With an estimated 64,000 identified gang members, El Salvador’s street gangs – Mara Salvatrucha and their rival Barrio 18 – operate like armies. At its peak, in 2009, the gangs were responsible for a homicide rate that reached 14 deaths per day. In March 2012, however, the country’s two most violent gangs suddenly declared a truce. The truce is backed by the Catholic Church and the Organization of American States (OAS). A year later, the truce in El Salvador, one of the most violent countries in the Americas, is crumbling. A recent report shows a spike in homicide rate. The unprecedented truce helped bring murders down to an average of five per day from twelve before the agreement. However, killings have been on the rise since late May, with 103 murders in the first week of July alone. The level of dispersion of violence has stayed the same, and the decrease in homicides did not occur in all municipalities. In fact, in some areas the rates have increased.
Several Salvadoran municipalities have taken social reinsertion measures in order to promote a culture of peace. The Program of Temporary Support and Income (PATI) give at-risk youth, men and women financial incentive of $100 per month in exchange for a six-hour day of labor in their communities. The mayor of Ilopango and Quezaltepeque – the two municipalities most recently declared free of violence – affirmed that this program will benefit 67,400 people – including ex-gang members – in 36 municipalities around the country. Another municipality, Apopa, has declared zero homicides since the truce began. In addition, President Mauricio Funes said $18 million would be spent creating cooperatives in the country’s peace zones; another $4.3 million will be invested in giving gang members access to education and $9.3 million to provide health care, and a final $798,000 will be spent on violence prevention measures.
The gang truce model has been adapted to other regions in the Northern Triangle. Honduras, with the highest murder rate in the world, is home to tens of thousands of transnational gang members, and nearly 40 percent of the cocaine consumed globally passes through its borders. Recently, the MS13 and Barrio 18 gangs declared a cease fire as a part of a ‘peace process’. MS13 and Barrio 18 leaders claim that these efforts are in attempt to “halt the spiraling drug violence and criminality they [gangs] have brought to the region” in exchange for rehabilitation programs and jobs provided by the government.
The Seattle International Foundation supports organizations in the region such as Organization for Youth Empowerment in Honduras, and Fundacion de la Comunicacion para el Desarrollo in El Salvador providing leadership development opportunities for at-risk youth in response to high levels of organized crime and lack of educational and economic opportunities.
The Seattle International Foundation (SIF) is working with corporations, foundations, governments, and individuals to alleviate poverty in Central America. Since 2008, SIF has invested more than $7 million in organizations working for positive social change throughout the region. For more information about SIF, visit www.seaif.org.