Salvadoran gangs propose dialogue…again

Insight Crime has a terrific translation of a Spanish-language article written by Carlos Martínez and Roberto Valencia of El Faro about an offer by Salvadoran gangs to negotiate a new dialogue with the government.

The MS13 has called for negotiations with the government, which could include the dismantling of the gang, implying a drastic change in posture since four years ago when the gang’s national leadership refused to enter a dialogue about its possible dissolution.

Three spokesmen for the MS13 revealed to El Faro a proposal to discuss solutions to the crisis of violence in a public negotiation with the government and all political parties. Eugenio Chicas, spokesman for the presidency, says it is a proposal that “must be considered.”

The MS13 has put its dissolution on the table which seems to be a remarkable development. In 2012, dissolution was never on the table and those who did leave to pursue lives outside of gang life (bakeries and such) were never “out.” You were allowed out as long as the gangs said so. I have no idea if this is going to go anywhere. My inclination is to say no. The failure to put together a comprehensive process in 2012 and 2013, and then the politics of the 2014 presidential election, left a lot of bad blood on all sides.

Eugenio Chicas lays out what might be needed for a successful dialogue, all of which are difficult to foresee in today’s Salvadoran and regional environment.

 Chicas believes that the possibility of exploring an agreement with the MS13 depends on several factors: first, the social acceptance of the negotiations; second, the convergence of the political willingness of different parties; and third, the resources needed to finance such a process and the legal discussions that must take place before it starts.

“This is an issue that must be considered. Not only has El Salvador’s society proved to be against any attempt at dialogue or conversation with the gangs, it also vehemently opposes any advantage or legal benefit for these groups. And a government must understand the will of its citizens. This is a key element, but it is not the only one. Another crucial factor will be the chances of a political agreement between different governing forces, in this case the country’s government together with the opposition and other social actors, as reflected in the National Security Council. This is another factor that must be taken into account, and another element is whether the strategy could yield better results within the political time frame we have left. Bear in mind that elections will take place in the few years we’ve got left,” he stated.

Understandably so, the Salvadoran people are against dialogue with the gangs. The FMLN and ARENA have found it difficult to work together and there are new laws in place (gangs as terrorists) that will make political action more difficult. The initial truce never had US support and lacked significant financial backing from the international community. I’m doubtful that these would be more forthcoming in 2017. The environment in 2012 presented a real opportunity for a serious reduction in violence. I’d like to think that such an environment could be re-created in 2017 but I am doubtful.