Monday, May 27, 2013

Honduran Street Gangs to Annouce El Salvador-Style Truce

Honduras’ two main rival street gangs are reportedly on the verge of agreeing to a ceasefire, but it remains to be seen whether it will have the same success at dropping the homicide rate as a parallel truce in neighboring El Salvador.

As La Prensa and El Heraldo reported on Friday, Bishop Romulo Emiliani of the violence-plagued city of San Pedro Sula has announced that the Honduran Catholic Church had mediated a truce between the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 street gangs. According to the bishop, leaders of both maras will meet on Tuesday morning in a prison in the city to announce the results of their negotiations.

The announcement comes as a major surprise, and it is still unclear whether the pact will move forward. Even Bishop Emiliani was skeptical. "If all goes well, and God is willing, the gangs will make a statement seeking reconciliation with society and the government. Humanly I am not very optimistic about this, but I have great faith in the power of God. They say they want peace and are asking for a space for rehabilitation,” the bishop said.

The Associated Press reports that Adam Blackwell, Ambassador for Security Affairs of the Organization of American States (OAS), said the dialogue between Honduran gangs started eight months ago, when both he and Bishop Emiliani paid visits to prisons in San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa and met with gang leaders there.

So far there appears to be no response from the administration of President Porfirio Lobo. Although Emiliani has said the government “has been informed and it should be the next to join the dialogue,” the administration has not released a statement on the gang talks.

Ultimately, there are reasons to doubt that a gang truce in Honduras will have the same impact as El Salvador. For one thing, it is unclear whether the structure of both gangs in Honduras is as centralized as it is in El Salvador. Unless the imprisoned gang leaders are able to keep the cliques on the street in line, the truce is doomed to failure.

Even if the Honduran maras are highly centralized, law enforcement in the country may not be as amiable to the idea of a truce. In El Salvador communication between Security Minister David Mungia Payes and mara leaders proved key to the truce’s endurance. The Honduran gangs may not find a similar partner in National Police Director Juan Carlos Bonilla, who has been accused of participation in an extrajudicial police “death squad” a decade ago.  According to a recent AP investigation, these units continue to operate today, and are used by police to target suspected gang members.


News Briefs
  • El Tiempo reports that after months of negotiations, the Colombian government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have reached a preliminary deal on land reform. Semana has a copy of the text of the joint press statement released on Sunday by both negotiating teams, which says that the two have agreed to include language on land redistribution and rural development in the final peace accord. As The Guardian, L.A. Times and New York Times note, this is a major breakthrough, as agrarian reform was widely considered the main sticking point in the peace talks.
  • According to El Nuevo Herald, Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles has accused Globovision -- the television network known as the only overtly anti-Chavez channel in the country until its recent change in ownership -- of no longer transmitting his speeches live.
  • David Smilde of Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights offers some analysis of the recently-leaked recording of high-profile PSUV member and TV show host Mario Silva, in which he discusses divisions in the ruling party. Smilde highlights Silva’s reference to National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello’s allegedly corrupt “sources of funding,” noting the TV personality’s simultaneous disdain and respect for the lawmaker’s shady influence and power. According to Smilde, this is a representative sentiment of many in the ruling party. He writes: “[T]he battles within Chavismo are not properly thought of as the organized Chavista base versus corrupt government elites. Rather, many people at every level of the government and the movement either benefit from Cabello’s network or understand its power and are afraid to challenge it.”
  • BBC Mundo and La Razon report that Venezuelan President Maduro paid his first official visit to Bolivia yesterday, where he met with President Evo Morales and signed a series of bilateral agreements related to food production and the textile industry.
  • U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is in Colombia today, where he will meet with President Juan Manuel Santos for talks expected to showcase the country’s security gains and economic progress since the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement went into effect, Caracol Radio reports. Tomorrow the vice president will travel to Trinidad and Tobago, after which he will be in Brazil for the rest of the week. The Miami Herald has more on the regional trip, claiming that analysts say “the Obama administration will have to come up with more than just talk if the U.S. hopes to recapture some of its shine in a hemisphere that’s increasingly being courted by other global powers.”
  • Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner held a major rally on Saturday in front of the presidential palace in Buenos Aires to mark a decade since her deceased husband Nestor Kirchner took office. The AP offers an overview of their main accomplishments over the last ten years.
  • The New York Times reports that on Friday, Mexican Interior Secretary Miguel Osorio Chong held a press conference for foreign press in which he vocally denied that his government was massaging official violence statistics in order to make its security policies look better, as many analysts have suggested.
  • The NYT also looks at how sexual assaults in Rio de Janeiro have sparked a debate on class differences in the city and raised concerns about security ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics.  
  • After fighting charges for months, former Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo was extradited on Friday to the United States, where he is wanted on charges that he stole $1.5 million in foreign donations meant to buy textbooks for Guatemalan schoolchildren.