesterday after he voiced criticism of the president of the National Assembly. On Monday, Monagas state Governor Jose Gregorio Briceno accused National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello of exerting undue influence over his state. The PSUV suspended him from the party yesterday, and has even floated the possibility that he will be expelled. Vice President Elias Jaua characterized Briceno’s comments as a "serious offense against the revolution," and Hugo Chavez himself backed the suspension via his Twitter account.  Although Venezuelan officials deny it, some political analysts claim that the incident reflects emerging fractures in the PSUV, and that the suspension is meant to be seen as a warning to other politicians who question the party.

·         The Colombian ambassador to Peru, Jorge Visbal, resigned yesterday after Colombia issued a warrant for his arrest for alleged links to paramilitary groups. According to Colombia’s Caracol Radio, Visbal is accused of associating with right-wing militias during his time as president of the Colombian National Ranchers Federation from 1998 to 2004. President Juan Manuel Santos, who appointed Visbal early last year, has so far refrained from commenting on the case.

·         The Miami Herald has obtained a series of videos taken by inmates in Cuba’s largest penitentiary, the Combinado del Este prison. The videos provide the first-ever footage of a Cuban prison to be smuggled outside of the country, and show inmates living in bleak and often unsanitary conditions. It should be noted, however, that the footage still casts Cuban prisons in a better light than the overcrowded and underfunded penal institutions found in most of Central America and much of South America.

·         As Cuba prepares itself for a visit from Pope Benedict this month, 13 dissidents have occupied a Catholic Church in Havana, demanding an audience with him in order to discuss the need for reforms on the island.

·         The BBC reports on yet another deadly mining-related protest in Peru. This time, however, it is the miners themselves who are protesting against stricter penalties for illegal mining. Three people have been killed and more than 30 injured in clashes with police in the city of Puerto Maldonado. More from the AP.

·         El Universal reports that the Inter-American Development Bank suggested yesterday that Mexico’s elections could present an opportunity to debate structural reforms in order to fuel economic growth in the country.

·         Mexican drug gangs are increasingly turning to children as “drug mules,” reports the AP. While the Mexican government has no statistics documenting the trend, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement data, the number of youths caught trying to cross the border between Tijuana and San Diego to sell drugs has increased by tenfold from 2008 and 2011.

·         Yesterday Forbes defended its decision to include billionaire Mexican and Colombian druglords such as “Chapo” Guzman and Pablo Escobar on its World Billionaire’s List in the face of criticism, saying: “The reason for including these notorious names has always been, and continues to be, quite simple: they meet the financial qualifications. And they run successful private businesses–though their products are quite illegitimate.”

· takes an interesting look at Russia’s offers to collaborate with Central American and Caribbean countries to help combat drug trafficking.

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