A Roman Catholic Bishop in El Salvador claimed that the recent drop in homicides in the Central American nation is due in part to the Church negotiating a truce between the MS-13 and Barrio 18 gangs.
Bishop Fabio Colindres said that the Church interceded between the two gangs, whom agreed to stop their deadly attacks. Colindres added that neither the police nor the military had made any concessions with regard to the truce and that gang leaders had contacted the Church to ask for mediation.
"We were surprised that they were the first to realize the need for an understanding. They realized that they are part of the problem but also part of the solution," Colindres said, according to the El Faro digital newspaper.
Authorities in El Salvador claim that over the last decade the two gangs have been responsible for between 60 percent to 90 percent of the homicides carried out in the country. Colindres added that the dip in homicides – down from 14 killings in January and February to an average of 5 a day – was due in large part to the work of the the country’s Security and Justice minister David Munguia Payes.
El Faro also reported last week that the government of President Maurico Funes made a deal where 30 jailed gang leaders were transferred to a lower security prison in exchange for a cut in violence.
Munguia Payes denied the report and claimed that tougher policies have brought on the reduction in violence.
"Something seems to have taken place to halt the violence in El Salvador," wrote Christopher Looft of the Latin American security website Insight Crime.
"However, it remains unclear what has brought about this change," Looft added. "The bishop was unable to give details of the talks with gang members, or the names of those involved. He claimed that he could not remember the dates of the talks."
Insight reported that El Faro's editor and founder, Carlos Dada, told the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas that members of the security forces in El Salvador have contacted the publication, informing them of threats, but neglecting to offer specifics or protection.
Both Barrio 18 and MS-13 were founded in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1980s, respectively, and spread to Central America because of deportations of members following their arrests.
According to the 2009 National Gang Threat Assessment, MS-13 is estimated to have 30,000 to 50,000 members and associate members worldwide, with only 8,000 to 10,000 of them residing in the United States.