Thursday, July 19, 2012

El Salvador Gangs Issue Controversial Demands for Govt Peace Talks

El Faro reports on the list of demand that leaders of the Mara Salvatruchas (MS-13) and Barrio 18 presented during a meeting with Jose Insulza, secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), and other El Salvadoran government officials on July 12 in a prison.

The two representatives who helped broker the original ceasefire between the El Salvadoran gangs, Bishop Fabio Colindres and lawmaker and former guerrilla commander Raul Mijango, were also present.

The meeting was the first time that many rival leaders of the MS-13 and Barrio were seen sitting at the same table together. A video distributed by video sharing site Politico Stereo shows a representative of the gangs reading the list of their requests.

The list included several conditions that gang leaders say must be met in order to enter “negotiations” with the government. El Faro originally reported that the government helped broker the original ceasefire between MS-13 and Barrio 18, which the government and gangs later denied.

Some of the more controversial demands included police withdrawal in territories where gangs are active, according to El Faro’s report. The gangs also demanded the suspension of the law which criminalizes gang membership, and the elimination of the legal tool which grants reduced charges to witnesses who agree to testify against gang activity. El Faro notes that this legal tool has been one of the government’s most effective judicial tools in prosecuting gang members.

The gangs also asked the government to rein in military involvement in the fight against crime.

Some of the demands were less controversial. Gang members asked that elderly prisoners or those with terminal illnesses be pardoned for their crimes, something that the former director of prisons has already proposed. The gangs asked for improved conditions in prisons, and that the security forces cease using torture during interrogation.

El Faro reports that Insulza’s reaction to the gang demands was largely positive. “You can count on us,” he reportedly said. President Mauricio Funes was also reportedly sent a copy of the demands, as well as Security Minister David Munguia.

The gang demands are likely to stir further controversy over what are the next appropriate steps the government should take in extending the gang truce. As AFP reports, gang leaders in Honduras and Guatemala have reportedly expressed interest in brokering similar deals. While the benefits of El Salvador’s four-month-old gang truce are undeniable -- including over a 50 percent drop in homicides -- it is not clear how much the government can cede to the gangs’ demands without appearing overly weak on security.

News Briefs
  • The Colombian military has retaken the hill where Nasa Indians drove them away yesterday, injuring at least eight people, reports the AP. In a separate incident in the same region, a man was shot for refusing to stop at a military roadblock, although there have been conflicting reports over whether the man was indigenous or not. The Colombian government has cited having “FARC propaganda” in their possession inciting indigenous groups to demand military withdraw from the southwestern Cauca department, says Colombia Reports. Semana asks a panel of experts what possible solutions to the Cauca conflict could be, ranging from creating a “humanitarian zone” in the region to asking for intervention from “international organizations.”
  • In Brazil, the upcoming trial of many former members of former President Lula da Silva’s cabinet could potentially be the most damaging political scandal since the 1992 impeachment of ex-President Fernando Collor, reports the Wall Street Journal. While the corruption case has shown no sign of hurting Lula’s popularity levels, or that of his successor, President Dilma Rousseff, the trial could provide the opposition with a key opening in the 2014 elections. 
  • Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has charged President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto’s campaign of using laundered money, a charge that the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) has rejected, reports the BBC.  A member of Obrador’s legal team said that several front companies that funded the Peña Nieto campaign are linked to organized crime. Cardenas also criticized the PRI for exceeding the campaign spending limits by a factor of twelve. While Cardenas continues to criticize the legitimacy of Peña Nieto’s win, the president-elect continues to seek to consolidate it, meeting with President Felipe Calderon for the first time since the July 1 elections.
  • The second part of IDL Reporteros’ investigation into Peru’s drug trade compares different estimates -- by the UNODC, the US State Department, and the DEA -- for how much cocaine Peru is producing, and asks which figure is closer to reality. What is clear is that Peru’s primary drug-producing region, the southeast Apurimac-Ene river valley (VRAE), is primarily exporting cocaine paste to Bolivia, where it is then refined, IDL Reporteros argues. 
  • Honduras Culture and Politics reports on the official registration of all political candidates for national, departmental, and local office Wednesday. The blog notes that all five political groups that make up the LIBRE party have registered Xiomara Castro de Zelaya as their official candidate, following up LIBRE’s pledge to have the former first lady run for president in 2013. 
  • A Cuban journalist who wrote an investigative piece on the mismanagement of an aqueduct project, which was published by state media and praised by Raul Castro, is being held in prison on espionage charges, reports the Miami Herald
  • A study by the Latin American school of Social Sciences found that Brazil is the fourth-worst out of 91 countries when it comes to youth violence, with 13.8 deaths per 100,000 people younger than 19 years old. This number has risen sharply from 1980, when the youth homicide rate was just 3.1 per 100,000, reports the AP.
  • At least four people were killed in protests in Guyana after the government raised electricity rates in a mining town, reports the Guyana Chronicle.
  • India’s second biggest steel company has withdrawn from its contract to develop an iron mine in Bolivia, citing an “anti-investor friendly attitude of President Evo Morales’ administration. 
  • 17 men have been arrested in connection to the brutal attack on a Christian youth camp just outside Mexico City. 
  • In a move sure to further isolate Venezuela, Venezuela’s foreign ministry issued a statement condemning the bombings in Syria and asking the international community to “avoid any armed intervention.”
  • Global Post with a dispatch about the lawsuit that Haitians have filed against the UN, asserting that UN troops brought cholera to the island in 2010.

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