IZALCO, El Salvador – Leader's from two of El Salvador's largest gangs claim they are ready to negotiate a permanent peace pact with the government following a successful three-month-old temporary truce that has lowered the Central American country's murder rate dramatically.
The gang leaders said during a ceremony at the Izalco prison to celebrate the first 100 days of the truce that they want the government to offer job programs or some other sort of aid to gang members in exchange.
"We want to reach a definitive cease fire, to end all the criminal acts of the gangs" said Mara 18 leader Oscar Armando Reyes. "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."
Reyes said the gangs weren't thinking of ending the temporary truce.
We are issuing a call for us all to sit down and have a dialogue, to reach a definitive accord.
- Mara 18 leader Oscar Armando Reyes
"We are issuing a call for us all to sit down and have a dialogue, to reach a definitive accord," he said.
There was no immediate response from the government.
Former leftist guerrilla commander Raúl Mijango and Roman Catholic Bishop Fabio Colindres mediated a truce between the Mara Salvatrucha and the Mara 18 gangs in March that has helped lower homicide rates in El Salvador.
Mijango said the country's homicide rate has dropped from about 14 per day in March to about 5 per day in early June.
"This effort has saved the lives of more than 850 innocent Salvadorans," Mijango said.
An estimated 50,000 Salvadorans belong to street gangs that deal drugs, extort businesses and kill rivals. Gang leaders say they want to stop the violence that has given El Salvador one of the highest murder rates in the world, behind neighboring Honduras.
In April, authorities rejected a proposal that El Salvador's gangs receive the subsidies the government currently spends on public transportation in exchange for gang members stopping extortion of bus drivers.