Monday, September 10, 2012

Is the Salvadoran Gang Truce a Farce?

Six months on from an agreement between rival gangs in El Salvador to stop killings, a report from the Associated Press questions whether the truce is a farce.

The AP reports that death of five teenagers, whose bodies were found in a mass grave in July, highlights the fact that mass killings are still going on despite the leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 agreeing in March to bring violence to a halt. The truce was part of an deal with the authorities, with the government moving some gang leaders to lower-security prisons, allowing them conjugal visits, luxuries like plasma TVs, and free communication with outside world.

The number of homicides has dropped in the six months since the truce began, but some analysts told the newswire that the bodies of murder victims are simply being hidden to avoid adding to the statistics. One of the commitments the gangs made was to stop recruiting in schools, but according to the government the five dead teens were killed for refusing to join the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang.

Carlos Ponce, of the Salvadoran Attorney General’s Office, told the AP that he was skeptical about the truce: “It’s all a lie, the gangs continue to operate, people continue getting killed, people keep disappearing and the gangs get stronger and stronger.”

Max Manwaring of the US Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, said that the truce was a farce, and that the government was unable to collect accurate murder statistics because there are many parts of the country it cannot enter:

The gangs hold all the cards, and they’ve been operating out of the jails for years. The jails have become graduate schools for gang members, and the government is simply grasping at straws.
Central American Politics blog says that a key question is whether the truce is being violated by the imprisoned gang leaders who agreed to it, or by gang members on the street who they cannot control.

Tim’s El Salvador Blog comments that although murders are down, there is little evidence that extortion and other types of violence and crime have fallen in the country. “Since many murders before the truce were gang against gang, a truce between the gangs does not mean that there is any less violence directed at the innocent victims in affected communities.”

News Briefs
  • The New York Times has a piece on drug smuggling submarines, reporting that there has been a spike in detections of these vessels in the Caribbean in the last year, when previously most had been detected in the Pacific. The authorities have found models capable of traveling underwater all the way from Ecuador to Los Angeles. It reports that the US is increasing counternarcotics operations as efforts are redirected from Iraq and Afghanistan, setting up an interagency task force based in Florida. However there is still a shortfall of resources, and “three-quarters of potential drug shipments identified by the task force are not interdicted, simply because there are not enough ships and aircraft available for the missions.”
  • The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) lists the reasons for hope about Colombia’s peace talks with the FARC rebel group, and the reasons they could fail. On the hope side, it says that the government and the FARC appear more flexible this time round, with both sides led by more pragmatic figures. Among the points that could derail the process are that many rebel units might choose to go rogue and continue their criminal activities even if the leadership makes a deal, as well as the government's statement that there will be no ceasefire while talks are in progress. Two FARC guerrillas told press that the contacts between their group and the government date from the end of former President Alvaro Uribe’s time in power, saying that the ex-leader reached out to the group to open talks, reports El Nuevo Herald.
  • The Toronto Star looks at the state of the underworld in Medellin, Colombia, following the arrest of a crime boss known as “Sebastian,” one of the heirs to Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel. It says that with his capture, his Oficina de Envigado mafia organization could fracture, and “Sebastian may enter history as the last of the Medellin cartel kings,” with the city’s gangs going their own ways instead of answering to a single boss.
  • The WSJ has a report on the state of Mexico’s federal police, following an alleged attack by members of the force against US government agents in August, and a clash between officers in Mexico City airport in June which left three dead. It notes that, although President Felipe Calderon set up the agency to be a clean alternative to tainted local police forces, some regard it as corrupt and a driver of crime.
  • The US has called a halt to sharing radar intelligence with Honduras, after the country’s air force shot down two suspected drug flights, reports the NYT. The Washington Office on Latin America told the newspaper that the incident highlighted the issues that can arise in working with local security forces. “It reflects the institutional culture; these are the good guys … And then the Americans get burned because the corruption is far deeper than they thought.”
  • Venezuelan opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles had to cancel his appearance at an election rally on Sunday due to fears of violence from pro-government groups, according to his party. The opposition called on the Chavez government to rein in its supporters, and said that the president should condemn their actions, reports the Miami Herald.
  • The Miami Herald interviews Billy Corben, who made two films about recently slain “cocaine godmother” Griselda Blanco, and is currently working on an HBO miniseries about the Colombian trafficker. Corben told the paper that Blanco had been unhappy about his films: “What she was most upset about was that a grandchild of hers was in school in Colombia and a classmate had a bootleg DVD of Cocaine Cowboys, and a portable DVD player, and that’s how the grandson learned about his abuela.”
  • The Washington Post looks at the boom in US exports to Mexico, with bilateral trade rising 17 percent last year to a record $461 billion. It quotes analysts who praise the Mexican government’s economic policies for controlling inflation, managing debt, and balancing budgets.
  • The second-placed candidate in Mexico’s presidential elections, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, says he will quit his Democratic Revolution Party and start a new political party, reports the LA Times. He declared at a rally on Sunday that he would not recognize the election win of Enrique Peña Nieto, and would carry out a campaign of peaceful resistence to the government.
  • Much of west Cuba was left without power for several hours on Sunday night, including Havana, reports the Miami Herald. Blogger Yoani Sanchez told the newspaper that the blackout was unprecedented in scale, with only a few government buildings in the city remaining lit up. Meanwhile, the NYT reports on the power of Cuba’s patron saint, Our Lady of Charity, to unite Cuban exiles living in the US with those back on the island.
  • The AP reports from an indigenous village in Venezuela’s Amazon, where there were reports that Brazilian miners had massacred dozens of members of the Yanomami tribe in July. On a government-organized trip to the site, locals told journalists that no such killing had taken place.

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