A truce between warring gangs in El Salvador seems to be taking hold, dropping the homicide rate markedly. How the truce came about – was there taxpayer money paid off? – is still a mystery.
El Salvador is not the only place where there is good news. Some came from Guatemala as well. I’ll get to that in a minute.
The first whiff that something was cooking in El Salvador came March 14 when the digital website elfaro.net reported that authorities had without explanation moved 30 top leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha and Calle 18 gangs from a top security prison (known as 'Zacatraz') to less secure facilities.
Elfaro.net said the government was in talks with gang leaders to try to lower homicides. Coincidentally, right in mid-March, murders declined from about 13 a day in El Salvador to less than half of that.
Turns out, elfaro.net’s scoop was true. On Friday, the two rival gangs said they’d signed a truce.
"Considering the pain it causes, to our families and ourselves, we have taken this decision (to call a truce), because we are all aware that many dead are our own," said the statement, which received the endorsement of the Catholic Church.
There remains quite a bit of confusion about how this was brokered, whether it will last, and who is behind recent threats against elfaro.com and its prize-winning editor Carlos Dada. But for Salvadorans, it promises better days for what has been one of the most murderous countries in the world. Even if taxpayer money lubricated the negotiations.
In Guatemala, the U.N.-backed commission against impunity is wracking up a number of victories. On Friday, it helped bring about the arrest of a former national civilian police chief, Marlene Blanco Lapola. She is accused of running a parallel “hit squad” within the police to kill alleged extortionists targeting bus companies. Want to find out which of her former underlings ratted her out? Click here to read account in Spanish.
This is big. It’s sort of like running in the FBI director for operating a crime syndicate on the side. All this is coming under the 10-week-old government of President Otto Perez Molina, who appears to be giving the green light to actions to fight impunity.