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.
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