El Salvador Gang Truce Brokered By Catholic Church Slashes Murder Rate

Nathan Francis

El Salvador has seen its murder rate plummet as a truce between rival gangs brokered by the Catholic Church reached the 100 day mark.

The gangs, Barrio 18 and Mara Salvatrucha, had gained a reputation for their ruthless violence and were responsible for much of the violence, BBC News reported. Murders in the Central American nation have dropped from roughly 14 each day in March to five. During that stretch the nation hit a not-too-uplifting milestone--April 14 was the first time in three years that no one was murdered in El Salvador.

The deal between the gangs was brokered by the Catholic Church and came after gang leaders were moved to lower-security prisons, BBC News reported. The imprisoned gang members held a ceremony on June 19 to celebrate the 100-day mark of the truce.

The leaders went one step further this week, saying they were ready to make the truce permanent.

“We want to reach a definitive ceasefire, to end all the criminal acts of the gangs,” said Mara 18 leader Oscar Armando Reyes in a story published by the Toronto Globe and Mail. “But we have to reach agreements, because we have to survive. There was talk of job plans, but we haven’t gotten any answers, and it is time for the government to listen to us.”

Gangs in El Salvador have their roots in immigrant street gangs of the U.S., BBC News reported. They have since grown into international organizations with an estimated 500,000 members. The gangs have gained a reputation for their ruthlessness and control of operations in local towns and villages. In April the El Salvador government rejected a proposal that the gangs receive the nation's public transportation subsidies in exchange for their putting an end to extorting bus drivers.

Officials in El Salvador and observers say they hope the truce can extend into the future and make the nation, which has one of the world's highest murder rate next to neighboring Honduras, safe again.

“This effort has saved the lives of more than 850 innocent Salvadorans,” the Globe and Mail quoted Raul Mijango, a former leftist guerilla commander who helped broker the deal,.