Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Why Honduras’ Gang Truce Will Have Less Impact Than El Salvador’s

The ceasefire announced yesterday by Honduras’ two main street gangs is historic, but police homicide data suggests it will not have the same impact as the gang truce in El Salvador.

As expected, yesterday imprisoned leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 street gangs in Honduras held separate press conferences in a San Pedro Sula prison to announce that they had agreed to a ceasefire with the help of mediators in the Catholic Church and experts in the Organization of American States (OAS). The MS-13 spokesman, identified only as Marco, said the truce was partially a quest for societal redemption. “We ask society and authorities to forgive us for the damage we have done,” he told reporters.

Marco also said that the while the gangs would stop recruiting new members as part of the truce, they would continue to extort small businesses and transportation workers, a major source of illicit income.

The truce appears to have at least nominal support from the government. On Monday President Porfirio Lobo announced that he would do “whatever is necessary” to facilitate it, though he emphasized that he would not make any deals with the gangs despite their calls for direct negotiations with the state.

There is skepticism about the agreement’s ability to reduce violence to the extent that it has in El Salvador. It is not clear that Barrio 18 and MS-13 in Honduras are as centralized as they are in the neighboring country, where the months after the ceasefire there saw homicides fall by 60 percent.

Still, some analysts are cautiously optimistic about the potential benefits of the Honduran gang truce. James Bosworth of Bloggings by Boz, for instance, writes: “Even a little success with this truce would be good. A 10% decline in murders would be hundreds of fewer deaths, particularly in San Pedro Sula. For that reason, we shouldn't hold this truce to the standard of El Salvador and we should be happy for any sustainable decline in violence that it can bring.”

Unfortunately even a 10 percent decline in murders may be too much to hope for. According to the Honduran Violence Observatory’s annual report for 2012, police statistics show that in cases where homicide motives could be identified (about 40 percent of all 7,172 registered murders last year), only 93 were considered gang-related, about 1.3 percent of the total. By contrast, 1,683 -- 23.5 percent -- were considered “ajustes de cuentas,” revenge killings linked to drug trafficking.

Prior to the El Salvador ceasefire, official estimates of the percentage of murders linked to gangs ranged from 10 to 30 percent. The fact that Honduran gangs are believed to be far less responsible for the country’s soaring homicide rate does not bode well for the truce’s chances of significantly reducing violence.

News Briefs
  • El Periodico reports that International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) Director Francisco Dall'Anes will be leaving his position at the head of the UN-backed judicial reform commission in September. According to Dall'Anes, he is leaving to spend more time with his family in Costa Rica. However, the paper notes that the announcement comes after administration of President Otto Perez expressed concern about some of the CICIG director’s comments in the Rios Montt genocide trial case. According to Foreign Minister Fernando Carrera: "We have said to the UN that we believe it is important for the [CCIG] Commissioner to always be someone who preserves the equity of processes. The important thing is that we continue strengthening the CICIG.”
  • In a recent report for McClatchy newspapers about the Rios Montt trial, Tim Johnson writes that the overturning of his conviction has created a “consensus among critics on both the left and the right: Prosecutors badly overreached when they tried to pin accusations of genocide on the 86-year-old former president.” Meanwhile, Plaza Publica has an interview with American journalist Allan Nairn, who was set to testify in the Rios Montt case and apparently implicate President Perez in war crimes. However, the prosecution struck him from the witness list after another witness implicated Perez in sensational testimony.
  • Two U.S. diplomatic officials in Venezuela, one of whom was a military attaché, were shot after a confrontation in a Caracas strip club late last night. The AP reports that the injuries were not life threatening, and the Wall Street Journal notes that some officials in the U.S. are concerned that the incident will “reflect unfavorably on the U.S. in Venezuela.”
  • While there has been plenty of press coverage of the political factors contributing to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s sagging popularity, there has been comparatively less on the economic factors. Venezuelan news site Tal Cual Digital takes a look at how Maduro’s failure to modify Chavez’s economic policies even to address the negative consequences of the recent devaluation. An English translation is available at the Latin America Herald Tribune.
  • A Colombian legislative committee investigating former President Alvaro Uribe announced yesterday that it will seek testimony from four police generals as part of its probe into Uribe’s decision to name Mauricio Santoyo -- in jail in the U.S. for aiding paramilitaries -- as his security chief. More from Semana magazine and the AP.
  • Spain’s El Pais features an interesting look at the mandate of Bolivian President Evo Morales, which describes the leader as different from others of the Latin American left because he sees capitalism as a product of colonialism and “aspires to reestablish a pre-Columbian culture and civilization."
  • The New York Times profiles the case of “Beatriz,” a 22 year-old pregnant woman who is seeking to abort a life-threatening pregnancy despite El Salvador’s strict ban on abortions in any case. The case has been taken to the Supreme Court, which continues to deliberate as her pregnancy progresses.
  • BBC Mundo has a report on Chile’s “encapuchados,” masked students who have become known for violent behavior and escalating marches and rallies in the country in recent years, noting that their objectives are “difficult to determine.”
  • In a conversation with Guillermo Fariñas, the high-profile Cuban opposition activist told the Miami Herald that he has evidence that Cuban security officers are looking to post-communist Russia in preparation for a possible democratic transition in the future. Fariñas says he has sources in the military who claim they are attending “weekly lectures on the transitions in Russia and Belarus that they refer to as ‘Putinismo.’” He also claims that Cuban intelligence officers are being more respectful of opposition activists, “taking care not to get blood on the hands.”
  • The Washington Post reports that urban planners crowded Mexico City are converting vacant lots below overpasses and bridges into public playgrounds and outdoor cafes. The city government says there have funded four of these projects so far, and there are plans to develop 20 more.


  1. Dear Geoffrey. Thanks for the very interesting comment on the Honduras gangs truce. Note that the Salvadoran data from the Instituto de Medicina Legal also reflected a very low participation of gangs in the overall homicides, yet the drop seems to reflect another reality. Given the difficulty of adjucating homicides to a specific motive(and the general impunity and low rate of success in murder investigations, we may (hopefully) be suprised and see a more severe drop than expected.

  2. I certainly hope so, Matthias! On the subject of the Medicina Legal stats in El Salvador: I don't believe they were as low as 1 or 2 percent, were they?