On Monday afternoon, the leaders of the most powerful Salvadoran “maras,” or street gangs, released a statement in which they sharply condemned the U.S. State Department’s recently-released travel warning for El Salvador as an attempt to hinder the gangs’ historic ceasefire in the country. The statement, which was given to local media at a press conference held by leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 at La Esperanza prison in San Salvador, criticized the data cited in the travel warning as “outdated.”
In its notice, the State Department acknowledged that while the truce between MS-13 and Barrio 18 has dramatically reduced the number of homicides in the country, crime and violence remain serious threats to security. It warned U.S. citizens traveling there to “exercise caution” in order to reduce their risk of falling prey to robbery or extortion. Salvador However, the warning only cited crime statistics from 2010 and 2011, when violent crime levels in El Salvador had reached an all-time high.
As the Center for Democracy in the Americas’ Linda Garrett notes, the timing of the announcement is extremely odd. Although it cited data from 2010 and 2011, the State Department did not issue a single travel warning during those years. The decision to release the warning now, when the homicide rate is at its lowest since 2003, seems suspiciously like an attempt to cast doubt on the efficacy of the gang truce, which is credited with reducing murders by two-thirds since it was first negotiated in March 2012.
The gang leaders pointed this out as well. In surprisingly flowery language, the MS-13 and Barrio 18 said that they respect the United States’ “indifferent attitude” towards the truce. But they also stressed that if the U.S. was not going to facilitate the truce (which has progressed to a second stage involving the creation of “peace zones” throughout the country), it should at least not attempt to “obstruct” it.
This is not the first U.S. action which could be seen as an attempt to discredit the gang truce. In October, the U.S. Treasury added the MS-13 to its list of dangerous transnational criminal organizations, ranking it with Mexico’s Zetas cartel and the Russian mafia despite the objections of Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes.
Whether or not the gangs’ objection to the travel warning is justified, such polished press statements point to a larger issue in El Salvador: the question of whether the government’s recognition of the truce has afforded the gangs a dangerously high profile. As the International Assessment and Strategy Center’s Doug Farah has argued, this could allow them to use new-found political clout as a means of increasing their overall criminal influence in the country.
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- Colombian human rights monitoring group Nuevo Arco Iris has an interesting piece on the accommodations of the FARC negotiating team in Havana, Cuba, where the guerrilla leaders are staying in mansions formerly belonging to sugar plantation owners.
- In the wake of the disastrous fire in Brazil, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega ordered the National Police to ban indoor pyrotechnic displays in the Central American country on Tuesday, according to El Nuevo Diario.
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- The Israeli government on Tuesday conveyed “astonishment and disappointment” in response to the announcement that Argentina would work with Iran to establish an independent commission charged with investigating the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, the New York Times reports.
- La Nacion reports that Argentina is overjoyed at the news that the Netherlands’ Queen Beatrix will be abdicating the throne in favor of her son Prince Willem-Alexander, because it means that his wife Maxima, an Argentine, will become the “world’s first Argentine queen.”